INDIAN BIG TOPS
Circus bills traditionally begin with the words “Show must go on”
Which was ancient Roman slogan uttered by artists who have to be found in a cruel gamble with their life. Days of “Death-defying” acts are disappeared from the circus ring. Today’s slogan is “Tonight and every night…” The essence of the circus is that it is all for real, every thing happens before your eyes.
A CHALLENGE, WHICH CREATED A TRADITION
“Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am Mr. Giuseppe Chiarini from
I am the proprietor of this circus. On behalf of our King His Highness Mr.
Victor Immanuel, the people of Italy
and on my own behalf I thank the Government of Great Britain for permitting us
to come over here and conduct the show. I understand that there is no circus in
and I hope that you Indians would have to wait more and more years for that. I
am a world famous horse trainer and equestrian. I trained these horses. I
challenge, if any body can imitate this performance with any other horses, I
will give a reward of one thousand British Indian rupees and any of these
horses. I will give a stipulated period to train the horses. Six months! Any
one can try. Come forward! Anybody can try!”
Chiarini looked around. Pin drop silence. None moved. Chiarini lashed out his whip and the horses began to run around the ring arousing the excitement of the crowd.
It had happened in the Christmas night of 1879 at Chiarini’s Royal Italian Circus Arena that was camping at Cross maidan near Boribandar Railway Station,
Bombay (Mumbai). Chiarini
Circus is first one of its kind to visit India.
The Governor of Bombay State Mr. Richard Temple inaugurated the show on December 12, 1879. The fame of this extraordinary show spread over to nearby states also. Hearing the news of this rare physical art from Europe, the Chieftains of princely states in Maharashtra came over to
That Christmas night Balasahib Patwardhan King of Kurundwad, Jawaharkar of Ichalkarinchi, Vishnupanth Moreshwar Chathre the famous horse trainer, equestrian and superintendent of the stable of
and their friend Narayan Rao
Tillu were present to watch the show. They sat in front side boxes of the ring
and eagerly watched and appreciated every item by applauding. Then Mr.Chiarini
appeared with his two stallions and repeated his words of challenge. As he
finished, Balasaheb Patwardhan, King of Kurundward expressed his opinion to
Narayan Rao Tillu, who was sitting beside him. Kurundward Palace
“Can’t Chathre accept the White’s challenge?”
“Let us watch the items first, and then we will respond”
Mr.Chiarini’s horses walked back and forth, circled on lifting their forelegs and danced to the beats of drums. Chathre watched carefully each feat done by the horses. He decided to accept the challenge and discussed with his Lord Balasahib Patwardhan. The King agreed. Mr.Chiarini turned back from the ring; Chathre got up and proclaimed accept his readiness to the challenge
“Mr. Giuseppe Chiarini. I am Vishnupanth Moreshwar Chathre, a humble horse trainer and Chief of the stable of
. With the permission of my Lord Balasahib
Patwrdhan, Maharjah of Kurundwad, I wish to accept your challenge. More over we
Indians are very grateful to you, your King Victor Emmanuel and the people of Kurundwad State Italy
for granting us an opportunity to watch such a great show like yours. My horses
can do the items which your horses did and even better than that. I do not need
six months, but only three months. If I do not, I promise you ten thousand
British Indian rupees and ten horses of the best breed. My beloved Lord Raja
Balasahib Patwardhan, bear witness to my words. It is not over Mr.Chiarini, you
said that we, Indians would take years and years to form a circus, I bet, within
one year we will form our own circus and it will be performed in your country
The audience who had gathered in the tent applauded with great cheer. Chiarini turned red, his eyes filled with full of hatred.
“The Black’s arrogance…” Chiarini mumbled
* * * * * * * * * *
On arriving at Kurundward, King Balasahib let Chathre to select horses from his stable. Chathre selected some horses and trained them the same feats done by Chiarini's horses. Some other attractive items too. Chathre declared the date of performance and informed Chiarini to come over to Kurundward to witness the show
Chathre’s horse show staged on 20th March1880 in the arena arranged at the palace ground of Kurundward, in front of the invited distinguished guests. All invitees were present except Chiarini. Everyone congratulated Chathre for his magnificent show. Chathre felt happy but frustrated, as Chiarini was not there. He had desired to beast his feat in front of Chiarini.
Chathre enquired the whereabouts of Chiarini. At last, he located Chiarini at
Calcutta (Kolkata). His circus was camping
there those days, after touring some South East Asian countries. Chathre went
to Kolkata and met Chiarini. Chiarini’s financial condition was miserable.
After Mumbai camp Chiarini, proceed to
All camps he tented in Indonesia
were total failure. Then he returned to Kolkata. In Kolkata, also turn out was
very poor, so Chiarini was in dilemma whether to proceed his company. Artists
and other staff were in a hurry to return to their native land. However,
Chiarini was helpless even for shipment to his head quarters at California, America. In this pitiable situation,
Chathre acted as real host. He offered his financial support to Chiarini. With
the help of Kings of Kurundward and Ichalkarranchi Chathre gave whatever money
Chiarini needed. As gratitude, Chiarini handed over his tent, materials and
animals to Chathre.
Chiarini was born in
Rome in1823. His family
members were traditionally circus artists. His father Gaetano was a trick rider
and horse trainer. Chiarini joined the company of Alessandro Guerra who was
famous equestrian and circus entrepreneur based at Vienna. Chiarini had worked in Philip
Astley’s amphitheatre and Laurent Franconi’s Hippodrome before he started his
own circus in California, America. Some times, he changed the
name of his circus as Royal Spanish Circus. He traveled all over the world
including Russia, China, Japan,
Australia, India and so many other countries.
His headquarters was in California.
He had two wives and four children. None of them was in the circus field.
Chiarini died in 1897, at ,
according to the writing of Hotel
Americano, Panama Marc
Australian circus historian.
CHATHRE’S GREAT INDIAN CIRCUS
Circus tent, materials and animals were ready. However, there was not even one performing artist except Chathre. He wandered here and there and found some street performers. He began to train them as per the memory he was keeping in mind, which he had seen at Chiarini’s show. A girl, namely Avuda Bhai Parulelkar, wife of Chathre was the only woman artist who appeared in Chathre’s ring as well as in the history of Indian circus ring.
With in a few months Chathre was ready to start the show. Remembering that Chiarini’s show inaugurated by the then Governor of
Bombay, Chathre wished
that the same dignitary inaugurated his show. On the request of Maharaja
Balasahib Patwardhan, the then Governor of Bombay Mr. James Fergusson
inaugurated the opening show of the Chathre’s Great Indian Circus. Thus, the
first circus by an Indian originated at the Christmas night of 1880 at Palace ground,
Chathre started his tour with the show at every town of
and Madhya Pradesh. In 1883, Great Indian Circus tented in Cross maiden, near
Boribandar Railway Station, Mumbai where Chiarini Circus performed for the
first time in India. Mumbai camp was a great success. Chathre
cleared all his financial liabilities taken from King Balasahib and Jawaharkar
Next, Chathre decided to perform abroad, the third of his proclamations. During those days Passport, Visa etc were not necessary for traveling abroad. So Chathre moved to
(Chennai) from where it was easy to proceed to Ceylon
( Sri Lanka).
From Sri Lanka, he took the
circus to South East Asian cities like Singapore,
(Philippine) etc. Then Chathre went to North America via Japan. Chathre with his circus
arrived in Sanfrancisco during the winter. The circus men did not have adequate
woolen wear to fight the cold. They were poorly dressed in cotton dhothi, kurtha
and a black cap in Maratha style. They did not have even sandals to wear. “Beggars’
Circus”, some mocked. One morning they found a heap of sandals and shoes at the
front gate of the circus.
During that period Barnum and Bailey, Adam Forepaugh and Sells Brothers, Ringling Brothers, Carl Brothers, Lloyd Betty, Buffalo Bills were some of Big Tops in
America. Barnum and Bailey
performed in three rings and others were nonetheless greater.
Though quite ill equipped, Chathre has to face the hostility of the competitors of the same field. They countered him in publicity. It was declared that the word “circus “should not be used in any of their ads. Chathre asked to rename his circus as only “Indian Show “. He paid no heed to this baseless command. The matter dragged in to the public. Therefore, people boycotted the Indian Circus. Chahre forced to end the show and quit the land and fell in to bad times. In this juncture, Kings of Kurundwad and Ichalkarinchi stood by him. Chathre bid goodbye to Sanfrancisco. Then he toured
Philippines and Indonesia.
Soon he regained his velour that was lost in America.
Chathre’s Entrance in Kerala
Next destination was
Inaugural show took place at Beijing,
in front of the Emperor. The Emperor was thrilled watching Chathre’s circus.
Besides praising him and his troupe, his highness offered them many valuable
gifts. After touring different cities in China,
Chathre returned to India,
in 1887. Next year Chthre’s Circus visited Thalassery, a costal town of North Malabar now in Kannur District, . Kerala State
There were hundreds of Europeans as government officials and businesspersons. A majority of local residents were having adequate education at higher level. That is why Chathre tented at Thalassery on the way of his tour in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Here at the inaugural show a distinguished person was present. He watched the show eagerly. For him it was a dream-come-true. Just after the show, he met Chathre. This meeting regarded as a remarkable moment in the history of Indian Circus. That distinguished personality was none other than Prof: Keeleri Kunhikkannan who was then the gymnastic instructor of BEMGHS (later came to known as BEMPHS)
Chathre’s Circus was not the first one of its kind for Prof: Keeleri to watch. Some years ago, he saw a European circus, which was Hippodrome Circus in1884 at
Chathre had only a few items done by male acrobats. It had more of numbers involving wild animals and female artists were just for namesake. Chathre’s wife Avuda Bai Parulelkar was the main artist who was performing single trapeze, acrobats and Bharath Matha’s role with a
Lion sitting on back of an elephant. Thryambak Rao Thorath introduced this unimaginable item, who was one of the famous Wild Animal Trainers of Chathre’s eras.
As promised, Keeleri started circus-training centre near his house, in 1888. He began to give training to some boys in Horizontal bar, Roman Rings, Iron Ball Play, Foot Juggling, Foot Acrobats, and Loose wire dance. In horizontal bar, Keeleri made some reformation by increasing numbers of bars as three instead of one bar. Another item introduced by Keeleri is Frog Act. With in two years his disciples were ready for performance. Keeleri informed Chathre that his disciples are waiting for a chance in circus. However, he did not receive any reply from Chathre. Keeleri was finally disheartened and stopped the functioning of the institution.
S N KARLEKAR & PARSHURAM RAO MALI
Meanwhile two more circuses founded in
Maharashtra. Karlekar’s Grand Circus and Parashuram
Circus. Karlekar started in 1888 and the latter in 1889. Sadashiv Rao N.Karlekar, the animal trainer in
Chathre's Circus followed him by forming a circus in a very humble way at his
native place, Sangli. Parashuram Rao Mali hailed from Thasgam. He was
also was a wild animal trainer in Cathre’s Circus. He opened a circus in small-scale
base with Krishna Rao Mali,
his elder brother. Fourth of its kind was Bonsley Circus, was only which did
not survive too longer. However, it toured Burma
( Myanmar) and South East Asia during this short period.
In 1890, Chathre decided to pass the responsibility of the circus to his brother Kashinathpanth Moreshwar Chathre and dedicated his rest of life to Hindustani Music, which was his lifelong ambition from childhood. All these years he cherished his dream of learning Hindustani classical music under the tutelage of Hadhu Khan of
Gwalior and Rahmath Khan
After handing over of circus management to his brother Chathre settled in
Indore, in Madhya Pradesh with his Master in
music Usthad Rahmath Khan to spend the rest of life. Usthad Rahmath Khan and
Chathre conducted concerts at several places in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. In this field too, he won many laurels.
Right from his childhood Vishnu loved birds and animals. He was neither interested in attending school nor any friends. He wandered about the bushes in search of pigeons, monkeys and squirrels. He fed them, trained them and exhibited them before other children. Vishnu’s father; Moreshwar Chathre was the treasurer at the
of Jamkhandy, one of the princely states
of Maharashtra. Some body cheated him. Not for
his fault, he was in exile. He took asylum in anther princely state, Ramdurg.
Vishnu stayed back at his native place with his grandmother.
As he grew up, no change seen in Vishnu. He remained the same animal lover with his hobbies of horse riding and music. However, his father would not let him to be so. He tried in several ways to bring him up as a typical boy who would be respectable in social life. However, the father’s dreams were in vain. Finally, it decided that Vishnu should get married at the age of sixteen. After marriage, his father managed to find him a job. It was at the stable of
. His job consisted
of looking after the horses, training and riding them. He entirely enjoyed
these tasks but he did not give up the singing. He never missed any chance to
listen to the concerts conducted in and around his place. Whenever he is alone,
he sang loudly. This made a few to mock at him and he was hurt. Ramdurg
Disciple of Great Masters
One night he fled away from Ramdurg along with a friend. Vishnu’s aim was to study more about horses and music. Vishnu and his friend precede the journey from place to place. At last, they arrived at Gawlior, Madhya Pradesh, after wander about of two months. At Gawlior, they got job in the stable of the Palace. Then, there was a Great horse trainer namely Baba Sahib Apthe. He was an equestrian and physician of horses. Before long Vishnu became his disciple. Very soon, Apthe taught him the different characteristics, intelligence, physique and medical treatments of different breeds of horses. With in a few years Vishnu became the most prominent among Apthe’s disciples.
Meanwhile Vishnu could fulfill one more wish to be a disciple of Usthad Hadhu Khan, Great Master of Gwalior “Gharana”, to learn Hindustani Classical Music. Usthad Khan was the court singer at
. Vishnu achieved
this opportunity by endurance. He requested Usthad several times to teach him. However,
Usthad never paid heed to. Gawalior
Whenever Usthad Hadhu Khan and his troupe went for a concert, Vishnu accompanied them.
Once, on their way back after a concert, they had to cross the
by boat, suddenly a
strong tornado started blowing and the boat capsized. Without any thought
considering his own risk Vishnu jumped in to the high waves and rescued every
one including Usthad from the mouth of death. Usthad embraced Vishnu and
praised his bravery. Immediately he accepted Vishnu as his disciple. As time
passed, Vishnu proved his excellence in music too besides acquiring mastery in equestrian. Chambal
For about twenty years Cathre’s Circus toured both
and abroad. Chathre won many medals and awards during his performance spanning
over twenty years. Bombay
(Mumbai) University honored him with the title of “Professor”.
Multitalented Vishnupanth Moreshwar Chathre died at the age of 62, on Feb 20 1905 at
Indore. He had been acute diabetic patient.
The fifth circus of
Maharashtra formed by Venkit Rao Deval alias Baba sahib
Deval of Mahisal village, near Miraj, at Maharashtra-Karnataka boarder, in 1895.
The name he put was “Deval Circus”. Deval too was an animal trainer in
Chathre’s circus. All these five circuses performed well, in true competitor
spirit, but in all these, wild animal items were more than human feats. The
main reason for this specialty was all of the owners were wild animal trainers.
More over there were not any circus-training center or learned physical
instructors in Maharashtra.
THE FIRST CIRCUS INSTITUTE
When Prof: Keeleri stopped functioning his institute ,his disciples like Pariyali Kannan, Poovadan Kunhambu his brother Poovadan Govindan, Keezhanthi Gopalan and others went away in search
At this time, in 1898, a Bioscope Company camped in
Kozhikode. Bioscope Company
is some thing like Carnival show included short film show, dances Programs,
dramas, gambling and some other sideshows. Pariyali Kannan got an invitation
from the Bioscope Company to perform Physical feats, Horizontal Bar, tumbling
Somersaults and Ladder Balance as sideshow. Along with Kannan Poovadan Kuhambu,
M.K.Raman and his brother Krishnan were in the troupe. Raman was only twelve
years old. Raman was a native of
Puthiyangadi, near Calicut,
an expert in “Paricha muttu kali” and disciple of Mammed Kurikkal, master of
Pariyali and his troupe worked in the Bioscope Company for about two years. They earned both money and. experience of show business. They returned to Thalassery because of sudden death of Krishnan, brother of Raman. Pariyali’s ambition was to start his own circus. Therefore, he came to Thalassery with his troupe and expressed his will to his Master. Prof: Keeleri. Keeleri was extremely happy and gave necessary advice and suggestions. According to him tent and other equipments can made or purchased, but artists should prepared for, as they are integral part of the show. Pariyali requested Keeleri to restart his institution. He agreed and did on his own courtyard. Apart from Pariyali Kannan, Poovadan Kunhambu, his brother Govindan, M.K. Raman, Irumban Kanari, Thattha Kanari, Sumathi, Aayatthan Gopalan, Krishna swami, O.K.Appa, O.K.Chandu were some of them who joined the institute initially. Kunnatth Yashoda and Velandi Madhavi were the two girls who joined with them. Yashoda was only five years old then. Madhavi left the training in midway, and there was no mention anywhere about of her in any records. Before Chathre’s Circus, Keeleri had seen a European Circus at Chennai. He still remembered the items, which shown in it. He revised the same items as per his imagination. In addition, he trained his disciples in the techniques of ways of martial art in which he was an expert.
Keeleri did not charge any fee for his service. Moreover, he provided free food, shelter and clothes to those who were needy who under went training. The girls stayed at the house of Manikkamma who was a distant relative of Keeleri. Those who are completed the training would be sent to various circuses by Guru Keeleri himself. There was no time limit for the training. It was according to the ability and enthusiasm of each trainee. Some body would take two or three years to complete the course, mean while some others would be take more time to achieve the goal. Comparatively Horizontal Bar and Bouncing Rope are very difficult and tedious items. It did not mean that the other items are easy to practice or perform. Each item is having its difficulties and danger in practicing as well as performing. Those who are completed the Course of training would join in circuses as a group, usually. A leader will be there for the group and he may be responsible of its members including girls.
Yashoda was taught solo numbers like ball-dance and hornless act apart from group items like foot acrobats, shoulder pole etc. Horizontal Bar, Roman Rings, Weight Lifting, Shell on Parallel Bar, Forehead Pole, Single and Double Trapezes, Wire Dance, Loose-wire Dance, Foot Juggling, Bouncing Rope, Cycle Feats, Frog Acts, Slanting Wire and various Somersaults taught at Keeleri’s Institute. Keeleri introduced many new items for the ring of Indian Circus. After severe training of three years, the troupe was ready to start a circus according to Pariyali’s dream.
Pariyali’s Malabar Grand Circus
The tent pegged at the paddy field of Chirakkara, Thalassery. Guru Keeleri named the circus as “Pariyali’s Malabar Grand Circus”. Keeleri himself inaugurated the show on February 20, 1904. It was on this show that the first Malayali female artist, Kunnoth Yashoda performed. In this humble attempt of Malayalee artists, there were no wild animals or any festivity adornments. Well-trained human beings performed all items. Nonetheless, spectators enjoyed, appreciated and encouraged the show. After touring various towns in Kerala, Pariyali’s circus moved to Tamilnadu. Everywhere they performed, they applauded and they profited. This kind of success was a challenge to Maharashtrians. They began to compete with the new challenge from Malayalis.
Maharashtrian Circuses imported many more animals and eminent artists from abroad Pariyali could not stand up to the competition. In1906, Paryali’s candle of life long ambition extinguished at the city of
Tamilnadu. Pariyali and his troupe returned to Thalassery.
DEVAL’S NEW VENTURE
In the early years circus owners did not take any responsibility of women artists. The responsibility lay on troupe leaders. Companies did not keep any girls under their supervision. Baba sahib Venkit Rao Deval of Deval Circus changed this system. It was a social reforming attempt of Deval. He did this under a peculiar situation. In Mahisal, Deval’s home village, there is an old
The system of Devadasi was prevalent there. The poor parents of girl children
gave one of them in the name of Ellamma Devi when she is in her childhood. She
no more belonged to her house or relatives. The other Devadasis were the only
people who helped these poor girls. temple of Devi Ellamma
Devadasis were those women who lived around the
and led an indecent life. Their old age was very miserable, stricken with
poverty and diseases. Most of the Devadasis sold like animals. They led to the
red-streets of Mumbai and Kolkata, when they are young.
Babasaheb Deval tried to help these innocent girls. There were many to discourage him. However, he did not turn back. Literally, Deval bought the girls by giving money to elder Devadasis who were the custodians of them. He, as the proprietor of the circus took all responsibilities of these girls. He provided them food, clothing, shelter, education, medicine, travel expenses and training in various circus feats. They became prominent artists and got good salary. Male artists and out siders married them. These girls called “Company Girls”, and they still known by the same name.
With great pleasure, Keeleri agreed and sent them. Malabar Sandow Poovadan Kunhambu, his brother Govindan, Kunnoth Yashoda and some others joined in Chathre’s Circus with blessings of Guru Keeleri. They began their performances at Chathre’s ring at Thalassery camp itself.
Entrance of Malayali Artists
Entrance of Malayali artists was a turning point in the history of Indian circus. Performance of Malayali artists attracted other Maharashtrian Circus owners. They too approached Guru Keeleri for service of his disciples. Keeleri’s Institute became livelier. During those days, many families in
North Malabar were in utter poverty, particularly the
down trodden. Lack of schools, employment, and family planning were some of
reasons for this financial backwardness. Many chose circus as a profession as
it promised good wages and descent living. Some others were attracted to the
adventure in performing marvelous and astonishing feats in front of a huge
Hundreds of boys and girls arrived in circus rings through Prof: Keeleri’s institution and escaped from poverty. They achieved descent social life and feed their poor families. During that period, the circus artists were drawing amount of salaries better than Government officials were. Hundreds of poor families from Thalassery and Kannur got relief from living in penury. More over the circus became a part of culture and social status of the people of these west coast towns and villages. Thalassery is still famous for Circus, Cricket and Cake. Cricket played in
first at Thalassery in 1880s by Col. Wellesley and his colleagues. Cake was
made first in India at Thalassery by Mambally Bappu, the first baker on the
instruction of Brown of Cinnamon Estate in Anjarakandy, near Thalassery. Three
of these C s births happened in eighties of nineteenth century. It was the time
of British rule in India.
PARASHURAM LION CRCUS
Renamed By the Great Freedom Fighter Thilak
Circus people played their own role in our freedom struggle also. Vishnupanth Chathre, Kashinathpanth Chathre, Parashuram Roa
etc. offered shelter and financial assistance to freedom fighters. Leaders like
Lokamanya Balagangadhara Thilak, Swami Ramthirth, and Kakka Karlekar were great
admirers and well-wishers of the circus art. One day, Thilak and his followers
came to watch the show of Parashuram Circus. In that show the owner, Parashuram
Rao displayed the wild animals in the ring. Seven full-grown up lions, each
obeyed Parashuram Rao as if kittens!
“This establishment should be known as Parashuram Lion Circus”.
That day on wards, this company was famous as the same name, “Parashuram Lion Circus.”
KARLEKAR’S GRAND CIRCUS DEVIDED
In 1912 Sadashiv Rao N. Karlekar of’ “Karlekar’s Grand Circus” died. He had given equal partnership to two of his employees, Shankar Rao Lahaane and Thukkarm Ganpath Shellar, when he was in financial crisis in the beginning of twentieth centaury. Slowly Karlekar’s circus developed equivalent to Chathre’s Circus, with the efforts of three partners.
When Karlekar died Shankar Rao and Shellar divided the circus in to equal parts and each established his own company. It was Karlekar’s wish to retain the name “Karlekar.” Shankar Rao obeyed his master’s last wish. He continued his company in the banner of Karlekar Grand Circus.
Shellar’s Great Royal
Shellar’s Great Royal
Shellar renamed his circus as “Shellar’s Great Royal Circus”. Shellar tried to enrich the show by putting one more ring in his Circus as an experiment. It was utter failure. Therefore, he withdrew his reformation immediately. Further, he established a permanent circus theatre in Roman Amphitheatre pattern, at
(now Vadodara) in . It did not do
well. Therefore, he shifted this too to a tenting circus and began touring
under the name of “Shellar’s International Circus”, in second half of
nineteen twenties. Gujarat
Gymnastic Lady Thara Bai
Around the second decade of twentieth century,
resident Thara Bai rose in to the screen of Indian Circus history. She was “The
Strong woman” in Karlekar’s and Parashuram Lion, performing weight lifting and
some kinds of gymnastic items. Keeping granite-boulder on her chest and two men
smashing it with iron-hammer, circulating granite- boulder tied to her hair,
dragging a truck tied her hair etc were some of Thara Bai’s gymnastic items.
After serving of a few years in some circuses, she formed her own circus in her
name. Thara Bai Circus visited Malabar several times. She was very famous all
around Malabar area.
Rao Kamire Bombay
Another circus started in 1920 was Grand Bombay by Babu Rao Kamire of Sangli,
who was a horizontal bar player and sharp shooter. He worked in some of
Maharashtrian Companies like Indian Bahadoor Circus etc. He ran this small
circus about 29 years as his own with out any help from others.
Morey Patel and others
During this period, some more circuses appeared in the scene. They were Morey Patel, Royal Maratta, Bombay G.A (Gulshan Anwar), Royal Deccan, Ramamurthy Nayadu’s Hindu Hercules, Yekanathmurthy’s and Krishnamurthy’s. Ramamurthy, Krishnamurthy and Ekanathmurthy were strong men performing sandow feats. From these three Murthies, Ramamurthy was very famous.
More Patel was resident of Vadugampur village, near Sangamaner, Ahamednagar District, in
He was a trainer of wild animal. His Circus was very small, tenting village to
village within his state itself traveling in bull-carts. Morey Patel never
tried to make it a big show from beginning to end. Maharastra State
Hajj Yakoob and Moideen who were brothers from Sangli,
Bombay G.A (Gulshan Anwar) Circus. Within a few years, this circus also became
one of the standard circuses in India.
It visited in several
occasions and most of artists in this were from Thalassery. Prof: Kallan
Gopalan, Proprietor of Great Raymon Circus was working with this circus.
Mohammed Abbhas founded Royal Deccan Circus. Another one was Royal Maratta
Circus. No details of these companies are available in authentic records. Kerala
HINDU HERCULES CIRCUS
Ramamurthy was born in Vijayanagaram, Andhra Pradesh. In his childhood, Ramamurthy was a tuberculosis patient. Some body advised him to eat well along with medication and practice exercises. He obliged and grown up a very strong man in his youth. He practiced sandow feats like weight lifting, Iron Ball, Truck Passing on Chest etc. He served some big topes of
Then he started his own circus, under the banner of Ramamurthy’s Hindu Hercules
Circus. In it, there were about twenty strong men performing various sandow
feats at every show. However, this circus too did not last long. After closing
down the circus, Ramamurthy went to Varanasi
on invitation of Madan Mohan Malavya, Freedom Fighter and Founder of Banaras
The invitation was to take charge of the post of Dean of Physical Education in
on a monthly salary of two thousand rupees. It was the highest remuneration of
those times. In his sixties Ramamurthy became a diabetic patient and Doctors
consoled him to endure the critical situation and removed one of his legs. The
closing years of his life Ramamoorthy spent at his native city, Vijayanagaram.
A park and a bust of Ramamoorthy in that park has established at Vijayanagaram
by the Benaras University in honor
of him. Municipality
There is no authentic record about Yekanath Murthy Circus, and Krishna Murthy’s Circus. Krishna Murthy visited Thalassery with his circus in 1916. Famous Horizontal Bar Player Mukkattil Kunhambu, a disciple of Guru Keeleri, who made his debut in Krishnamurthy’s ring, has noted in his memory. Prof: Kallan Gopalan, founder of Great Raymon told that he started his carrier as a circus artist and troupe leader in Ekanathmurthy Circus. More details about these companies not known.
After the ruin of Pariyali’s Circus, Keeleri’s few disciples made attempts to run their own circuses on a small basis, which were all utter failures. One Kunhammed Kurikkal, a resident of Pulikkal, Chaliyam,
South Malabar, founded
his own circus under the name and style of “Gulmohmmed Circus”. It progressed
well with in a few years and continued about 38 years. Kunhammed Kurikkal was
not a disciple of Keeleri. During these days, a few small circuses formed in
Travancore, a Princely State, in South Kerala.
There are no authentic records available about these companies.
Glittering Face of Indian Circus
In the first and second decades of last century many youngsters, especially from Thalassery and Kannur worked in different Maharashtrian circuses as troupe or individuals. Keeleri Kunhikkannan (Junior), cousin brother of Guru Keeleri, Kallan Gopalan, Chirammal Karunthankandy Ambu, Keezhanthi Gopalan, Padikkal Kunhianadan, Mandan Teacher, his brother Kumaran Teacher, M.K.Raman, Poovadan Kuhambu, his brother Govindan, twins Nelloli Govindan and Nelloli Krishnan, Cyclist Govindan Nair, K.M.Kunhikkannan Nair, O.K.Appa, O.K.Chandu, O.K.Kunhambu, O.K. Ambukkutty, M. Kanaran were some of them. On the other side Kunnath Yashoda, Vandyayi Kunhimmatha, Kalyani, Nani, Kousalya, and so many girls from Thalassery and surrounding villages were working in the troupes of above said persons. They were all products of Keeleri’s institute. Among the male artists, except two or three, all became owners of circuses in the later years.
During the second decade of the 20th century, a few circuses came in to the field from Bengal and
In Bengal, the first circus was set up by
S.K.Guha who known, as “Budda Babu”.
Name of this circus was Great Ringling Circus. Another one was Baby Day
Circus. The details of this circus are unavailable. In addition, Raman Mukkarji
the famous Horizontal Bar Player was a product of Benagal. The renowned loose
wire Player Shankar Mudaliar and world famous wild animal Trainer Prof: Damoo
Dhothre had been in the service of Ringling Circus of Bengal. In Assam, Khan Sahib of Maimansing founded the
first circus in Assam
state, named as “Assam Diamond Circus”. Both Dhamoo Dhothre and Shankar
Mudaliar have worked in Assam Diamond Circus also.
The death of Baba sahib Deval
In 1920, Baba Saheb Venkit Rao Deval died. Then his two brothers took charge of the circus. They re-named it as “Deval Brothers Circus”. However, they were unable to run such an establishment. After two years, they handed over the Company to nephews of Deval, Banthopanth and Vinayak Rao. Both were circus artists. Within few years, they closed down the circus and joined Thara Bai Circus. Their aim was restart Deval Circus by any cost.
Keeleri Kunhikkannan (Junior) was the first Malayali to start a circus with all its glamour including wild animals, equipments, male and female artists and European Troupes
He began his career at Chathre’s Circus, as a troupe leader. His new venture named as “White Way Circus”. Its inaugural show, in1922, was at Trichur, Kerala. He started his circus with full equipments and arrangements. He brought some efficient artists and wild animals from abroad. He also trained wild animals and presented in the ring. Every thing in the ring and behind the ring was perfect in the style of European Circuses. His nephew, Kunhikkannan then Kannan Bombayo, World Famous Rope Dancer was his right hand in the management of circus.
A number of famous artists in thirties and forties were the products of Keeleri’s White way. Prof: Keeleri (Junior) made very notable improvements in circus ring as per the modern trends. His style of presentation of the show was entirely different and new.
Within a few years
White Way, become
one of the Big Topes in India.
There were so many European Troupes like as Canostroly troupe from Italy and Vanderweilen from Belgium and artists from China. Kunhikkannan took along his
circus to Myanmar ( Burma), Singapore and Malacca. Then he led
the circus to Ceylon ( Sri Lanka)
in 1927. After returning from Ceylon,
it traveled all over India.
was camping only in North Indian States until its end. He never brought his
circus to his native town, Thalassery or even in any Southern States.
Prof: Kallan Gopalan’s
Great Raymon Circus
White Way, Kallan Gopalan, disciple of
Guru Keeleri, and native of Kavumbhagam, a neighboring
town formed the next Malayali circus. At the age of ten, he joined Keeleri’s
Circus Institute. Completing of preliminary lessons he tried in Horizontal Bar.
However, he could not do it well due to his perspiring palms. Therefore,
Keeleri suggested him to do other items like as foot juggling, foot acrobats, shoulder
pole and fore head pole etc. He acquired ability in those items within five
years. When he was sixteen, he formed a troupe including some girls and joined in
Yekanathmoorthi Circus of Andhra Pradesh. After four years, he shifted to
Bombay GA Circus. Gopalan did not stay long at Bombay G.A. He said goodbye to
G.A because of irregular payment, from Rathlam camp. His aim was to start his
own company. For this purpose, he approached His Highness Srimanth Sir Sajjan
Singhji, Maharaja of Rathlam. Ratlam was a princely State in village of Thalassery . Madhya Pradesh
Maharaja sponsored him by giving him two horses and an amount of cash. Gopalan began in a humble way. Guru Keeleri named the concern” Great Raymond Circus”. A signboard proposed to fix at front gate which written as “RAYMON”, omitting ‘D’ by painter’s mistake. Gopalan decided to continue the same. Thus, it came to known as “Great Raymon Circus”. Major General HH. Maharaja Shrimanth Sir Sajjan Singhji, Sahib Bahadur Maharaja of Rathlam inaugurated Great Raymon Circus in the ground near the
Ratlam in1924. Ranjith
Lamentable End of a Great Venture
The same year Kashinath Chathre the Owner of Chathre’s Circus died. Soon after his son, Vinayakpanth Chathre took up the responsibility of the circus. The success of Chathre‘s Circus was the family atmosphere in the tent they created from beginning. The owners Vishnupanth and Kashinath treated the employees as family members both in good and hard times.
Once, Lokamanya Bala Gangadhara Thilak, the great freedom fighter and political leader of
India, visited Chathre’s Circus.
After the show, Kashinath Chathre called out the Malayali Artists, and happily
introduced them to Thilak and mentioning them as the pillars of his Establishment.
Keeleri Kunhikkannan (Junior), Padikkal Kunhianandan, M.K. Raman, Keezhanthi
Gopalan, and Mandan Teacher were some of them.
The kindness or capability of Kashinath was missing in Vinayak Panth. This disappointed the whole Malayali artists. They altogether left Chathre Circus. Day by day, During tour in
added to the misery due to natural calamities. Heavy rain and whirlwind destroyed
the tent putting an end to the show.
Vinayak could not find any other way but to borrow a hefty sum of money from Shirimony Babu, a jeweler and animal trainer belongs to
Utter Pradesh. Therefore, he compelled to mortgage the Circus to Shirimony
Babu. He could not repay his debt in the stipulated time. Shirimony dragged the
matter to court. The judgment was in favor of Shirimony. With the Court order,
Shirimony seized Chathre’s Great Indian Circus. He gave away the responsibility
of running it to two circus artists, namely Shankar and Mahadev. The circus
re-introduced as “Chathre’s New Indian Circus.”
That is why somebody thought and wrote, the name of the founder of Indian Circus was Vishnupanth Vinayak Chathre and the name of the first circus in
India is Chathre’s New Indian
Money is not the only requirement to run a circus successfully. Business tricks, showmanship, leadership are essential for it. Above all, luck! Shankar and Mahadev could not succeed in their venture. At Sangamaner, near Ahamednagar in
Chathre’s tent lowered forever in 1927.
Some more circus companies appeared in the field in last years of twenties. They were Star of India, Carloson Grand and Asiatic. M.K. Raman, disciple of Keeleri formed “Star of India” in 1926. It inaugurated at Thalassery, with two pole tent and essential equipments. There were no wild animals in starting stage. However, some fantastic items were there which were attractive to the audience.
Carloson Grand was by T.M. Rajaram, resident of Thanjavur, Tamilnadu. Originally, Rajaram was a Maharashtrian. His ancestors came from Maharashtra as soldiers along with the army of Ekoji (Venkaji), half brother of Shivaji Maharaj of Bijapur conquered Thanjavur defeated General Alagiri in1676. From those days Thanjavur was under the rule of hereditary of Shivaji Maharaj up to 1855.Then this princely state conquered by British East India Company. Still a major portion of population in Thanjavur is Maharashtrians. Rajaram belongs to such a family. Rajaram’s circus also flourished as a standard one within short period.
Tragic end of Patwardhan Brothers
In the next year of Chathre’s Circus tragedy, a terrible incident that shook entire circus fraternity happened in the Patwardhan Circus arena. Usually Thathya Saheb presented the wild animals in the ring. This item performed after erecting tall iron grills all around the ring. Without chains or any other precaution, five grown up lions and three tigers let out of the cages in to the enclosed ring. Such kind of items is very dangerous particularly if there are more than one lion along with lionesses. Only the presenter and his assistant may be in side the ring. That too without any weapons for self-protection, except a whip and a long stick or a chair.
In this particular show, a lion was annoyed. Suddenly it sprang up on Thathya Saheb. This angered the other loins. If one attacks, the others follow suit. This is natural behaviour of lions. Sensing the danger, his brother Sripath Roa entered in to the railings. The lions attacked him too. The workers and artists some how drove angered animals back in to their cages. Meanwhile both the brothers had died. This incident put an end to the Patwardhan Circus.
Rugma Bai, the Mighty Women of Indian Circus
In late twenties Rugma Bai of Andhra Pradesh started, a circus with the guidance of her husband Ramachandra Rao of Mangalore under the name and style of “Rugma Bai Circus”.Rugma Bai was the woman sandow in Parashuram Lion Circus and Ramachandra Rao was working as General Manager in the same company. Rao had studied in
before joined in the circus. He was impressed with the art of circus when he
saw the Parashuram Circus in Mangalore. That was how he entered into circus
field and later married Rugma Bai. She was his second wife. Oxford University, England
Within a short period, Rugma Bai Circus also became one of the standards among Indian Big Tops. Many artists, managers and other workers from Malabar served in this circus. P.C.Achuthan, Poovadan Chandrasekharan, Cyclist Pappu of Kannur, P. Shankaran, Mattankot Kunhiraman, his brother Shanku, P. Govindan, Paloran Karunan and Damodaran of Thalassery, J.L.Wallace (Manager) of Alappuzha were some among them. So many girl artists form Thalassery and Kannur served Rugma Bai Circus.
In 1928, two circuses were camping at
in various towns. They were Keeleri’s White
Way and M.K.Raman’s Star of India. The worst
climatic conditions like heavy rain and whirlwind one of them, M.K. Raman’s ‘Star
of India’ made to wind up the show. Raman Teacher and his staff joined in
Keeleri’s White Way Circus, which was showing at another side of Sri Lanka.
Deval Circus re-established during this period by his nephews Bandopanth and Vinayak Rao in the same name. They accumulated the required amount to resurrect the circus by working in Thara Bai Circus of Agra.
World Famous Rope Dancer of
Arrival of more female artists from Thalassery and Kannur put an end to the male domination in Indian circus arena. All items except “Horizontal Bar” began performed by girls. Guru Keeleri was immensely popular among circus artists and admirers all over the world. The great credit for this goes to none other than “KNNAN BOMBAYO”
One day as Keeleri passed past his sister’s house, he heard a child’s sobs. He looked around. He saw a small boy sitting up on a jackfruit tree at the way side and crying. Going closer he recognized the boy. He was Kannan, his cousin sister’s son. The boy told him that he climbed up on the tree on getting smell of ripe jackfruit. Eagerness of eating ripe jackfruit made him to climb on the tree some how. After eating, he could not come down due to fear. So he cried. Keeleri consoled him and asked him to jump into his arms. Kannan jumped as per Keeleri’s instruction. Keeleri held Kannan and led him straight to the circus institute. Immediately began Kannan’s training, at the age of seven.
Kannan was born at Chirakkara, Thalassery on 30 May 1907 as son of Eerayi Korumban, and an agriculturist. His brother Kunhiraman was also a circus artist.
Though Kannan did practise in foot acrobats, shoulder pole, somersaults etc., he was specially trained in Bouncing rope which was regularized and reformed by Guru Keeleri. This Fantastic item performed by O.K.Chandu alias Charlie, brother-in-law of Keeleri in Indian circus ring for the first time.
Kannan joined in Sandow Sheshappa’s “Sheshappa Circus”, in 1916 at their Thalassery camp as a troupe member headed by Chirammal Ambu. He performed rope dance for the first time in the ring of Sheshappa Circus in his age of fifteen.
When Uncle Keeleri Kunhikkannan (Junior) started “White Way Circus” in 1922, at Trichur,
Kannan magnificently performed bouncing rope in the ring of White Way That both
spectaculars, circus artists were dumbfounded at this. Gradually Kannan took
charge of the day-to-day affairs of White way Circus. During its days in Kerala State South East Asia, Kannan managed the circus in such perfection
that many wondered whether it was a European circus.
In 1928, when White way was in
Kannan went abroad, which was a turning point in his life that initiated his
journey towards world recognition. There was an Italian Troupe in White way,
Canstrolly troupe. Kannan fell in love with Philomena daughter Canastrolly, the
Meanwhile this troupe left for
London on the invitation
of Bertram W. Mill, the owner of Bertram Mill’s Circus. Kannan fled from White way,
as he could not live away from Philomena. He reached London by a Cargo-ship. Bertram W. Mill received
Kannan warm-heartedly. He had already heard about Kannan’s daring performance
in bouncing rope. Bertram Mills Circus was camping at Olympia,
During these days, the name of ‘
Bombay’ was more popular than ‘ India’. Therefore, Bertram Mills
introduced Kannan as “Kannan Bombayo” Which meant Kannan, The Indian. Kannan entered
the ring on an elephant in Kingly attire six girls on each side, dancing on
their way, held the loose ends of his attire. By this time, Kannan would jump
on to the bouncing rope fitted at the height of thirty feet, from elephant’s
back. This used to be the first item.
Single somersault forward and backward, Double somersault forward and backward, high Back somersault, Forward twist etc were some of the important items Kannan performed. The circus lovers of countries like
France, Germany and United States of
America etc wondered at Kannan’s performance. Kannan performed for The Royal
family at . The King George
VI praised Kannan after seeing his performance. Buckingham
The Jumping Devil of
Adolph Hitler came to watch Bertram Mills once, during its
Berlin show. Watching
Kannan’s performance, Hitler was so astonished that he stood up. After
completing the performance, Hitler called Kannan and examined his shoes. Hitler
found nothing special about his shoes. Hitler wrote in Kannan’s autograph “You
are the Jumping Devil of India.”
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey considered the biggest show forever in the history of Circus world. It was the “Greatest show on Earth.” Co-operating with it, Bertram Mills toured
Kannan was one of the Chief artists at Bertram Mills.
Ringling Brothers exhibited its show in three different rings, among the three, the world famous artists only allowed to perform in the central ring. In other, two rings, comparatively ordinary items shown, usually. When Kannan performing in the central ring, other two rings will be remained empty. Such prominence as specially allowed to Kannan by John Ringling, and then President of the RB&B&B. An American circus artist, Eddy Paul was an expert ropedancer. Once Kannan and Eddy contested. The rival cut Kannan’s rope. Kannan performed, as usual. His trickery did not cause any harm to Kannan. Accepting defeat Eddy congratulated Kannan. Kannan was drawing $ 400 per week from the RB&B&B which equaled is four thousands Indian rupees. American President Roosevelt was another dignitary who praised Kannan.
Monarch, Benito Mussolini and King George VI of Great Britain were also admirers of
this great artist.
Kannan and Philomena got married during the American tour, on 19 September 1932 at
New Jersey. In the third year of their marriage,
they got a son, christened him Charlie Kannan. Little Charlie’s training in
rope dance began at the age of three. However, let us leave that tragic end of
the story for another occasion.
Prof: C. Ambu’s
GRAND FAIRY CIRCUS
Chirammal Karunthankandy Ambu was a troupe leader in Parashuram Rao
Mali’s Parashuram Lion Circus. Ambu
is Guru Keeler’s another prominent disciple. He hails from Thiruvangad,
Thalassery. After his training at Keeler’s institute, he formed a troupe with
some girls namely Kunhi Mamatha, Nani and Kalyani, his nephews Kunhiraman,
K.V.Gopi, K.V.Raman, Horizontal bar player Gopi, Namath P.C.Kunhikannan (then
Kannan Bombayo) and few others. All are from surrounding villages of
Thalassery. He joined with his troupe in Sandow Sheshappa “Sheshappa Circus “of
Mangalore, at first in 1916 at Thalassery camp.
Later they joined “Parashuram Lion “. In the beginning year of thirties Ambu’s troupe was dismissed from the circus with an order to vacate with in twenty-four hours. Proud to accept the dismissal Order, Ambu approached labor court at
Ambu won the case. The company asked to meet his grievances.
Ambu took an oath not to seek a job in any circus. In 1932, Ambu started a small Circus at Kattol, near
Akola, in . It called “Grand
Fairy Circus”. Guru Keeleri suggested that name. Within short period, Fairy
Circus rose on a par with prominent circuses in Maharashtra
Ambu brought many innovations in the circus arena. There were several numbers considered unthinkable for girls. Rope Dance, Ladder Balance, Stunt Cycle, Wire Dance, Slanting Wire were male dominion numbers in those days. Ambu trained girls all these numbers and performed in arena perfectly.
Thattari Lakshmi was the first female star to perform Rope Dance in Circus ring trained by Prof: Ambu himself. Different types of classical dances performed in Grand Fairy’s ring. Guru Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair, the renowned classical dancer and Kathakali Actor of Kerala, taught dancing the female artists Grand Fairy. Other circus companies also followed these, later.
Prof: Ambu got number of awards and rewards from distinguished persons and associations of various places. His life dedicated to Circus Art, he was saying always. He kept a close relationship with his employees. During the show time, he would be present at the backside of the ring watching thoroughly each item. If any missing in performance, happened by the artists he would call the concerned artist and will point out the mistake.
Vichitra Durbar Circus
B.I.V.Naidu who hailed from Andhra Pradesh settled in
(Kolkata) was a wild animal dealer. He bought, sold and exchanged African
lions, Royal Bengal Tigers, African Leopards, Cheetahs, Himalayan Bears and
Nepali Elephants to Zoological Gardens,
and Circus Companies. He started a circus on 1 April 1932, namely Vichitra
Durbar Circus. It opened at Kharagpur, near Kolkata. Naidu arranged some famous
European troupes and tremendous items of Malayali Artists. Even though, this
company has no long life other than first camp of it. Naidu enforced to close
down at Kharagpur itself .There were legal cases and interferences between
Naidu and Shankar Rao Lahaane of Karlekar Grand circus in Calcutta High court. Native States
The world Famous Loose wire Artist & Circus Proprietor
Shankar Mudaliar was a loose wire artist in “Shellar’s Great Royal Circus.” He was a resident of Vellur, Tamil Nadu. Even European Artists could not copy Mudaliar’s loose wire feats. After leaving Shellar’s circus Mudaliar joined S.K. Guha’s Great Ringling Circus as Director. Then he joined in Khan Saab’s Assam Diamond Circus. There also he was working as the director. Leaving from Assam Diamond Circus Mudaliar formed his own circus under the name style of Asiatic Circus.
Those days Shellar was having two circuses namely Great International, a tenting unit and Grand Universal, which was a permanent Circus Theatre at
Baroda, in Gujarat. He merged Great International with Grand
Universal and put a new name to the new venture, Sheller’s Great Royal Circus.
Shellar’s Great Royal and Mudaliar’s Great Asiatic met in Kolkatta in 1937. Master and his disciple contested not only in performances in the rings, but also in seat arrangements too. Perfumes for spray on seats imported from
and Paris. At
the end, the result was nothing but ruin of both.
Glamour and pomposity pushed them into debt. Mortgaging his circus, Shellar borrowed money from Rahmathulla & Company in Kolkata. Rahmathulla was an instrumentalist (Trumpet) in Shellar’s Circus who drew Rupees 35/- as salary in twenties. Leaving circus Rahmathulla started the money lending business at Kolkata and became one of big financiers in Kolkata those days.
Shellar could not pay back his debt in time. He met the same face of Chathre’s. Rahmathulla acquired Shellar’s Great Royal Circus. Shankar Mudaliar also had the same fate. Rahmathulla bought “Asiatic Circus also. He merged both circuses and called it ‘Minerva Circus’. In the next year, Rahmathulla introduced a new circus under the banner of “Olympia Circus”. With great efforts of all publicity, Rahmathulla’s “
showed at Kolkata on that season. However, Rahmathulla could not continue
further steps due to disability of management. He closes down the show within a
short period, as he could not manage it.
Consequences of Second World War
Losses in Nineteen thirty-nine
Madras state Government passed a
new law in 1882, physical training must be included in every high school
curriculum. Gymnastics and Kalarippayattu were included in the syllabus. By
law, the gymnastic Instructor and Kalari Teacher were supposed to appoint. The
invited Keeleri Kunhikkannan. He was very happy to receive the invitation. He
got freedom from the accounts books in to his most interesting field. In June
1882, he appointed as the gymnastics Instructor at Tellicherry
BEMG High school .
BEMG High School
Golden Era of Indian Circus
Great Oriental Circus
O.C. Appa’s Fighting Tigers
O.C.Appa, brother-in-law of Prof: Keeleri was a well-known artist in thirties who formed his own circus under the banner of Prof: O.C.Appa’s Grand Kerala Circus. This attempt was with full arrangements including wild animals and women artists. Everybody in this company was disciple of Prof: Keeleri, which mentioned in their handbills. It specially noted in the handbill that these were the Fighting with a full-grown Bengal Royal Tiger. Unfortunately, this circus also stopped with in short. After closing the circus, he used to give tigers on rent to other circuses.
After Chiarini, many foreign circuses came to
Hippodrome, Hagen Beck, Carson’s American, Nelson’s
Olympia, Prof: Izalco’s
Russian etc. Among them Hippodrome and Hagen Beck returned to Europe
in time. Nelson’s Olympia
ruined in unfavorable condition. Nelson stopped the show at Waltair (Visakhapatnam-
Andhra Pradesh) and went to Kolkata to collect some money from his friends to
resume the circus. His daughter Isabella was staying with the circus. Nelson
did not return. Nobody knew what had happened to him. At this time, Shankar
Mudaliar was working in Nelson’s Circus. Mudaliar took charge of the circus and
married Isabella. He changed the name of circus as “Shankar Lion Circus.”
Shankar Mudaliar sold out the circus to Babu Rao Sasnik Patel of Sangli in 1941. After the death of Shankar Mudaliar, Isabella returned to her native land,
in 1959, with her children. Shankar Mudaliar and Isabella had four children,
Gloria, Joyce, Harold and another boy. Gloria married Norman Douglas Hutchinson
who was an excellent painter and author. He is no more. They had three girls,
Angelica, Deborah and Rebecca.
Harold has two daughters, Tabitha and Samantha. Tabitha is a writer and a student at
University, Edinburgh. Harold died in 1992. He was buried
in a place of honor as Reverent Mudaliar, in Kirkconnel Parish Church, Dumfries
& Galloway, Scotland, where he was Church of Scotland Minister, according
the information got from Miss. Evelyn Atholl Moir , Scotland.
End of Foreign Circuses in
During the Second World War, there was a Russian Circus touring in
India under the proprietorship of
Prof: Izacko. For last two decades, they were camping in cities of South East
Asia, because in Russia,
the Government, which came in to power after the October revolution,
nationalized all circus companies. That period, Prof: Izacko’s Circus was out of
On receiving the information of nationalization of circuses Prof: Isacko never
returned to Russia.
He was traveling around the cities in South East Asia.
Izakco’s Circus ruined during the Second World War, somewhere in North India. During those days, Carson’s
American Circus was a foreign endeavor, which started and ended in India.
American was a Motorcar athletic performer brought by Tatya Saheb Patwardhan,
owner of in Patwardhan Circus. Carson
would drive his motor car on to a platform fixed at a considerable height. From
Racing forward, takes a somersault and fall down on a well-set net. This daring act was very attractive to the spectators. Leaving from Patwardhan Circus Carson had served in Karlekar Grand and Parashuram Lion. There after
started his own Carnival Show, which known as Carson’s American Circus. Carson’s
Carnival was with dance, gambling and other sideshows including circus. During
the Second World War, this also ruined.
By the second half of thirties, more and more Malayali owned companies came in to the field. Jubilee, Imperial, Western, Bharath Refined etc were some of them. There are no any authentic records about these companies. Jubilee Circus formed by K.Krishnan a resident of
Kozhikode who was a wild animal trainer.
Krishnan married Kalyani, a circus artist from Thalassery and his second wife
was Lakshmi, sister of first wife. Both of them were trapeze artists as well as
wild animal presenters. Keeleri Raghavan, a relative and disciple of Guru
Keeleri, founded Imperial Circus. Kanaran, a resident of Thalassery and a
famous ropedancer, formed Western Circus. Kanaran trained in Keeler’s institute.
Those circuses destroyed in India,
not by bomb attack, but due to the financial crisis during the war. Prof:
Izacko’s Russian Circus and Carson’s
American Circus stopped their Show because of financial depression during the
war. In these days, Rugma Bai Circus was camping in Rangoon. They left India, two years before starting
the war started.
Great Eastern Circus
Puthukkudi Shankaran, resident of Eranholi village, near by
was working in Rugma Bai Circus as a Ring boy in his younger days. He studied
cutting and stitching of tent. Then he left Rugma Bai Circus and joined in
Great Rayman Circus. There he worked as Tent master. After some years, he
started his own circus in the banner of Great Eastern Circus, in 1937 at
somewhere, near Kolkata. Shankaran was a person in Indian Circus field like
Lord George Sanger of Thalassery Town England,
in the world of circus He was a man of some extra ordinary qualities and rare
virtues. His circus was a shelter for the dropouts of circus rings in their
later age. When R.R.Das Alias Poornia, the proprietor of Carloson Grand Circus,
died and ruined his circus in 1946, Shankaran, gave shelter to Padma wife of
Das and their two daughters, Jamuna and Ganga
Jamuna got training in flying trapeze and Motorcycle riding in Glob of Death and she became an efficient artist of Great Eastern.
was interested in choreography and film acting. Therefore, Shankaran sent her
to Chennai for higher studies in choreography. Shankaran married a woman from
Sri lanka. They got a son, Balakrishnan alias Balaji.
Consequences of Second World War
In 1937, the British Government separated
Burma (now Myanmar) from India and declared it as a privileged country. Before this order, Rugma Bai Circus had arrived in Burma. Rugma Bai wished to build her headquarters at Rangoon, the capitol city of Burma and a permanent Circus theatre there. But, Rugma Bai‘s dreams remained as dreams. To Rugma Bai’s misfortune, the Second World War spread across Southeast Asian countries. The war breaks out on September 1, 1939, in initial years it remained in the limit of Europe. When Japan joined Germany, the war spread to Southeast Asian countries and Japan attacked Burma. INA supported Japan in the battle against British in Burma, Singapore, Malaya, and Malacca. INA was an army of Indians under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose. India’s Freedom from British was his goal. Initially Japan and INA succeeded. They captured Burma, Singapore, Malaya, and Malacca and brought under their control. Nevertheless, this success was short lived. Next year Britain made severe bomb attack on South-East Asia. European countries including Russia except Germany and Italy united with Britain. This united army called “Allied Force.” Several circuses in Germany, France and Italy ruined during the time of war. Most of them were permanent theatres. Many of the Indian circuses also ruined during this period. Those circuses destroyed not by bomb attack, but due to the financial crisis occurred, during the war. Prof: Izacko’s Russian Circus and Carson’s American Circus who were traveling in India had withdrawn their performance during the war due to financial problems.
Prof: K. Krishnan Teacher’s
SOUTH INDIAN LADIES CIRCUS
Kannur Resident Mandan Teacher was an efficient Circus-artist and troupe leader. His brother Kumaran Teacher was also a circus artist and trainer. Kuamaran Teacher started a small circus, Bharath Refined Circus. Its inauguration held at Kasargode.
After some months, Mandan Teacher began managing the circus and renamed it as “The Great Mandan’s Grand Verity Show.’ However, Mandan Teacher could not survive the financial problems. Therefore, He compelled to hand over the company to his Master in circus art, Krishnan Teacher. Then Krishnan Teacher was retired from a local high school in Kannur, as gymnastic Instructor. He was also a disciple of Guru Keeleri. Krishnan Teacher took up the responsibility of Mandan Teacher’s establishment and reorganized it as “South Indian Ladies Circus.” Somebody believes that this circus was showing only female’s items. It is not correct. Attached the word “Ladies” was only for namesake. There were so many Male artists in this circus. This company was showing at South Indian states only. While other Malayali’s circuses are traveling North Indian states, North East Frontier, South Eastern countries and
Krishnan Teacher died in 1938 and his son Damodaran took charge of the circus. Damodaran studied up to Intermediate class at
, Tellicherry. He is the first college educated Proprietor in Indian Circus history and he was a voracious reader. His circus was very small touring in villages of Malabar and Tamil Nadu only. Brennan College
In 1938, T.M.Rajaram, proprietor of Carlo son Grand Circus died and his son R.R.Das alias Poorniya took charge of the circus. Thukkaram Ganpat Shelar, renowned circus proprietor bid fare well from circus field in the same year.
Losses in Nineteen thirty-nine
Two great prodigies who took Indian circus to the International level were Guru Keeleri and Kannan Bombayo. Both of them bid farewell from this world in the same year, 1939. On Feb 18 1939, Kannan Bombayo died in a ship on his way back to
India with his wife Philomena and son Charlie. It happened near the . port of Athens
Canceling his contract with Bertram Mills Circus Kannan’s ambition was to begin his own circus in
India. First, he went to Italy along with his family to meet Philomena’s parents. From Italy, he purchased necessary circus equipments and materials for the tent. He started his journey to India by a ship on the board. To bid fare well to Kannan and family Mussolini was present at port. Mussolini was then the Monarch of Italy. In the ship, Kannan fell ill. The illness diagnosed as pneumonia. Treatment available in the ship did not help. Before the ship reached the port Athens, on 18 February 1939, Kannan passed away.
Usually one dies on the board of sailing ship, the dead body will dropped in the sea within 40 miles. The Captain of the ship had noticed that Kannan was not an ordinary man. Mussolini’s presence at the fare well was enough for the Captain to understand his importance. Therefore, he sent a wireless message of Kannan’s death to Mussolini. The reply was that the burial to be done as Kannan’s Wife’s wish. Philomena wished to cremate Kannan’s body according to Hindu-per rites
on Indian soil. The body brought to Mumbai. Funeral pyre arranged at Shabari Crematorium in Mumbai. Three-year-old son Charlie lit the pyre. Kannan Bombayo, the world-renowned
Circus protégé left for his heavenly abode at the age of thirty-two. Philomena and Charlie came to Kannan’s house at Thalassery. They met Guru Keeleri and other relatives. They spent about two weeks with them and returned to
Italy. Their Whereabouts not been known since their departure.
The death of his favorite disciple and relative Kannan greatly affected Guru Keeleri. Within seven months, he too was no more. His life story is very interesting, because it is full of sequence of events. Kunhikkannan was born on 12 August 1855 at Chirakkara near Thalssery. Father Cherichalil Chandu and mother Keeleri Mandhi. He was an extra ordinary child in physic in birth itself. Kunhikkannan sent to school when he was five years. From first form to third form, he studied At Basal Evangelical Mission German School (later known as
). Basal Evangelical Mission Parse School
On growing Kunhikkannan was heavily built and more interested in physical activities rather than studies. An institute namely “Kalari” giving practice in martial arts was there near to his house instilled this interest. Maroli Ramunni Gurukkal conducted the Kalalri and chief instructor was Kelukkutty Kurup. Kunhikkannan could not join the Kalari. However, he did not fail to watch the activities at the Kalari any day. At home, he practiced them fervently. After passing eighth standard (3rd Form) Kunhikkannan stopped going to school.
He wished to find some job. In search of it, he left home and started walking. After a tedious journey of walking and by bull-cart, he arrived at Nilambur. In those days, there were no buses or train services. At Nilambur, he got a job in a Rubber Estate as an accountant. He spent more than three years at Nilambur. Then he had to leave the place due to Malaria fever. Back at Thalassery, with proper Medication he cured of malaria. After regaining his health, he tried and got a job at Kolaan Moosa & Company, which was a wholesale dealer of hill products, at his native town itself.
It was during those days that a European Bioscope Company arrived at Thalassery. Being the early days of cinema, the bioscope company exhibited film shows, which were of a few minutes length. These film shows were their main item. Dances, Magic, different physical feats, gambling were their sideshows. This company included iron-ball act and weight lifting too.
Kunhikannan liked this item very much. He watched it several times and understood the technique how to lift the iron balls and swing them. He decided to practice the act. Iron balls were noting available anywhere in Malabar area. Therefore, he chiseled and polished granite boulders into iron balls and began his practice. “Kalarippayattu”, a kind of martial art of Kerala, regarded as the foundation to all physical exercises. It will not be difficult to learn any form of physical exercise if one learns the basic of Kalarippayattu. Realizing this fact Kunhikannan decided to learn more of the art of Kalarippayattu. For this, he approached Unni Kurup, an exponent of Kalarippayattu. Kunhikkannan studied more from Unnikurppu. More over he practiced under Pythal Chettiar, Chappunni Panikkar, and Pattar Gurukkal of Payyannur who were all experts in Kalarippayattu. Therefore, Kunhikannan became expert of the intricate antics of this art. Once he went to Mangalore to learn a particular antic called
“Konduchorayal.” Later he passed this action only to a few of his disciples like Padikkal Kunhanandan, Venadan Kunhiraman etc.
Kunhikannan's brother-in-law was a government employee. He had posted at places like Thanjavur,
Madurai, and Tiruchirappalli etc. Kunhikannan went and stayed with his sister and brother-in- law at all these places. During his stay at these places in Tamil Nadu, he saw wrestling which was not in practice anywhere in Malabar. He befriended with some wrestlers and learned wrestling. His skill in Kalarippayattu helped him greatly to learn it easily. At Thalassery, he taught it to many youngsters like Venadan Kunhiraman, Chakyath Kunhiraman, Karimbil Pokkan, Pulinchakka Pokkan and Keechakan Pokkan etc.
Master of Wrestling
In wrestling, Keeleri Kunhikannan is the first teacher of Keralites. Not only did he teach wrestling but he also conducted wrestling matches. Nevertheless, he never took part in matches. Once, just once, he had to wrestle against a European wrestler. It is an interesting story.
One morning, an English man came to Kuhi Kannan’s house. His mother was worried to see the white man at her door. The man said some thing. She understood that the White Man had come looking for her son. Kunhikannan was practicing at his Kalari. His mother informed him of the white’s arrival. Kunhikannan was surprised. In Those days, at Thalassery, every Government office, Courts, Business Establishments etc had white men as their chiefs. However, no white was supposed to come and meet natives at their residence. Kunhikannan came down to have a look at the stranger.
The tall English man seemed to be a wrestler. Both greeted each other and introduced themselves. Kunhikannan was right in his guess. The man was a wrestler from
England. He heard about Keeleri Kunhikannan and wished to wrestle with him. Keeleri tried his best to avoid. However, the guest was adamant. Keeleri had to agree. Keller’s mother was very much worried for her son. It was the time of British rule in India. If some thing happened to her son, she could bear. However, anything happened to the white! Keeleri told to his mother to go in side, come out only when he calls.
The white man took off his suite Keeleri too came ready to the courtyard. His mother praying in side the house. Not more than few minutes Keeleri called out his mother. She came running towards him worried. Her son was all in smile.
“What happened to the man?”
She asked eagerly
Keeleri pointed the top of young coconut palm near by. White man was sitting there smiling to hide his embarrassment. Keeleri helped him to get down. His eyes were full of admiration, and he congratulated Keeleri. Before leaving, he did have full meal from Keeler’s mother.
Cricket played in
India for the first time at Thalassery ground. Colonel Wellesley came to Tellicherry for East India Company to defeat Pazhassi Kerala Varma, the king of Kottayam, a princely state in Malabar region. Colonel Wellesley introduced cricket in Tellicherry. In its yearly days in India, only whites had the right to play cricket. Later on, natives were also included in the teams. Soon the popularity of the game spread all over India. Keeleri liked cricket very much. His forte was bowling. He was so good in it that the whites inducted him as a bowler in their first class teams. During these days, Mr. Overbury was serving as the deputy collector Tellicherry. He was deeply interested in sports and games. Arranging sports and games activities and exhibitions was his hobby. Exhibitions and competitions held at Thalassery ground and the public given free-entry to enjoy the shows.
During this period, British Military camped at Kannur in St Angelo’s Fort. From this
Over burry brought
some persons to Thalassery who were experts in different physical activities
like horizontal bar, Parallel Bar, Roman rings and equestrian acts etc. Keeleri
greatly impressed by the performances of white army men. Though very difficult,
Keeleri wished to learn them. For that, one should know how they trained.
Training carried out at military camp. Natives not permitted to enter the camp.
Keeleri continued his efforts to fulfill his wish. camp
The Tellicherry Fort Authority formed a voluntary organization called British Volunteer Corps. Healthy and confident youths inducted in to this organization. The fort’s security was their duty. Those selected given three months training at Kannur camp. Therefore, Keeleri joined in British Volunteer Corps.
He spent three months at the military camp. During his, along with his training as a volunteer, he tried his best to grasp how the army men practiced the physical activities mentioned earlier. Returning home, he began his self-training on Horizontal bar, Parallel bar and Roman Rings. With in three years he became an expert in these three acts. His knowledge in Kalarippayattu, no doubt, helped him here a lot.
In March 1857, by the earnest efforts of the famous linguist Dr. Herman Gündert, Basal Evangelical German Society started an
at Tellicherry. Next year,
a prominent trader, a Parsee donated one thousand and five hundred rupees to this
school. Thus, the school renamed as English Middle School . Soon it was
elevated to a high school. In the First World War, since German
School Germany fought against Britain the term German removed.
Therefore, it came to known as . Though
Keeleri joined as gymnastics Instructor, his appointment was not valid as he
was not a certified instructor. A candidate earned this certificate attending a
one-year training program in field games. BEMP
The training carried out in
Madras at Saidapet Pupil’s Park. Keeleri went
to Madras to
attend this course. Attaining the certificate, he rejoined
legally. It was during his stay at Mission School Madras
that he saw a circus for the first time. It was a European circus. The
different physical acts he saw there imprinted in his mind. While working at ,
Keeleri known as “Kunhikkannan Teacher”. BEMP School
In 1887, Chathre’s Great Indian Circus came to Thalassry and the subsequent events mentioned earlier. The second attempt of Keeleri was in 1901. It did not last long. The third venture was in 1911. It became a permanent institution, which was the first one in its kind in whole
Kunhikkannan Teacher was the first in the world to start a modern circus institute. Before this, there was an institute at
Emilio Christiani, a blacksmith interested in physical exercises, started this
institute in 1860. The entire members of Christiani Family became circus
artists, because of this institute. They migrated to America, served Ringling Brothers
and Barnum & Bailey for some years. Then they started their own circus,
Christiani Brothers. This company is still showing in America.
During the early days, there was no any kind of circus practicing centers for this purpose in European countries. Training given in circus itself, formerly. An authentic Circus institute came in to being in
Soviet Union in the year 1926, only.
After “October Revolution” the democratic government that came into power in
nationalized about one hundred circus companies in 1919.Though nationalized;
the management of these companies was not flawless. More over as a form of art,
they lacked quality. In these
circumstances, to promote circus in all respects “School for Circus and Variety
Arts” started in Moscow
in 1926. Moscow
had all support from the Government of the USSR. Keeleri’s Institute had the
moral and morale support of his disciples only. Anyhow, this institute became
the maternity home of circus art in India.
The End of False Devil
Keeleri always stood against superstitious and barbaric rituals. He opposed caste discrimination vehemently. He was the President of Atheists’ Club of Kottayam Thaluk (the present Thalassery Revenue Division) The surroundings of Tellicherry Courts covered by thick bushes in those days The Tellicherry-Kannur road passed through this bushes. After dusk, none dared to go through this road alone. A story gained currency that a devil hides in the bushes. People believed that the devil jumped with a loud roar across those who walked alone...
Keeleri also heard this story. He decided to confront the devil. Many tried to stop him. However, he went ahead. One evening, after dusk, he walked along the road. He carried a stout stick in hand those who accompanied him asked to stay back. Before long, he came back as if nothing had happened. Those who waited looked at him anxiously.
“He is lying on the road. Go and have a look at him.”
Keeleri said with a smile.
With torchlights, people ran forward along the road. It was an astonishing scene. It was laying on the road- A wild cat!
school management and the education department made certain concessions to
Keeleri. He need to come to school at 2.00 pm, the time allotted
for physical training. The school was 2 k/m from his house, at Cherrakkara. Keeleri walked this distance up and down. This walk itself was something to watch. White shirt, White dhothi, a black coat and a black cap were his dress. An open umbrella will be in his hand always. He walked looking straight ahead. Never his eyes went to either side...All irrespective of caste and creed, respected Keeleri. However, certain orthodox people of his own caste insulted him as his was an inter-caste marriage. His wife Cheeru Amma belonged to another low-caste as per the account of orthodox people.
Keeleri had two children. Their names were Kalyani and Devadas. When Kalyani grew, Keeleri tried to get a suitable alliance to her. From his or his wife’s caste, nobody was ready to marry his daughter because of caste feeling. In 1928, Keeleri, his wife and entire family members of his wife joined Brahma Samaj. In Malabar, there were only a few followers of Brahma Samaj. After two years Keeleri, his wife and all members of his wife converted to Christianity, the CSI Mission. He accepted a new name “KARUNAKARAN”. It was only after their conversion to Christianity that his daughter Kalyani got married. William, a Christian, married her. William was a clerk in
, Thalassery. William
and Kalyani got two Children, Dory and Edward. Devadas, Keeleri’s son, worked
in Grand Fairy, Kamala Three Ring and Great Raymon circuses as manager and
On March 31 1932, Keeleri retired from
at the age of 79, it is a record. After retirement, Keeleri directed all his attention
towards the circus institution. Until his last breath, he dreamed and worked
for the growth and success of the art of circus. BEMP High School
On September 15, 1939 Keelri was to go to the institute He suffered a heart attack. He was bed-ridden for a week. In the morning of September 22, he passed away. The Master of Indian Circus, Keeleri Kunhikkannan Teacher buried in the CSI cemetery at Illikkunnu at Nettur, near Thalassery. The tombstone over his grave is the only memorial of the Great Master of Indian Circus.
The following words inscribed on Keeleri’s Gravestone:
“Sacred to the loving memory of Keeleri Karunakaran (Prof: Keeleri Kunhikkannan) father of Indian Circus who spent his life time in the service of the poor and needy. He died as he lived everyone’s friend until God called him home on 22-9-1939 aged 84 (Rebuilt on 20-2-1962 by Mrs. and Mr. Kallan Gopalan Proprietor of Great Raymon Circus”
T.G.Sheallar passed away
In 1940, Thukkaram Ganpath Shellar passed away at the age of 69. He was a native of Pune, Mahrashtra and he worked at Karlekar’s Grand Circus as an artist. When business deteriorated owner Sadshiv Rao Karlekar included Shellar and Shankar Rao Lahne as partners. After Karlekar’s death, Shellar and Shankar Rao parted. Shellar started two circuses. Shellar’s International and Universal Grand. Merging this two, Shellar’s Royal formed. Shellar’s Royal Circus brake down in the second half of thirties failing in its competition against Shankar Mudaliar’s Asiatic Circus. After collapse of his concern, Shellar spent his rest of life at Pune. World Famous Wild Animal Trainer Prof: Damoo Dhotre is Shellar’s nephew. Dhotre began his career, as a cyclist in Shellar’s International Circus in his age of twelve. Shellar’s son Madhav Rao Shellar worked as manager in a number of famous circuses like Kamala Three Ring and Great Raymon...He was also an excellent clown, while he worked as manager, he came to the ring as an entry clown to amuse the spectators.
Presence of Artists from
From the beginning, decades of last century there were hundreds of Artists from
in Indian circuses. Most of them settled in Kolkata and surroundings. Chinese
are specialists in various juggling and fire jumping. There are thousands of
Chinese families in west Bengal, especially in
Kolkata. There is an area known as . Therefore, it was
easy to get Chinese artists to Indian circuses. China
The Chinese people who were migrated to
India were working in four
categories, mainly. Some of them engaged in shoes making, other types of three
were dentists, caterers and circus artists... From thirties to seventies there
were so many Chinese artists in every circus in India. Chinese artists began to
withdrawn gradually from circus ring, from the beginning of seventies.
The world Famous Wild Animal Trainer
Damodar Gangaram Dhotre was born in Pune,
in 1902. He joined in his uncle Shellar’s International Circus in 1912. After
preliminary lessons, he practiced acrobats, two wheels, high wheel and single
wheel cycle feats under Savalaram Mali. He performed cycle feats in
the ring for some years. During those days, an American athletic performer in
motorcar riding was in Parashuram Circus, who was presenting a fantastic feat.
Dhotre practiced the same item with his two-wheel cycle. However, nobody
He gave up Cycle feats. He was interested in wild animals training. Therefore, he approached Master Dhondiram Chavan. Chavan was the main wild animal trainer in Shellar’s circus. Master Dhondiram accepted Damoo Dhotre as his disciple. At thirteen, he began training wild animals as a student animal trainer. By the time, he was seventeen he well known through out Indian circus field as a Fantastic Cyclist and an equally Daring Wild animal trainer and presenter.
In 1926, Dhotre left Shellar’s Circus and joined in S.K.Guha’s Great Ringling Circus on request of his intimate friend Shankar Mudaliar. Shankar Mudaliar was loose wire Artist in Shellar’s Circus. Mudaliar left Shellar’s Circus and joined in Ringling as Director. Then he invited Dhotre to Ringling Circus, which was camping at
Calcutta and surrounding towns. When Mudaliar
was working in Khansab’s Assam Diamond Circus Dhothre joined there. Then he
joined in Shankar Mudaliar’s Asiatic Circus. From Asiatic he went to
Rahmathulla’s Olympic Circus. Leaving from there, he joined in Prof: Isackos
Russian Circus. He toured in South East Asian Countries with Russian Circus. After
some years, Dhotre joined in Great Raymon Circus. From Great Raymon he jumped
American Circus. Leaving from Carson Dhothre went to Prof: Isacko’s Russian
Circus again and worked there for about one year. He had acted in some of Hindi
Films, like “Jungle Jim” which based on a story of jungle background.
In 1938, Damoo Dhotre went to
France. Alfred Court, the world famous wild
animal trainer, created this opportunity to him. Alfred Court belonged to a circus family
He was horizontal bar player. He had migrated to America in his youth. After some
years, he became Director of a small circus in America. One day he compelled to
present lions in the ring with out any previous experience or preparation, the
original presenter was dead drunk and unable to go in the ring with lions.
Anyhow, Court managed the spectators. From
next day, Court tried his best to become an animal tamer and presenter. Within
few years Court, become famous wild animal trainer in America, as well as in Europe.
DamooDhotre heard about him and tried to contact him through a Captain of a merchant ship came at
Calcutta. He wrote a letter with his photos
that were revealing his ability in deal the wild animals. Court pleased by
Dhothre’s letter and replied to him that he would in France as yearly as possible. Dhothre
started his journey from Mumbai to France by ship.
On arriving in France Dhotre practiced with Court’s animals. Court was full satisfaction in Dhotre’s performance. Then they joined in Bertram Mills Circus at
first. After one year, they moved to Black Pool Tower Circus, London. In Tower Circus Damoo Dhotre was
presenting Alfred Court’s
Fifteen Devils of Forest. He wore the snow leopard Doutschka around his neck as
It was the time the clouds of Second World War be forming in the sky of
Europe. Alfred Court decided to move in to America
with his animals and colleagues. He contacted John Ringling, President of
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, Greatest show on Earth. John
heartily welcomed them. Alfred
Court, Dhotre, Fred Shultz and Jo Walse went to America
with Court’s collection of wild animals.
Flowing of Malayalees to Circus Tents
In the early years of the fifth decade in last, the century financial conditions of most low class families in
Malabar was very pitiable. Main cause of this depression was
Second World War. More over there were no job opportunities. Illiteracy of
people and lack of family planning increased numbers of children in poor
families. At the same time parents were unable to feed or clothing their
children. In such a situation, circus companies were beneficial for these
families. More and more girls and boys from Thalassry and Kannur flowed in to
circus tents. Training was giving to these children from the tents itself. They
have known as “Company Girls” and “Company Boys”. The companies gave them all
facilities food, accommodation and medicines required. The proprietors
appointed yester-days artists as Teachers, known as “Usthad.”
After the death of Prof: Keeleri, the circus institute continued at Cherakkara by M.K.Raman (from 1941). Some of his disciples, like M.V. Shankaran founder Gemini and Jumbo Circuses, K.M. Balagopalan, Proprietor of Great Bombay Circus, Mekkileri Kumaran who performed seven bars are famous in subsequent time were products of this institution.
In the beginning year of forties, a new circus company appeared in the history of Indian Circus. It inaugurated at Mandiya, with then
C.P. Kunhiraman, resident of Eranholi a neighboring by Mysore State
framed this new venture with his brothers. Kunhikkannan was very young when he
left his native place in search of a job. Wandering here and there, he arrived
in a small circus compound camping at Pune. He got job of roustabout
there. Working there, he tried to be an
artist by practicing cycle feats, clowning, iron ball and elephant passing on
chest. village of Thalassery
As an artist, he worked some more circuses and gained sufficient money to purchase a small circus. He purchased Minerva Circus and re-organized it under a new banner “Broadway Circus.” His brothers Kunhikkannan and Achuthan who were also circus artists became partners of this concern. Broad way Circus inaugurated in Mandya, near
now in , in1942. Within short period, Broadway Circus grew in
to standard one. Karnataka State
Great Prabhath Circus
Bhim Rao Sasnik Patil, resident of Mahisal, Sangli,
Maharashtra purchased Shankar Lion Circus from Shankar
Mudaliyar in 1941 and renamed as “Prabhath Circus.” Bhim Rao hails from a poor
family. He joined in Karnataka Grand Circus at the age of ten. He learned
preliminary lessons of circus art from there and wandered with some more
circuses with desire to become the best artist. He was doing several items like
as shoulder pole, knife throwing, acrobats etc. Then he became a wild animal
trainer at the age of 25. After serving in Great Eastern and some other big
tops, he purchased Shankar Lion Circus. In the beginning of fifties, Bhim Rao’s
Prabahth Circus became one of big tops in India.
A Royal Debut
Maharaja Jiyaji Rao Sindhya of
Gwalior, which was a princely state, formed a
circus company in 1943. Name of this establishment was “Sindhya Royal Circus “.
Most of artists and Managers of this circus were Malaya
lies. This company launched with full set up of a
Standard circus. Most of artists, Managers and other staff were Malayalees. Nevertheless, it did not survive even for one year. Maharaja decided to close down the show immediately and hand over all accessories, animals to Prof: K. Gopalan of Great Raymon Circus. Then the prominent wild animal trainers, Balwanth Rao Chavan of
and Kumaran Nair of Palghat were the product of Sindhya Royal Circus. In next
year of closing Sindhya Royal Circus Prof: Gopalan formed a new circus
utilizing the same materials and animals, namely Mahalakshmi Circus.
Rugma Bai Circus suffered great loss during the Second World War. At the outset of war itself, Rugma Bai’s husband and his daughter murdered in mysterious circumstances. When bombing escalated, majority of the employees of the circus left for
in available transportations. The circus had camped at Mandley. One day a bomb
hit the tent; those in the tent killed. Most of animals also burnt alive. Injured
animals held to shot down.
Rugma Bai who lived in luxury turned penniless overnight. She and her remaining workers could not find any other way but to return to
There were no ship services. Vehicles were not available to travel by land. The
only possible way was to walk along the whole way. That was too, through in
dense forest without sufficient food or even drinking water.
Rugma bai, P.C. Achuthan, Mattankot Kunhiraman, his brother Shanku and 14-year-old Damodaran etc ate jungle- fruits, nuts and leaves found on their way and drank water from jungle-streams. Some times, they passed through villages from where they begged for food. There were thousands of such migrants, INA soldiers, traders, laborers, officers etc.
May be due to constant journey and hunger, Mattankot Shanku lost his mind. On Walking on long distance, he would suddenly turn back and run. His elder brother Kunhiraman
followed and brought him back. Shanku repeated this several times. Some raised doubts whether they would ever reach
India if Shanku
continued this madness. Kunhiraman himself understood that it is not fair to
put other’s lives on stake for his brother. He decided to leave Shanku to his
fate. He could not help but just look at Shanku who ran away among the thick
After the death of Prof: Krishnan Teacher his son Damodaran conducted South Indian Ladies Circus. It was a small circus in two poles tent and with a limited numbers of artists and animals. During this period lucky-fortune smiled on Damodaran in the form of Filmmaking in the 1943. It was S.S.Vasan of Gemini Studio;
contracted Damodaran for shoot a film within the circus. Vasan a film producer
and director were proposing to make a feature film on circus background. Damodaran agreed with pleasure and the film
“Chandralekha” shoot utilizing the facilities of circus. Vasan gave a
reasonable remuneration to Damodaran. On recieving, such an amount Damodaran
decided to take the circus to abroad. At the same time, he put a new name to
the circus “Kamala “, instead of “South Indian Ladies”. Kamala, the name was
his newborn daughter. From Madras, the circus
moved to Colombo
by ship in 1943. Kamala Circus played in every important towns of Ceylon
about one and half years and continued their voyage to South East Asian
In 1944, two circus owners in
India died. They were Prof: Keeleri
Kunhikkannan (Junior) of “White way Circus” and Shankar Rao Lahney of “Karlekar’s
Grand Circus”. Keeleri Kunhikkannan (Junior) died suddenly at Bashirgunj, in
Behar. The responsibility of the circus fell up on his son, Ramachandran, who
was a minor of fourteen years. He could not manage the circus efficiently.
Karlekar’s Grand Circus owner Shankar Rao Lahney passed away in the same year
and charge of the circus taken by his son Shivaji Rao.
Next year a new circus formed by Cyclist Pappu with the partnerships of Manager J.L. Wallace and Ropedancer Shekharan. Name of this circus was White way. Another Circus established by Pappu and Wallace with K.M. Kunhikkannan Nair. Its name was Hind Lion Circus.
At this period, Rugma Bai reached in Kolkatta. Pappu, J.L.Wallace and Shekharan were the employees of Rugma Bai for some years. Therefore, they let her; join as an employee in their company. She worked there for two years and re-started her own circus. P.C. Achuthan and Ropedancer Shekharan were her partners. It also did not last long. In her old age, Rugma Bai lived with P.C. Achuthan in his house at Kannur and died there in 1962.
In 1946, the owner of Carlo son Grand Circus, Poorniya alias R.R.Das and Madhuskar, owner of Madhuskar’s Grand Circus died. Carlo son Grand Circus completely ruined after its owner’s death. After the death of Madhuskar his partner Seetharampanth Walawalkar, carried on the circus with a new partner Narayan Rao Mahadev Walawalkar, resident of Ratnapuri, Sangli district,
Maharashtra. Walawalkar was a Flying
Prof: Kallan Gopalan was always in the path of uplift of Circus Art. He dedicated his life for the Circus Art. His ambition was to establish a
Center at Kamti, near Nagpur. He purchased sufficient
land and built requisite buildings there and he put, as it is the head quarters
of Great Raymon Circus. However, his dreams did not become fruitful because of
non-cooperation of Government authorities.
Golden Era of Indian Circus
Generally, the circus industry was prospering in second half of forties. More companies that are new appeared this period. Mahalakshmi Circus formed by Prof: K. Gopalan stopped the show for a while and reopened it with a new name, “Indian National Circus.” on 15 August 1948. Mohan Seth, a disciple of Prof: Gopalan managed this Circus: He belonged to Mangalore. Once there was a huge collection of various wild animals by breading and supplying cubs to other circus companies.
Great Oriental Circus
Puthukkudi Shankaran of Great Eastern Circus made another attempt. He started a new circus in banner of “Great Oriental” on 11 November 1947 at Danapur, near
This branch of Great Eastern was under the control of K.K.Achuthan who was a
relative of Shankaran. Great Oriental was also famous for wild animal breading
and supplying cubs to other circus companies. Bihar State
Poovadan Chandrasekharan and his brother Devadas took the third attempt. They are sons of Poovadan Govindan, who was a prominent circus artist and brother of Malabar Sandow Poovadan Kunhambu. Both were disciples of Guru Keeleri. Brand name of this circus put as “Prabhath”
India’s first circus Chatre’s
Great Indian destroyed in hands of Shirimoni Babu of Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. It is an old story.
After Shirimoni Babu, Mullaji of Bulanshore, Utter Pradesh started a small
circus. Name of this circus is “Bharath”. All of these circuses were in
standard size and running in better condition in North Indian States.
Prabhath Circus inaugurated at Pollachi, Tamil Nadu in 1948. The partners of Prabhath, Chandrashekharan and Devadas were circus artists; they were working in Parashuram Lion and RugmaBai for a long term. Chandrashekharan was an eminent wild animal trainer and Devadas was efficient in management of circus. The glob of Death and Dom of Death introduced first time in Prabhath Circus.
An attempt for Permanent Circus Training Institute
An appeal to the public submitted by eminent persons of Malabar District for establishing a permanent Circus Institute at Tellicherry (Thalassery) in memory of Prof: Keeleri Kunhikkannan, in 1949. Nevertheless, it was not work out, because the people of Malabar were not interested in such attempts of lovers of physical culture.
More Bengalis in to the field
Like Malayalees, Bengalees were also equally interested in the art of circus. S.K. Guha alias Buddababu introduced first circus in
Bengal, in the late nineteen twenties. Baby Dey Circus
was anther one in this category from Kolkatta. There were a number of small circuses born and
faced premature deaths frequently. There are no historical notes available
regarding these mushrooms.
A prominent circus appeared equal to others was “International” which formed by Shubhodh Banarjee of Dhakshineshwar,
West Bengal. Banarjee was a
gymnast and weight lifting champion. Within a short period International Circus,
become one of the standard shows to level of others. However, this one did not
exhibit other than Bengal or . Another one was Bose
lion Circus started by B.N. Bose Babu, resident of Kolkata. Bengalis also
formed Panama Circus and Ajantha Circus, early years of forties. Raman
Mukharjee from Kolkata was a renowned Horizontal Bar Player in twenties and
thirties of last centaury. Behar
Consequence of assassination of Mahatma Gandhi affected so badly, Deval Circus that was camping at Pune,
Assassin of Mahatmaji was Chithpavan Brahmin, a category of caste in Maharashtra. Deval were belong the same cast. Because of
this, angered mob attacked and set fire to the circus tent and their house at
Pune. After these disaster brothers, Vanayak and Bandopanth departed from the
circus business. Circus continued by Vanayak and Bandopanth entered in to film
field of Mumbai.
Grand Bombay became Great Bombay
In 1949, Hind Lion Circus closed down. J.L.Walce returned to his managerial post. The other partner K.M. Kunhikkannan Nair joined with Babu Rao Kamire of Mahisal as a partner of Grand Bombay Circus. They changed the name of circus as Great Bombay. Babu Rao was horizontal bar player as well as an expert in rifle shooting.
When two collaborates, Wallace and Kunhikkannan Nair withdrew their presents from the company Cyclist Pappu, the remaining partner appointed K.S.Menon as the director of his circus.
Prof: K.Gopalan formed another circus, namely “Herman Circus” in the same period. Herman Circus was under the supervision of Kallan Kumaran, brother of Prof: Gopalan. Herman Circus ended in 1950. At this period Prof: Gopalan changed the name of his circus as “Janatha” and handed it over to his brother, Kuamaran to run. This abstaining was to establish an institute for circus training at Chakradhara, near
Nagpur, Maharashtra. He arranged buildings and other facilities
there for this purpose. Nevertheless, it did not workout as he wished. Therefore,
he regained his proprietorship and restarted Great Raymon.
During the early years of sixth decade of twentieth century, there were Fifty-two standard circuses in
India. Forty-two out of fifty-two
were under the ownership of Malayalies. More than ninety per cent of artists
and managers were also Malayalies. So, the Indian Circus industry dominated by
Malayalies, completely. This period may note as the golden era of history of Indian
There were a number of small circuses in
Kerala in early years of thirties. However, there are no any
authentic records about these companies. Most of them were family concerns.
They never come to cities. Some of artists from these companies came to the
main stream, occasionally when Kamala, Grand Fairy and Great Eastern started
their tour in South Kerala.
A number of girls and boys found out their livelihood in circus tents from South Malabar,
and Travancore. K.Shankunni Menon, resident of Pallippuram, Palakkad District
was the second person to start a circus as his own other than North Malabar.
The first person was Moitheen Kutty, a resident of Chaliyam, near Kozhikode who formed Gulmohammed Circus. K.S.Menon’s Great Gemini and Bharath
introduced hundreds of girls and boys to Indian Circus rings from South Malabar.
Entrance of a Legend
Moorkkoth Vengakkandi Shankaran, resident of Kavumbhagam, near
, purchased Vijaya circus in 1951
from RV. Mamoo who belonged to Thalassery Town Akola.
It was a small circus having two lions, one elephant and a torn two-pole tent.
Fifth of seven siblings, Shankaran was born in Kavumbhagam a remote village near Thalassery on 13 Jun 1924. His father, Kavinissery Raman Nair, a resident of Cherukunnu, near Kannur, was a primary school teacher at Pinarayi and mother Kalyani Amma was homemaker. Youngest sister Lakshmi and four elder brothers were no more. Younger brother Balan, an engineer settled in Mumbai.
When Shankaran was studying in IV standard, he came to witness “Kittunni Circus” a small one from starting to end. Owner of this circus Kittunni never tried to make large its capacity at any cost. It was roaming around in Malabar and
through out the year. That is why every body knows Kittunni and his circus.
Kittunni was the main artist and manager of the company as well as proprietor.
He dressed like Charlie Chaplin, grey-black coat, loose pants and cap. He sold
the tickets in the counter. In the ring, he will do knife throwing, present
bears and monkeys and pump air in to the petrol-max when it is necessary. Still
the day Kittunni’s Circus story is a myth in Malabar. From that day, when
Shankaran saw the Kittunni Circus, his mind was in adventurous of circus art.
After two years of expectation, he joined in Prof: Keeleri’s circus training centre,
at Chirakkara in 1937. He got practice in Horizontal Bar under supervision of
Prof: Keeleri. He could not complete training in horizontal bar due to the
demise of Guru Keeleri.
In 1940, he started a small business with his elder brother at
. It would not be so
success. It was the time of World War II. Most of youths from Malabar were
joining in Military Service. Shankaran got in to Military service, in 1942. Preliminary
training was in Thalassery
(Chennai). After six months, he transferred to Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) for Wireless
Operators Course. On completing of Wireless Course, he posted at Midnapur ( West Bengal). When he was in Military Service, he
remitted major part of his salary to his father.
In 1946, Shankaran retired from the military service. Again, he joined in circus institute. M.K.Raman Teacher was running the institute since 1941, after Prof: Keeleri’s death in 1939.
When he mastered in Horizontal Bar and Flying Trapeze, he joined in a small Circus of Moideenkutty, which was camping at
, in 1947. He worked there only for
few months. Further, he had been in some other circuses, like Boslion Circus
etc. Next year, Bar Player Anandan Nambiar contacted Shankaran for Indian
National Circus, a branch of Great Raymon. He worked for Indian National Circus
for one and half years. Mattanchery, Cochin
Then he called by Prof: Gopalan to Great Raymon. In Great Raymon he performed
Horizontal Bar and Flying Trapeze. When Raymon was camping at Bata Para, near
( Maharashtra) its tent destroyed in tempest.
Every staff including girls insists to stitch the tilted tent. Shankaran did
not admire this instruction and get out from there. Then he took chance in
Bombay Circus. It was conducting by of
K.M.Kunhikkannan Nair and Babu Rao as partners. He made equipments for flying
trapeze and introduced the flying items there.
When Shankaran was working in Great Raymon, one of his friends informed him that a small circus is ready for sale in Gujarat, which owned by RV.Mamoo of Akola,
Shankaran sent his co-worker, K Sahadevan, a ladder-balancing artist, to
negotiate the dealings. Mamoo’s Vijaya Circus was a small one including
two-pole tent, two lions, one elephant and some essential equipment. Shankaran
offered five thousand rupees as the cost. Owner Mamoo did not agree. Maharashtra State
After three months, Shankaran again sent Sahadevan offering rupees six thousand on advice of Achuthan, a troupe leader and T.K.Kunhikkannan, cyclist who were working in Vijaya Circus. Therefore, the deal was fixed on an agreement of rupees one thousand as advance, rupees two thousand on transmit and three months, stipulated period, for balancing amount of three thousand. Thus, the Vijaya Circus came in to the hands of Shankaran. As a friend and negotiator of the dealings, Shankaran gave equal partnership to Sahadevan in the company.
Shankaran changed the name of the company as Gemini Circus. Gemini is the simple of his birth star ‘Swathi’. That is why he put the name of his circus as GEMINI. . By the effort of both made some alterations and ready to start a new one with in few days. By the effort of both made some alterations and ready to open a new one with in a few days. Thus, Gemini inaugurated at Chikola, Billimora District,
on 15August 1951. Gujarat State
After few months, one more person participated in this concern as partner who was T.K. Kunhikkannan from
West Ponnyam, near Thalassery. He was a Cyclist and Flying
Trapeze Artist. Then K.S.Menon, Manager joined in Gemini as “Director” of the
Company. Menon was an expert in circus management. After two years, Shankaran
ousted Menon from being the Director of the circus.
Within five years, “Gemini” became a standard circus. In the season of 1957, Gemini tented in Dadar, Mumbai while Great Raymon was camping at
Circle, Mattunga, Mumbai.
In starting years of fifties, Karlekar Circus taken by Biginraj Pande from Shivaji Rao son of Shankar Rao Lahney and changed its name as Herculean Circus. Biginraj Pande from Orrissa was muscle controller in the same circus. His wife and children were circus artists working there it. His wife Meenakshi is daughter of Kunnath Yashoda, the first lady artist from Kerala.
During this period, several circuses appeared and disappeared with out any signet in circus history. One of them was “Nirmala Circus”, formed by Kakkadan Gopi, resident of Kadirur, near Thalassery, was a sandow doing iron ball and weight lifting. It was a small in size, but there were many of fantastic and marvelous items. There were no animals at all. Nirmala Circus was a purely human circus. Nirmala did not continue more than three years. A majority of prominent artists had tried their luck in circus business. Most of them utterly failed. There is no any record about these casual mushrooms.