Sword swallowing is usually mistaken to be just a magic trick. But it isn’t!
Just imagine: sharp swords cascading down your throat. Passing just an inch from your most vital organs!
Sword swallowing is one of the riskiest acts to perform and has a very interesting history.
Originating from India, sword swallowing has been around for 4,000 years!
With many cultures practising this dangerous procedure over the centuries, it has become a famous act all over the world.
DESIblitz uncovers the captivating art and history of sword swallowing.
History of Sword Swallowing
The history of swords being swallowed can be traced back to the ancient era of 2000 BC. It originated from the divine culture of India.
Indian priests, known as Fakirs, used to swallow sharp swords to prove their power and connection to the gods.
Walking on hot coal and snake charming were other customs practised for the same purpose.
It is thought that sword swallowers were part of a particular tribe in Andhra Pradesh, called Konda-Dora. It was here where the difficult practice of swallowing a sword was passed from father to son.
The art eventually spread to Greece and Rome during the 1st AD. Performers would enlighten the audience during Roman festivals.
As the practice gained popularity, Japan began to relish the act in 750 AD.
An acrobatic act called Sangaku would incorporate swallowing swords. These acrobats would juggle, walk on tightropes and swallow fire too.
Centuries later, the dangerous sword performance met religious beliefs yet again.
Middle Eastern Arabian nights in 1100 AD, included an interesting twist. As religious entertainers were hired to swallow swords to demonstrate spiritual strength.
From the Middle East, Europe recognised sword swallowing as a form of festivity in 1800. Performers gained popularity by performing on the streets and at shows.
Surprisingly, during the Middle Ages, sword swallower’s were expelled by the Catholic Church for their performances.
By 1893, sword swallowing was especially popular in America. This is because performers had entertained for the first time at the famous Chicago World Fair.
Transitioning to the 20th century, sword swallowing travelled across the world. It was popularised amongst different countries and festive events.
How is the Sword Swallowed?
You can imagine that there were no qualified teachers back in 2000 BC. People simply figured ways to swallow swords, which was quite dangerous!
Thankfully, since the 1800s there have been trainers with sword swallowing expertise.
Anybody bold enough to learn sword swallowing can be taught professionally.
Many times sword swallowing is mistaken to be just a magic trick. But incredibly, it isn’t!
So what is the secret?
First of all, the chosen sword is lubricated for it to glide easily down the throat.
A performer extends their neck to their mouth by tilting their head back. They move their tongue out of the way and repress the gag reflex.
They line the sword with the path of their gastrointestinal tract down to their oesophagus. It then passes between the lungs and nudges the heart slightly to the left.
Finally, the blade goes all the way down through the stomach.
Talk about being dangerously wild and bloodcurdling!
Who can Swallow Swords?
Sword swallowing is an act that amateurs might die attempting, without training.
The Fakirs of Ancient India would pass their sword swallowing legacy to their children. They would practice for years just to achieve the right concept.
Even till today, mastering this art takes a maximum of 10 years.
A person practising sword swallowing has to have a strong, mental attitude enabling conscious relaxation.
With this attitude, they can pass a sword down their throat and back out.
Over the centuries there have been several key sword swallowers that have made the history books. They have performed both on stage and off.
Ramo Samee was a famous “East Indian Juggler” who travelled to the UK and US between 1814 and 1850 to perform sword swallowing.
In the mid-1800s a famous sword and snake swallower by the name Sallementro learned the art from a friend at the age of 17. He originated from London.
Sena Sama was the first sword swallower in America. He originated from Madras in India. In 1817, he performed for a sword swallowing exhibition in New York City.
Niklas Folkegård, born in Sweden in 1971, began swallowing swords in 1991. He taught himself the dangerous art, and swallowed swords that were 65 cm in length!
Dangers of Swallowing a Sword
No matter how professional or experienced a sword swallower is, they have to be cautious of dangers.
In the past 100 years, there have been around 40 sword swallowing deaths. This is relatively high considering that there are only a handful of people who swallow swords.
Sword swallowing and its side effects can be numerous. When sword swallower’s practice their act, they are likely to get ‘sword’ (sore) throats.
This is when their throat becomes painfully bruised, taking weeks to recover. Usually, performers will have to consume a liquid-only diet for several weeks.
Passing a sword through vital organs may result in damaging cuts. A slight nick of an organ or blood vessel can cause serious bacterial infection.
Sword swallowers can also develop a swallowing difficulty known as dysphagia.This results from repeated insertion of the sword in the body.
Sometimes oesophageal cancer can occur from stomach acids making repeated contact with the oesophagus walls.
Consequently, the worst case scenario is simply death.
Even though it is dangerous to perform, sword swallowers love entertaining their audiences. Which leaves them performing this insane act flawlessly.
Today, numerous festivals and competitions take place across the world to celebrate this complex art.
In 2008, the first World Sword Swallower’s Day was also celebrated. Dan Meyer is perhaps one of the most well-known sword swallowers today. The American has appeared on many TV talent shows.
In 2010, he shocked the world when he swallowed 15 swords at once. He also appears in the Guinness World Records.
Sword swallowing is definitely an act of entertainment. But it is also much more than that, as its origins are steeped in Indian history and culture.
Sword swallowers should be commended for their brave and daring effort. As they provide the world with unbelievably wild performances.