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How circus industry flourished in the mid 1900s in Bangladesh

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The circus – a spectacle of daring feats, mesmerising performances, and vibrant costumes – has long held the power to captivate audiences and transport them to a world of wonder. Nowhere is this more evident than in Bengal, where the circus industry experienced a remarkable evolution that left an indelible mark on the region's cultural landscape.

The 19th century marked a turning point for the circus scene in Bengal, as a diverse cast of characters from across the globe converged to create an enchanting fusion of talent and tradition. Russian and European performers graced the centre stage, while Africans, Mongolians, and other Asians lent their unique skills to the mix. 

This infusion of talent catalysed the circus's popularity, drawing in the masses and igniting a fervour for the grand spectacles that would unfold under the circus tent.

It was a time when Russian and European artists, both contracted annually, and those who owned their own circuses showcased their skills side by side with local talents. 

Against the backdrop of British colonisation, a harmonious merging of European and Russian circus styles with indigenous traditions took place, crafting a distinctive blend that resonated deeply with audiences.

One standout example of this captivating fusion was the arrival of 'Wilson's Great World Circus' in Calcutta in 1880. This dynamic spectacle brought the city to life with its sports-centric flair, captivating hearts and minds. 

The following year, an Italian touch graced Calcutta as the 'Royal Italian Circus,' owned by Giuseppe Chiarini, unfolded its enchanting performances. Calcutta, the capital of British India until 1911, became a hub for European circus shows during this period, serving as a canvas for these extraordinary displays of skill and artistry.

Beyond Calcutta's borders, the influence of the circus spread across Bengal, with the Malabar region in North Kerala emerging as a breeding ground for circus artists, trainers, and entrepreneurs. 

Their contributions were pivotal to the growth and evolution of the circus scene, infusing it with fresh perspectives and innovation.

The period from 1947 to 1970 witnessed the golden era of circus performances in Bengal. Prominent names like the Baby Circus of Radhika Mohan Modak, the Azad Circus of Juran Karamakar, and the Royal Pakistan Circus, formed in 1947 by Laxman Das of Barisal, left a lasting impact on the hearts of audiences. 

From the Lion Circus to the Seven Star Circus, a diverse array of troupes took centre stage, dazzling spectators with their daring acts and mesmerising displays.

However, the once-glorious circus landscape has transformed over the years. Today, a mere handful of large circus troupes remain, showcasing their well-trained animals, including the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger, elephants, horses, dogs, and more. 

Smaller circus groups still exist, although their performances often lack the grandeur of their predecessors, relying on trained goats and horses to entertain the crowds.

In the late 19th century, a local hero emerged to shape the course of the circus scene in East Bengal. Shyamakant Bandyopadhyay, a trailblazing circus artist born in 1865, laid the foundation for the industry. His establishment of the 'Grand Show of Wild Animals' in 1888 marked a pivotal moment, as he tamed wild creatures while inspiring physical fitness, self-reliance, and patriotism. 

Bandyopadhyay's legacy, chronicled in Arpita Mukherjee's book 'The Monk Who Tamed the Tiger,' remains a testament to his extraordinary journey.

The circus was not just a source of entertainment but a wellspring of inspiration. Performers like Professor Ramamurthy left an indelible mark on aspiring gymnasts, including Ananta Singha, who later played a role in the Chittagong Armory attack. 

These acts of physical prowess and skilful artistry inspired a generation to dream bigger and strive for greatness.

The circus's decline in recent times is a reflection of changing times and values. The rise of television and other modern entertainment platforms, coupled with a growing consciousness about animal welfare and biodiversity preservation, has reshaped how audiences seek entertainment. 

Yet, the memories of once-thriving circus nights, of awe-inspiring feats and magical moments under the big top, linger in the collective consciousness of older generations.

The circus may have faded from its former glory, but its legacy lives on. It has left its mark on literature, film, and the hearts of those fortunate enough to witness its enchanting performances. 

The tales of circus artists and their daring acts continue to remind us of a time when imagination knew no bounds, and the magic of the circus transported us to a world of wonder.

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