It is well-known that the so-called Indian rope trick is alluded to by the ancient Hindu philosopher Adi Shankaracharya in this section of his commentary on a Hindu scripture called the Mandukya Upanishad:

The juggler throws the thread up in the sky, climbs by it with his arms, disappears from the sight (of the spectators), engages himself in a fight (in the sky) in which his limbs, having been severed, fall to the ground and he rises up again. The on-looker, though witnessing the performance, does not evince any interest in the thought in regard to the reality of the jugglery performed by the juggler. Similarly there is a real juggler who is other than the rope and the one that climbs up the rope. The manifestation of deep sleep, dream and waking is analogous to the throwing up of the rope by the juggler (in the above illustration) and the (empirical selves known as) Prājña, Viśva and Taijasa, related to the three states, are similar to the juggler, who appears to have climbed up the rope. As he, the juggler, remains on the ground unseen (by the on-lookers) having veiled himself, as it were, by his illusion, so also is the truth about the Highest Reality known as Turīya.

But in another section of Adi Shankaracharya's commentary, I just found an allusion to what appears to be another magic trick:

As the illusion conjured up by the juggler makes the very clear sky appear covered with trees blooming with flowers and leaves, so does this luminous Ātman become deluded, as it were, by his own Māyā.

Now there has been voluminous literature on the history and methods of the Indian rope trick. But my question, has there been any scholarship on the second trick described by Adi Shankaracharya? For instance, have there been any attempts to surmise how the sky would appear to be filled with trees?

By the way, insofar as both tricks involve the sky and a "juggler", it's possible that the second trick is just another aspect of the Indian rope trick; when the boy appears to goes up the rope to the sky, the sky could fill up with trees.

EDIT: It occurs to me that "juggler" may just be how the Sanskrit word for magician is being translated.

1 Answer 1


This text you give is a highly exaggerated description of the Mango Tree trick. Here is a contemporary description:

The juggler whom I had seen performing this feat shews you a plain round sea-shore stone, which he places in an earthenware dish filled with earth, and then waters it and covers it with a cloth. After invoking those spirits by whose aid alone such wonders can be wrought, he lifts the cloth, and you see a fresh green plant just peeping out of the earth. He waters it again, again covers the vessel with the cloth, again invokes the spirits, and after a minute or two he lifts the cloth, and you have a pretty tidy small mango tree before you. After another round of the same ceremonies, the tree is discovered to be well stocked with bright coloured mangoes. The whole production of the fruit-tree from the stone occupies about a quarter of an hour.

in Scenes and sights in the East, James Bruce (1856)

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    How do you know that this is a description of the same trick as Adi Shankaracharya describes? Apart from the presence of a tree there isn't much of a connection. Are there any sources that connect Adi Shankaracharya's description to this mango tree trick? Mar 30, 2016 at 2:06
  • When I was a kid I did magic as a hobby and spent a lot of time studying the art. I guarantee you that the mango tree trick is what he is referring to. Mar 30, 2016 at 2:10
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    Well, could you tell me why you think that? What makes you sure that Adi Shankaracharya is even talking about a trick that survived into the time of colonial rule? Mar 30, 2016 at 2:11
  • Because there are only a few famous and common fakir tricks in India and the mango tree is the only one that even comes close to the description. The mango tree is a very old trick. Mar 30, 2016 at 2:27
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    Well, for now I'll hold off on accepting your answer. Hopefully I can find some corroborating sources that discuss Adi Shankaracharya's quote. Mar 30, 2016 at 2:32

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