NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A top Indian magician is set to open a version of Harry Potter's fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, hoping that a master's degree in magic will help keep the ancient art form alive.
P.C. Sorcar Jr., famous for astonishing thousands by making the Taj Mahal "vanish," said he plans to give away the secrets behind his illusions, perfected by his family over eight generations.
"The over 2,000-year-old craft of street magicians was passed on through word of mouth before," Sorcar Jr. said. "It would be a loss for Indian magic if this art was not preserved."
The 61-year-old magician, who is known for mammoth illusions, substituting traditional tricks such as pulling a rabbit out of a hat with producing a horse out of an empty bag, said it was important to nurture this unique tradition.
Magic has entertained Indians through the ages and formed a vibrant part of many social occasions.
However, the advent of television and the Internet has forced magicians to hone their craft to meet the needs of a generation hooked to video games and Western sitcoms.
Veteran magicians say it is still a lucrative career if the government could do its bit by giving some funds and infrastructure to train youngsters.
The Masters degree course in "Dramagic" -- as Sorcar Jr. calls it due to the dramatic illusions that will be taught -- will begin next year at the renowned government-run Visva-Bharati University in eastern India.
As part of the syllabus, the illusionist plans to bring in street magicians and performers known as "madaris" to teach students the tricks of their trade.
"For thousands of years foreign tourists spoke of Indian magic in their travelogues," Sorcar Jr. said.
"They said they saw men at street corners make a rope dance to the music of their flute or rise straight up in broad daylight with no apparent support.
In 2000, Sorcar Jr. led thousands of spectators to believe the Taj Mahal had disappeared for nearly 90 seconds. He later explained light rays had been refracted to create the illusion.
His other famous tricks include disappearing after being sealed in a box which was crushed by a road-roller and cycling smoothly through the busy streets of London and San Francisco with his eyes bandaged and plastered.
Sorcar Jr. said he and his daughter Maneka, who is also a magician, had initially planned an illusion to ride a bicycle across the Red Sea, but later abandoned the plan fearing it could hurt religious sentiments.
He now plans to recreate the illusion on Dal Lake, in India's scenic Himalayan state of Kashmir, where a 17-year separatist insurgency has hurt tourism.
"It will be good for Kashmir's tourism," he said.