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Acrobats, Jugglers & Animal Performers: A Story Of The Many Street Performers Found In Delhi



Sometimes Delhi seems to exist in different time frames. It still carries traces of its origin as a conglomerate of villages. On one hand you have world class entertainment like cinemas, theater, night-life and stand up comedians, while on the other hand, street acts involving animals and acrobats hark back to olden times. The new and old coexist in this baffling city and we sure glad that it does! 

Animal Performers

10-15 years back in time, they were a fairly common sight, but now you can rarely catch them performing their acts. Most acts involved animals like monkeys, Indian sloth bears and of course, the famed snake charmers. Monkey acts were usually performed on the streets of Delhi openly with two monkeys or more, often with one female and two male monkeys. The performer weaved a tale with a running commentary on how the males tried hard to woo the female into marriage. The female monkey is trained to put on airs and act coy and difficult. The act ends with lots of drama and finally a wedding between one of the males and female.

The bear act is not so dramatic but more a display of the training imparted to the bear. It performs flips, stands on its two feet, obeys the orders of the handler and shows discipline and obedience to entertain the audience. Both the above acts used to be fairly common, performed at street corners, near fairs and exhibitions and bus stands.

Snake charmers also used to park themselves at any street sidewalk with their deadly companions. When the charmer would lift the basket cover, out would come several black cobras, hissing with raised hoods. The snake charmer would then pull out a ‘Been’, a kind of wind instrument akin to a bagpipe, playing some popular filmy tunes to which the snake would dance to.

Acrobats & Tightrope Walkers

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These performers select a large open space or ground. The makeshift equipment or poles are firmly dug into the earth and a tight rope is tied across the length. Usually kids as small as 5 or 6 and women walk the tightrope, balancing something or other on their heads. Till today, on the many traffic light corners of Delhi, you can witness beggars performing back-bending acrobats and all kinds of trickery to impress passersby. One such noted place is at the Shri Aurobindo Marg traffic light.

Jugglers & Dancers

These people can give world class jugglers a run for their money! Using various items like balls, knives & wooden planks, they seem to have many hands to catch whatever goes up in the air. Dancers perform folk dances to catchy village beats or Bollywood songs with thumkas (gyrations) to earn an extra buck.

Magicians & Puppeteers

Street magicians can make you bite your lips in disbelief! Some acts involve cutting off the tongue or the body of the magician’s assistant and joining it back again. Puppet shows are performed by the Rajasthani folk artists, who tell tales of valour or love through their puppet shows. Besides the above, you can also watch fire eaters, clowns, folk singers and bahurupiyas (make-up and make over artists) assume many avatars of gods and demons. 

With the onslaught of television, cinema & the internet, these arts are fast disappearing from the streets of Delhi. You can still catch some of them around town - so keep a lookout!