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'Nine Lives' is a distillation of 25 years of exploring India and writing about its religious traditions and how they have been transformed in the vortex of the region's rapid change....

Title : Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India
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ISBN : 9781408800614
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 284 Pages
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Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India Reviews

  • ·Karen·
    2019-05-10 01:56

    'For three months of the year we are gods,' he says. 'Then in March, when the season ends, we pack away our costumes. And after that, at least in my case, it's back to jail.'Hari Das is no criminal - he works as a (terrified) jailer at the weekends, which involves walking round the prison with a lathi, trying to avoid getting knifed. His week-day job is digging wells, trying to avoid getting caught if one collapses. But from December to February, the length of the season, he becomes a theyyam artist in Kerala. His face is made up, he dons an enormous, intricate costume, sings the story-song that invokes the deity, and to the wild drumming of the musicians performs the steps, the gestures and the facial expressions to tell a story. And somewhere in this long ritual, a trance-like state transforms him into the living incarnation of a god.Hari Das believes. He believes not only that the god enters into the figure he portrays, that it is not he dancing, but god, he also has an unshakeable faith in the power of his performance. For the theyyam turns the world of caste privilege on its head - these gods incarnate are Dalits, the stories they tell are of deities scandalised by injustice perpetrated by the ruling castes, who then immortalise the poor Dalit victim. The theyyam, he says, has completely altered the power structure: he draws his self-esteem from the performances he gives and assumes that this self-confidence has spread to the whole community. And not only that: the villages that neglected their theyyams found that their crops failed, they experienced misfortune; a Brahmin who had been out of work for six months found work after attending Hari Das' theyyam; and now even the two rival political parties have each adopted a deity to sponsor. Even the Communists. And they're meant to be aetheists. At the end of the dance, before a final violent ritual involving a chicken (don't read this over breakfast) the god retires to his shrine and holds a kind of surgery, offering reassuring advice to devotees who come with individual petitions, a bit like Father Christmas promising bounty and goodness.But when Hari Das takes off his costume and returns to work as a well-builder, the Brahmin who reverently touched his feet just a week before no longer recognises him, offers him food with a long-handled ladle so as to stay at a safe distance, and gives him a plantain leaf as a plate so that he can throw it away when he's finished. The theyyam is folklore and politics and spiritual revelation and ritual and artistic expression and propaganda and tourist attraction and propitiation of local gods and carnival and traditional and modern (available on DVD) and a good source of income for the dancers. Hard, but well-paid work. And there's no contradiction there, it can be all of those things at once.This is the Indian way; synthesis.In another of the chapters Dalrymple visits Srikanda Stpathy, the twenty third in a long hereditary line stretching back to the great bronze casters of the Chola empire. He and his two elder brothers make gods and goddesses in exactly the manner of their ancestors, such as this one from the British Museum, depicting Shiva as the Lord of the Dance:You can see wonderful pictures of their workshop and methods here.Dalrymple is intrigued by the question of that magical transformation of a bronze figure into a god. He pushes Srikanda just a little:'God is inside us,' he said. 'It is from our hearts, our minds and our hands that god is formed, and revealed in the form of a metal statue......Once the eyes are opened by having their pupils chiselled in with a gold chisel, once the deity takes on the form of the idol and it becomes alive, it is no longer mine. It is full of divine power and I can no longer even touch it. Then it is no longer the creation of man, but a god only.''It contains the spirit of god? Or is it a god?''It is a god,' he replied firmly. 'At least in the eyes of the faithful.' 'What do you mean?''Without faith, of course, it is just a sculpture. It's the faith of devotees that turn it into a god.' It seemed to me that Srikanda had mentioned three quite different ways in which an inanimate statue could become a god: by the channelling of divinity via the heart and hands of the sculptor; a ceremony of invocation when the eyes were chipped open; and through the faith of the devotee. I pointed this out to Srikanda, but he saw no contradiction; all that mattered was that as a certain point a miracle took place and the statue he had made became divine.No, no contradiction. We shall see but a little way if we require to understand what we see. (Henry David Thoreau), and in this rich cornucopia of sacred practice in India, there is much that can only be silently accepted, but not entirely understood. Nine lives out of more than 1.2 billion. Nine paths up that high stony mountain of enlightenment, nine divergent devotees of spiritual practice. William Dalrymple, who earned his spurs with eight previous works of travel and narrative history, every single one of which (deservedly) won some prize or other, in his ninth work approaches these nine individuals with an equal measure of reverence for each one. Nine chapters, devoted each to one of the nine, and structured in a clear pattern: he sets the scene of how and where he found each one, gives a potted historical background of each particular variant of belief and then sits down with the person to discover their personal story, allowing each to speak with minimal authorial intervention. A gentle questioner, a respectful listener, he seems to be someone that people trust and are willing to talk to. The main focus of his exploration of these nine lives is to discover how their faith and the way of life it informs can survive the rapid and radical change that India is undergoing. Each of them seem to be under siege from forces that they cannot withstand: the obvious one of economic ambition, which means that Srikanda's son wants to work with computers rather than bronze; the less likely one of literacy which is on the way to destroying a still surviving oral culture of epic poems; or Sufism under siege from the advance of the Wahhabis in Pakistan who look on it as idolatrous, immoral and a hotbed of superstition. But this is where doubts begin to creep into my mind. For Dalrymple refrains from judging, and indeed why should he? He shows us, he moves on. Nevertheless it is clear from his chapter on Sufism that he embraces diversity and bitterly regrets, if not condemns, the dynamiting of Sufi shrines by the Taliban, because they disapprove of the use of poetry and music and the way the Sufis welcome women into their shrines. Of course. Wouldn't we all agree that tolerance is better than intolerance? A no brainer. Obvious. Diversity. Life's rich pageant and all that. Everything is to be preserved, everything is worth preserving.Oh but the devadasis. The word comes from Sanskrit: deva means god and dasi means a female servant. A woman entering for life the service of the god or goddess. A nun? Well, no not quite. Back in the day, yes, they looked after the temple Brahmins, or had honoured roles in the temple rituals, but they were also there as dancing girls for the entertainment of the deity and in a complex pre-colonial cultural tradition that saw the devotional, the metaphysical and the sexual as closely linked rather than in any opposition to each other, they were seen as auspicious for their nubile fertility. Of course Victorian reformers, in their misguided, well-meaning way gave rise to legislation that gradually eroded the links between the devadasis and the temples, outlawing the dedication of young girls and threatening any priest who assisted in such ceremonies with imprisonment. Dalrymple may be correct in saying that the effect of such legislation is only to drive the practice underground, but several thousand girls are still dedicated annually by their parents, usually when they are aged between about six and nine years old. A sacred prostitute. She may still enjoy some privileges over secular sex workers, but this is parents selling their daughters into prostitution for money and the blessings of the god. That's the point where the word superstition comes roaring back into my mind, a rationalisation of ludicrous behaviour by endowing the mundane with spiritual properties.You can follow any practice you like to find nirvana, whatever it takes for you. But not when you decide and rule over another's fate and see your path to spiritual peace riding on the back of someone else.

  • Flevy Crasto
    2019-05-21 00:05

    When I picked up this book I thought I would be enhancing my knowledge on religion in India and what it means to (or how) these nine individuals are influenced/relate to it. I expected it to be diverse…..considering its about India, but wow! was I pleasantly surprised…..a very simple yet powerful book more about spirituality, truth, belief, complexity, hope, faith, principles, values, conviction and less about religion. I loved it, and would highly recommend it to anyone, even if you are not religious or don’t believe in God. These stories show the struggle of the old and the new and changing face of India, the diversity from north to south and east to west and yet somewhere at the root of it all we are talking about the things that exist in our society, the belief and hopes that make our journey through life and the oddities that may be so obvious and yet we live with a screen on it. One line that struck a cord in me was “God is inside us – it is from our hearts, our minds and our hands that God is formed and revealed”.

  • Shanmugam
    2019-05-17 00:00

    It is easy for an armchair reformist to say, "..superstition, savages…" in between his indigestion and gastric troubles. It is even more easier for a desk job junkie to 'like' a shitty article named in the lines of 'Uncredible India' and add a comment, "Oh man!, brutal customs, we are going backwards…" To be fair, these 'pseudo intellectuals' are not entirely at their fault, given the circumstances of 'syndicated Hinduism' in urban middle class, as part of the Rama-fication movement in recent years. There must be some intermingling connection and true meaning behind all these chaos and diluted rituals.William Dalrymple's 'Nine Lives' starts with a nomadic Jain Nun in Sravanabelagola, then it traverses through Theyyam dancers of Kerala, Sufism in Sindh, a Tibetian monk at Dharamsala, bronze idol makers in Swamimalai and Tantrists & Minstrels in Bengal. Nine lives in this book are edited like, nine beautifully crafted short stories. Mr. Dalrymple has consciously taken the back seat as an observer and let characters tell their spellbinding stories. He stops with just giving right contexts and historical background, whenever needed. There is no judgement from his side, no abstraction, no speculation!Mr. Dalrymple must have made extensive travels throughout the subcontinent to write this book, not to forget about different seasons. Each and every ritual he has recorded, happens only at certain times of the year. Or, he must have compiled this book from the extensive research he had made till then. Either way, it is a commendable effort.An important primer on sacred India for curious minds!

  • Bettie☯
    2019-04-27 01:22

    Description from the Dust Jacket: A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet-then spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve to death. A woman leaves her middle-class family in Calcutta, and her job in a jute factory, only to find unexpected love and fulfillment living as a Tantric skull feeder in a remote cremation ground. A prison warden from Kerala becomes, for two months of the year, a temple dancer and is worshipped as an incarnate deity; then, at the end of February each year, he returns to prison. An illiterate goat herd from Rajasthan keeps alive an ancient 4,000-line sacred epic that he, virtually alone, still knows by heart. A devadasi-or temple prostitute-initially resists her own initiation into sex work, yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling. Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. Exquisite and mesmerizing, and told with an almost biblical simplicity, William Dalrymple's first travel book in over a decade explores how traditional forms of religious life in South Asia have been transformed in the vortex of the region's rapid change. A distillation of twenty-five years of exploring India and writing about its religious traditions, Nine Lives is a modern Indian Canterbury Tales.Opening: The idea for this book was born sixteen years ago, on a high clear Himalayan morning in the summer of 1993. I was corkscrewing my way up from the banks of the river Bhagirathi, along the steep sides of a thickly wooded valley. How many ages of Kali has it been since I picked up a delight from Wee Willie? Too long, that is most certain. Kedarnath: [..]'one of the principal homes of Lord Shiva and so, along with Mount Kailash in Tibet, one of the two candidates for the Hindu Mount Olympus.' Sravanabelagola: 'For more than 2000 years, this Karnatakan town has been sacred to the Jains.'Official symbol of Jainism, known as the Jain Prateek Chihna. This Jain symbol was agreed upon by all Jain sects in 1974Should India's Jains be given the choice to die? Watch Theyyam here Did you spot any females at all in this melee?'For many centuries Kerala was the Indian terminus of the Spice Route, and the most important trading post in the great mediaeval trading network which stretched from Venice through Egypt down to the Red Sea and across the Gulf to India.'Aide Memoire:1. The Nun's Tale - Jain - suicide2. The Dancer of Kannur - Hindu - possession or escapism3. The Daughters of Yellamma4. The Singer of Epics5. The Red Fairy6. The Monk's Tale7. The Maker of Idols8. The Lady of Twilight9. The Song of the Blind Minstrel5* City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi4* Nine Lives5* In Xanadu: A Quest6* From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East5* The Age of Kali: Indian Travels & Encounters5* Return of a King: The Battle for AfghanistanWL Begums, Thugs, and White Mughals: The Journals of Fanny Parkes

  • dely
    2019-04-27 02:06

    4,5EnglishThis is a must read for everyone fond of India and interested in the many religions, rituals and traditions that we can find there. The subtitle of this book is „in search of the sacred in modern India“ and this is excatly what the author does with his nine stories. India manages to keep alive, despite its progress, religious rituals and very often sacred and profane are mixed and accepted by people. The various cults in India are very complex but also interesting and it’s a country full of contraddictions. It is precisely all this complexity and depth that strikes me and attracts me.Every story is dedicated to the life of a person and we can read how these people continue with their religious rituals, sometimes full of superstitions to the eyes of other people, in a country that in these last decades had a strong economical growth. We can see that there isn’t always a neat line between modernization and old rituals. It was interesting and fascinating to read, for example, how also politicians go to sacrifice goats to the goddess Tara in order to win political elections. Thanks to the author we also understand how deep traditions are in India and that modernization and ancient rituals can, and in my opinion must, live together. Well, not always. For example in the story about the Devadasi, I don’t think that this is something that should go on seen that it has to do with child prostitution. But there are still many people who think that Devadasi have something sacred and these prostitues can ask more money respect to common „colleagues“.The reader comes to know also about old traditions that pass from father to son for many generations. There is the story about an estatic dance, Theyyam, and how the dancer is possessed by the god he is representing. The possessed dancer is considered like the real god and people go and ask for advices or blessings. We read about Stpathy (foundry workers of idols) and the creation of idols that must be done following a precise procedure written in sacred writings in order that that god goes to live in his statue. We have also stories that talk about other religions, like the one of Prasannamati Mataji that talks about her life as a jain nun, Lal Peri Mastani who is a female sufi or Passang, a Tibetan monk that renounces to his vows in order to fight the Chinese when they invaded his country. He then fled to India and after many years in the Indian army he takes again his vows and lives again as a monk. The last two stories are dedicated to Kenai, a bengali Baul, and Manisha Ma Bhairavi. In both stories we come to know how ancient and secret tantric rituals (considered superstition by other people) are still alive. Though considered old and superstition, a lot of people still go to these sadhus seeking for blessings or rituals in order to ask benefits or help to the goddess. Of course these rituals aren’t explained in the book otherwise they wouldn’t be secret.All the stories were interesting but three, in the middle, were a bit slow and less engaging.Italian(04/02/2016)Ho deciso di scrivere le mie opinioni man mano che procedo con la lettura perché ho paura di arrivare alla fine e dimenticarmi poi metà delle cose che vorrei dire.Ho ricevuto questo libro in regalo da un caro amico che conosce la mia passione per l'India. È una nazione sorprendente, ricca di culti religiosi differenti, seppur simili, che a volte vanno a cozzare con il forte sviluppo economico che c'è stato in questi ultimi decenni. Da un lato ci sono città moderne che non hanno nulla da invidiare all'Occidente, e poi ci sono ancora luoghi in cui si viene discriminati per la casta di appartenenza. L'India riesce a mantenere ancora vivi, nonostante il progresso, rituali religiosi e si ha spesso l'impressione che sacro e profano si mescolano e vengano accettati serenamente. Il libro, come dice anche il sottotitolo, è alla ricerca del sacro nell'India moderna. Tutto ciò mi affascina anche perché i riti religiosi indiani sono affascinanti di per sé. Anche i vari culti presenti in India sono molto complessi ma molto interessanti. È proprio tutta questa complessità e profondità che mi colpisce e mi attrae.La prima storia narra di una monaca giainista, Prasannamati Mataji, che racconta i motivi che l'hanno spinta a intraprendere questa vita e di come si svolge la vita di una monaca della sua religione. Si sente parlare poco di giainismo perché non è "espatriato" come l'induismo e il buddhismo. Grazie a questa storia ho potuto approfondire quel poco che conoscevo. Sapevo che è una religione particolare in cui i credenti spazzano il pavimento prima di ogni passo per non uccidere nemmeno una formica, non accendono fuochi perché la fiamma potrebbe uccidere un insetto che svolazza lì intorno, pregano sempre per ogni animaletto che uccidono involontariamente e via dicendo. Leggendo la storia di Prasannamati ho potuto capire ancora meglio l'austerità a cui sono sottoposti i monaci. Ovvio, scelgono loro di intraprendere questa strada, ma non hanno affatto una vita semplice. Loro però ne sono felici perché l'unico modo per raggiungere la moksha è l'austerità. Rompono ogni legame affettivo, viaggiano sempre per non legarsi a una casa o a un territorio, non possono mendicare, mangiano una sola volta al giorno ecc. La loro vita è fatta di rinunce che però non vengono vissute come sacrifici, bensì come l'unico modo per bruciare karma negativo e interrompere il ciclo del samsara. Molto interessante anche la spiegazione del sallekhana, ovvero l'andare incontro alla morte iniziando un lungo digiuno che li conduce lentamente e serenamente alla morte. Sembra un suicidio, ma essendo per loro parte integrante della loro religione, è un orgoglio poter morire in questo modo. Di solito, però, lo fanno solo quando sono già anziani o gravemente malati.Devo ricordarmi di cercare un libro che parli della vita del tirthankara Bahubali. Chissà se è lo stesso di cui parla l'omonimo film del 2015.Nella seconda storia ho imparato la storia del Theyyam, narrata da un artista di questa danza rituale. Il danzatore, dopo che gli hanno dipinto il corpo e aver indossato il costume, viene posseduto dalla divinità che rappresenta e inizia una danza estatica. La gente ci crede fermamente, gli vanno a chiedere consigli, benedizioni e grazie. Dalle testimonianze che ci sono in questo capitolo, sembra che funzioni. Il theyyakkaran stesso dice che appena si toglie il copricapo, la possessione finisce e lui non ricorda più niente.Il bello di questi racconti è che sono recenti. Il libro è stato stampato nel 2009 e l'autore ha vissuto in India prima di scriverlo e pubblicarlo. Non sono storie antiche, ma ancora oggi ci sono queste danze. È un'arte che di solito viene tramandata da padre a figlio perché, in modo che la divinità entri nel corpo del theyyakkaran, bisogna conoscere alla perfezione i mantra, le mudra, i passi di danza e anche il corpo deve essere dipinto e ornato in un preciso modo. Molto affascinante!(13/02/2016)Nella terza storia, Le figlie di Yellamma, si parla delle devadasi e una di loro, Rani Bai, ci racconta la sua vita. Le devadasi (letteralmente "schiava di Dio") sono bambine che vengono consacrate a una divinità, di solito Yellamma; si svolge un rito simile al matrimonio e per tutta la vita saranno al servizio della dea. Nei tempi antichi venivano iniziate alle arti (danza, canto, musica) per intrattenere il re o la comunità, mantenevano i templi puliti, toglievano il malocchio ecc. Fosse solo questo, non sarebbe un problema. Il fatto è che questo "matrimonio" avveniva quando erano bambine, ma appena compariva il menarca, il sacerdote più anziano del tempio, o il raja, poteva deflorarle. Le devadasi diventavano prostitute sacre al servizio della casta più alta, i brahamani. Erano simili alle geishe o alle cortigiane e godevano di molti privilegi come per esempio l'istruzione, negata alle altre donne, ed erano rispettate e tenute in alta considerazione. Con la colonizzazione britannica, che ha smantellato il sistema dei raja, la vita e il ruolo delle devadasi si sono trasformati perché non c'era più nessuno che poteva mantenerle. Venendo a mancare il sostentamento delle caste alte e dei raja, diventano delle comuni prostitute mantenendo però un alone di sacralità agli occhi della gente. L'India ha vietato questo rito già alcuni decenni fa, ma si continua a farlo di nascosto in alcune regioni del sud. Avviene soprattutto nelle famiglie più povere, disposte a consacrare la figlia alla divinità vendendo la verginità a un personaggio ricco della comunità o della famiglia. Queste prostitute sacre possono chiedere prezzi più alti rispetto alle altre “colleghe” e vengono considerate dalla famiglia come un sostentamento sicuro. Le devadasi non godono più di privilegi come in passato (non che ciò giustificava questa iniziazione alla prostituzione sin dall'età prepuberale) e purtroppo ci sono ancora troppe famiglie disposte a vendere le figlie che entrano inesorabilmente nel giro della prostituzione infantile.Il cantore epico ci porta nel Rajasthan. L’autore intervista Mohan Bhopa, uno degli ultimi bardi della regione. Il poema epico più importante del Rajasthan è l’Epopea di Pabuji che Mohan ha imparato a memoria sin da bambino e che ha iniziato a recitare insieme alla moglie. Questa epopea narra le gesta di Pabuji e si è trasformata da racconto ad epopea con il trascorrere degli anni. Nei primi racconti Pabu era un semplice mandriano che difendeva gli animali, ma man mano che passavano gli anni la storia si arricchiva di versi finché Pabu divenne un guerriero semidivino che protegge le mandrie e la gente del luogo. Pabuji è ormai considerato una divinità a cui le persone si rivolgono in caso di necessità. La rappresentazione di Mohan, accompagnata anche da musica e danze, non è soltanto mero intrattenimento ma è considerata un rito religioso. Durante ogni rappresentazione viene aperto il phad, ovvero un affresco su tela in cui sono dipinte tutte le scene più salienti dell’epopea, e si pensa che abbia poteri divini e che possa guarire da tutte le malattie o da possessioni demoniache. La quinta storia, La fata rossa, è ambientata nel Sindh (Pakistan) e parla dei sufi, soprattutto di una donna sufi, Lal Peri Mastani. Anche lei, come gli altri protagonisti di queste brevi storie, racconta all’autore la sua vita. Essendo musulmana, dopo la partizione dell’India è dovuta scappare dal Bihar nel Pakistan orientale (l’odierno Bangladesh) e poi, per evitare la guerra del 1971 che ha portato il Bangladesh all’indipendenza, si è spostata nel Pakistan occidentale. La parte più interessante di questa storia è quella dedicata al sufismo, del perché i musulmani ortodossi non lo vedono di buon occhio e anche le influenze che l’induismo ha avuto su questa religione.Con Il racconto del monaco Dalrymple ci porta sia in Tibet che nel Himachal Pradesh, nord dell’India. Tashi Passang era un monaco tibetano che dopo l’invasione del Tibet da parte dei cinesi ha rinunciato ai voti monastici per combattere. Non l’ha fatto per odio o per vendetta, ma per difendere il dharma. Nel buddhismo, nonostante sia una religione pacifista, si può uccidere se lo si fa per proteggere il buddhismo. Passang racconta della sua infanzia, della sua vita nel monastero, dell’arrivo dei cinesi, la rinuncia ai voti, la sua fuga per combattere e il suo esilio in India. Dopo alcuni anni viene reclutato nell’esercito indiano con la falsa promessa che avrebbe combattuto per liberare il Tibet. Dopo molti anni di addestramento e missioni minori in Tibet, è stato spedito in Bangladesh durante la guerra d’indipendenza. Nonostante fosse ormai un militare, cercava di comportarsi da monaco pregando quando era obbligato ad uccidere o compiendo pellegrinaggi durante i permessi. Appena gli si è presentata l’occasione ha lasciato l’esercito per andare a vivere a Dharamsala, sede del Dalai Lama in esilio, e ha ripreso i voti per continuare a vivere da monaco cercando di espiare le sue colpe.(14/02/2016)Il creatore di idoli parla di un’altra arte tramandata da padre a figlio per generazioni, ovvero la realizzazione delle statue usate nei templi. C’è una procedura esatta da seguire, spiegata nei Shilpa Shastra, tra cui diversi mantra da recitare durante i vari processi, rispettare giornate e orari propizi per realizzare le statue e anche un rito da eseguire quando si fa “l’apertura degli occhi” perché è durante quest’ultima incisione che la divinità entra ad abitare la statua. La statua non è soltanto un oggetto da venerare in quanto rappresenta una divinità, ma diventa la dimora stessa della divinità. È stato molto interessante leggere la storia di Srikanda, uno degli ultimi Stpathy (fonditori di idoli), soprattutto perché ormai gli idoli vengono spesso creati in modo più rapido ed economico e nessuno si attiene più alla procedure dei testi sacri.Le ultime due storie La signora del crepuscolo e Il canto del menestrello cieco solo collegate non soltanto perché i personaggi si conoscono, ma anche perché trattano di riti tantrici. Nella prima storia Manisha Ma Bhairavi ci narra come da moglie e madre abbia deciso di andare a vivere in un luogo di cremazione perché aveva sentito il richiamo della dea Tara. In questo luogo considerato macabro vivono alcuni sadhu, avvengono sacrifici di animali per “sfamare” la dea e si dedicano a riti tantrici che agli occhi di molte persone non sono altro che superstizioni. È stato però interessante leggere come molte persone che disprezzano questi riti vanno poi a sacrificare capre in caso di necessità. C’erano persino politici che volevano l’aiuto della dea per vincere le elezioni. Ne Il canto del menestrello cieco veniamo a conoscenza dei Baul bengalesi ed è stato interessante perché non ne avevo mai sentito parlare. La loro religione si rifà a un induismo quasi ateo: i Baul rifiutano tutte le convenzioni sociali, anzi, gli piace stupire andando contro le regole, non credono negli idoli, nei riti e credono che Dio alberghi nel cuore di ognuno, non bisogna cercarlo da nessun’altra parte. È attraverso il canto che raggiungono Dio, ma anche tramite riti tantrici segreti. Ci tengo a precisare che il tantrismo che è arrivato in occidente ha ben poco a che fare con il tantrismo vero. Bisogna anche distinguere tra la via della mano destra e quella della mano sinistra (a cui, da quello che ho capito, si dedicano i Baul) e per approfondire e capire meglio l’argomento consiglio la lettura di Tantra: Lo Śivaismo del Kaśmīr.Tutte le storie sono molto interessanti. Solo tre erano un po' più lente e meno interessanti delle altre, ma è un libro che consiglio a chi è appassionato dell'India.

  • Cornelia Funke
    2019-04-30 03:11

    Unforgettable, haunting, enchanting, deeply moving...questioning Western concepts and goals, confronting our materialism with a spirituality that challenges everything we were brought up with

  • Rachel Rueckert
    2019-05-17 00:10

    This was a great text, especially for a must needed introduction to India. There is so much to cover that I think it is almost impossible to really cover, but Dalrymple's style gives individual flavor that helped it seem more real and personal instead of a giant conglomerate, "India."There were a lot of things that I had a difficult time coming to terms with. The life of the Jain nun for instance, and especially the chapter about devadasi's (religious prostitutes from my interpretation). I am not quite sure how to deal with these stories, especially coming from an anthropological point of view and trying to be culturally sensitive, but how can someone like me even begin to grasp the sense in, say, the sallekhana (choosing to end your life as a final offering of this illusion we call our lives)? I noticed that a common theme in these tales were the intoxication of living a simple life on the road. It makes me wonder if the desire to be on the move is a part of all of us no matter where we were born. I wonder if I was born into that paradigm if I would give up my life to it. I remember learning about what it was like in the middle ages in England and I would have honestly rather have done a pilgrimage than have been married during that time. I'm not sure that this is so different.I do wonder a little bit about the authenticity of some of these tales, or what the selection process was for the author. I think it is important to recognize that even by trying to remove himself from the stories they are all still his interpretation of the narratives.The thing I enjoyed the most about this book, however, was the chapter about the monk from Dharamsala. I plan on spending this summer there, and hearing a personal account of the Chinese invasion really made this so much more real to me. As part of my research, I am now considering looking at some of the stories shared about their exile and do maybe a creative writing portrait of this location. I owe a lot to this book for helping me develop my project. I recommend that anyone wanting to get better acquainted with India read this book.

  • Daren
    2019-05-06 22:05

    In this book Dalrymple provides nine stories, of nine very different people, all following the rituals and traditions of different religions in modern India (2009). The author explains in the introduction that he has ”kept the author in the shadows, so bringing the lives of the people I have met to the fore and placing their stories firmly centre stage,”As the reader, we are drawn into the complexities of modern India – a country advancing in an economic boom, in dealing with ancient superstitions, cults & sects. This makes for a series of fascinating tales, which actively avoid the usual clichés of mystic India.As a heathen atheist, I enjoyed much more the stories of the people than the explanations of the various religious followings, essential as they were to understand the personal stories.The nine stories are as follows – with what may be interpreted as spoilers!:- In The Nuns Tale, Prasannamati Mataji tells her story as a Jain nun. Jain monks and nuns, of course, sweep the ground before they walk to ensure they don’t kill any animals or insects, but there is much more – for example constant travelling in order not to make bonds, and not being permitted to beg for food, but relying on food being given. In a strange twist, Mataji feels guilty for forming an attachment with a companion. Now she still struggles with the loss of her friend and fellow nun, who completed sallekhana the ritual act of starving oneself to death. It is a ritual with strict rules – the progressive removal of certain foods, and periods of fasting which increase to the point where no food or water is taken, and is seen as an enlightening process – the moving on from this body. It is the aim of all Jain munis First you give up your home, then your possessions. Finally you give up your body. - The Dancer of Kannur tells the story of life of Hari Das, a Theyyam performer in Kerala. For nine months of the year he works as a labourer, digging wells and on weekends as a warder in a prison. For the other three, he becomes a God-incarnate - possessed by the deity - while performing at temples. For this three month period, he is respected and worshipped, for the other months of the year, he is simply and untouchable. In this story Hari Das explains his childhood introduction to performing, following his father, and the possession he goes through, from which he wakes with no knowledge of what has happened.- In the Daughters of Yellamma, Rani Bai tells of her life as a Devadasi (literally God’s Female Servants) – a prostitute, but a prostitute recognised as incarnations of the deity, especially during the festival of the Yellamma, when they receive gifts and are prayed to. This was probably the most predictable of the stories – poor parents, a young girl sold as a virgin for what to her parents was a large sum of money, and then sold to a brothel, where the seduction of money meant eventually that she became a willing participant in the dedication ceremony which gives them their Yellamma status. Now against the law, the process now takes place in a more discrete way. - Mohan Bhopa tells his story in the Singer of Epics. Living in Rajasthan, he is a traditional bard, singing the Epic of Pabuli, a 600 year old poem, taking five nights of eight hours each. As well as Mohan’s story, Dalrymple in this chapter gives a quite in depth history of oral epic storytelling – Europe and India, and the family traditions. More than just a poem, Pabuli takes on a Godlike role, worshipped by the villagers and asked to assist with the well being of animals and lifestock. - The Red Fairy tells the story of Lal Peri, a Sufi Fakir, following Lal Shahbaz Qalander, and Shah Abdul Latif in Sindh, Pakistan. Her background makes an interesting story, from Bihar in India as a child at the time of the partition, her father died and then her stepfather was killed in the fighting. With an uncle the family crossed the border to East Pakistan (Bangladesh), where again violence began, with West Pakistan and East Pakistan fighting. With the offer of land in the south of (West) Pakistan, the family split and Lal Peri and her brother left and ended up in Multan, in Punjabi Pakistan. Instead of free land, they were given jobs in a factory, where they worked 8 hours for Rs 15. After 10 years, she left to follow her plans to become a wandering Sufi.As interesting as her story is – the really gripping part in this story for me is described by Dalrymple as ”the complex three-cornered relationship between Hinduism, Sufi Islam and Islamic orthodoxy – in which the determination of the Sufi’s to absorb Hindu ideas and practices has always clashed with the wish of the orthodox to root them out as dangerous and deviant impurities”. - Tashi Passang is a Buddhist monk, and tells his story in The Monk’s Tale. Like many other monks, Passang put aside his vows, took up a rifle and fought the Chinese after their invasion of Tibet. In telling his story he explains his early life and becoming a monk , the Chinese invasion, and of being one of those who accompanied the Dalai Lama in this departure from Tibet to Dharamshala, in Himachal Pradesh, India. There he joined the India Army, where he was trained in expectation of fighting the Chinese, only to be sent to Bangladesh to fight. In penance for the killing, Passang has spent years making prayer flags in Dharamshala, and late in life he has returned to his vows as a monk.- For 700 years, the art of bronze casting Hindu Idols has been passed down in the family of Srikanda Stpathy. The Maker of Idols tells his story. Set around the Tamil New Year, in village in Tamil Nadu, Southern India, Srikanda tells of his Brahmin family line, the method, the technique, but most importantly the requirement to create idols ”in exactly the manner laid down by the ancient Hindu religious texts, the Shilpa Shastras, and specifically designed for temple worship.- The Lady Twilight tells the story of Munisha Ma Bhairavi, who lives in the cremation grounds. Animal sacrifice, tantric rites, blood rituals, and skulls all play a part of her role as Ma Tara – follower of the goddess Tara.- As a Baul (bard or minstrel) Kanai in his tale The Song of the Blind Minstrel, tells of losing his sight from smallpox before he was one, and leaving his family to seek training as a bard. The Baul believe that God doesn’t reside in temples, or statues or rituals, but in joy, and singing and dancing. In this chapter we also have the story of Debdas, companion to Kanai. This story takes place at the Feast of Makar Sakranti on the banks of the Ajoy River in West Bengal.Throughout the stories, Dalrymple follows a similar recipe - an introduction to the person or religious following, then an initial meeting with the person, then the background of the religion, then the life story, coming back to the current time- often a festival of religious event.It shows that there are not simply four religions in India (Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity), but a much more complex mixture, with links and crossovers.Great writing, in which the author offers no judgement or opinion, just presents the story.Comfortably 4 stars.

  • Sara Jesus
    2019-05-02 04:11

    Neste livro é contado a história de nove vidas. Vidas que buscam atingir a espiritualidade, que buscam encontrar a felicidade plena e encontrar a sua missão.Através da história de uma monja que abandonou sua família para viver em prol do budismo, de um dançarino que é transformado num Deus, do contador de epopeias que preserva a literatura oral na Índia, do fabricante de ídolos que cria esculturas que são veneradas como Deuses e do trovador cego que encontrou no canto o meio de sobreviver. A Índia é um país com muitas religiões e histórias. A sua mitologia e as suas lendas são um meio da chegar aos seus Deuses. São estas nove histórias relatos emocionantes de vidas que são dedicadas exclusivamente ao sagrado.

  • Arvind
    2019-05-20 22:07

    3.5/5 This book is the story of "Nine Lives" - 9 religious people of different (Indic) sects. Dalrymple has let the people speak and the stories have come out wonderfully well.This was my first book by d author and I think I will be reading all by him. He puts to shame Indian authors/columnists who write quick, shallow books on India.

  • Sameen Borker
    2019-05-08 23:19

    One consumes one’s life in narcissistic and even egoistical ways. That travel can make us leave behind our cocoons of self-examination and indulgence is proved in two ways – by actually travelling or letting one’s mind travel when one relishes art in any form. In the land that is a mixed bag of cultures and religions, it is almost Herculean to distill the fundamental characteristics of what constitutes an Indian. Is an Indian an Aryan? A Dravidian? Or both? A woman in a saree? A man in a Dhoti? Is an Indian an unclean citizen? Is an Indian culturally magnanimous or hypocritically myopic? There is no one answer. Like the reflecting of light inside a kaleidoscope that is India, being an Indian means a lot of different things. One of the characteristics that divides more often that unites is the religious inclination of most of India’s population, and to a very great extent. Here we’re not considering the rise of the new generation agnostics and atheists, however superficial they may be. William Dalrymple’s 2009 book, Nine Lives, is a wonderful concoction of all these things – travel, stepping out of one’s familiar landscape, Indians, and yes, religion.As the title suggests, this book takes us on a journey and introduces us to nine people who live/have lived whole, purposeful, and passionate lives. Each story has a central character who has arrived to a fold of religion either by introduction or after seeking themselves in this labyrinth of life. Spanning from Kerala to Rajasthan to Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal and even Tibet and back, Nine Lives paints honest portraits of people who have suffered, been misunderstood, sought to find out where they fit in and have finally arrived. There is a story of a Jain nun who writhes in pain as her best friend slowly dies. Another story of a theyyam dancer who exudes uncommon passion more for satisfaction than monetary compensation. An idol maker who understands why his son would sit in front of a computer than learn his father’s craft, but he wishes that he would rather not understand. A woman who sews her life in a Sufi shrine after her life was torn in the political battle of two nations. Another woman who lives in a cremation ground and describes it as a thriving ecosystem where the dead and living coexist. There stories, among others, outline the triumph of a human being’s innate need to first find oneself and then find the tribe to which they belong.At the other end of the spectrum, these stories also highlight religious practices unknown to most city dwellers and the eyes that don’t seek. How is it possible that a God descends into a human body to cure? Why is the consumption of blood and body fluids normal practice for some? How is that art and prayer have not separated for even a moment in some hearts? There is no scientific reasoning that can be applied to these practices, because after a point of time science does fail. Somehow, I would like too believe that it is necessary for science to fail and faith to emerge victorious. It makes for such wonder and amazement. You can’t wrap everything around your head. Where’s the fun in understanding everything?Every story in Nine Lives leaves you speechless at the end. Be it Hari Das, Lal Pari, or Mohan Bhopa, each one of them make for such interesting and brave people that you can’t help but admire them for their courage to follow their hearts wherever they may lead them. Nine Lives is mandatory reading for every Indian. William Dalrymple has painstakingly written about our fellow citizens and his stories compel us to sit up and take notice. His stories draw us out from our sheltered lives and prod us to look at the people of our country with unceasing awe. Again. These stories break our hearts so that we may know what it is to be human and go on that journey to find ourselves. Each one of these nine lives evokes the comprehension of the vastness of life and the joy of exploring its subsequent depth.

  • Aliya
    2019-04-23 21:13

    I picked up Nine Lives yesterday afternoon, planning to read one story from the nine in there. I had finished the book a few hours later! That itself ought to speak volumes about the writing. I may add that this is my first reading of Dalrymple's work.Dalrymples's writings on India weave together the religious, the historical, the political, the spiritual,and the humane, making for a fascinating read. His grasp on the comparative religious and secular history of Europe and South Asia, makes his work far richer than regular travel writing.He views India from the prism of western objectivity, and yet shows a personal connection, through a very human angle that touches the heart strings. He does not color his writings, and presents them in a factual way for the reader to draw their own conclusions. This refreshing candidness is often missing from indigenous writers, which is probably why India's famous columnist Khushwant Singh, declared that Dalrymple writes better about India, than Indians.The book is a collection of nine personal accounts, where religion serves as the reason d'etre for their pitiful existence in a cruel and materialistic world. Although most are accounts of the socially marginalized groups, low caste men and single women, but not all come from among the under-privileged. Each story is unique in the way it uplifts the person through bizarre manifestations of faith. From the Thayyam dancers saving grace in seasonal grueling dance feats that eventually consumes their mortal bodies, to the ritualistic reverence given to Devdasis, or glorified workers of the oldest profession in the world, the darker side of Hinduism is redeemed a tad, by aberrations that defy rigid and cruel conventions and norms.Dalrymple has covered it all, from the sinister goddess Tara's cult in Bengal, which possesses all the trappings of black magic, to the austere Jain nun's ultimate self sacrifice to God.Whether this book behooves you to profess faith in faith, or whether it makes you reflect on the gross social injustices that prevail in "Spiritual India,' this book will definitely not leave you unmoved.My only gripe is that the title should have mentioned South Asia instead of India, since it covers a story from Pakistan as well.

  • Jaylia3
    2019-05-09 02:11

    A glimpse back to a time when all religions were localThe religions most of us are familiar with have been largely standardized and homogenized, but obviously this wasn’t always so. Like languages before the advent of writing, earlier versions of even the same religion had local accents, traditions and emphases that varied substantially from place to place. That early world of indigenous religions still exists in parts of India, and in Nine Lives author William Dalrymple sensitively chronicles the poignant, eye-opening personal stories of nine religious devotees whose practices are outside--sometimes far outside--of the mainstream. The regional outlook of some of his subjects is summed up by one of the last hereditary singers of an ancient, locally-based epic poem that is so long it takes five eight-hour nights, dusk to dawn, to perform. He explained to Dalrymple that of course they were careful to propitiate the “national” gods like Shiva and Vishnu, who control the cosmos, but for their daily needs it made more sense to pray to the local god-kings and heroes who understand their farming life in a way the great gods could not. It’s like going to your county council representative rather than the president of the country to have a new stop sign put in your neighborhood.Dalrymple must have a gift for getting people to open up, and he writes beautifully and with great respect for his subjects. Those subjects include a Dalit or untouchable who becomes a god sought out by Brahmins for several months each year, a Jain nun who is chaperoned by a naked monk part of the time Dalrymple speaks with her, a devotee of the fearsome goddess Tara who lives by the funeral pyres of a cremation ground, a blind wandering Baul who sings songs of worldly liberation, and a Tibetan Buddhist monk who is atoning for being forced to fight for his religious beliefs.

  • Lisa
    2019-04-23 04:23

    I received this book when I joined the Armchair Travelers' Group. We are reading books that take place in India this month. Since I not only love to travel, but also love to learn about peoples and cultures around the world, this group is very intriguing to me.Actually, I would give this book 3.5 stars. It's a nonfiction book by William Dalrymple. In it he writes nine separate stories about nine individuals living religious lives in India. It is obvious that Dalrymple researched the book meticulously. Some of the stories were very interesting to me while I found a couple of others impossible to get interested in. The stories reinforce the notion that the world is a big place after all. There are many different kinds of people in it. We all share a humanity that enables us to reach across oceans and nations and ethnic groups. Nevertheless, I found some of these stories so different that it was impossible for me to relate. I did enjoy reading the story of the Jain nun who pledged herself to a life of self-denial but became close friends with another nun. Another story I liked was the one of the Buddhist monk in Tibet who renounced his religious vows for 30 years so that he could fight the Chinese who were subjugating Tibet. I have to give Dalrymple credit for being able to live and get to know people in some very challenging conditions. That in itself makes the book worth reading.

  • Ritika Gupta
    2019-05-15 23:55

    Khushwant Singh very aptly said that William Dalrymple writes about India better than any Indian author. The detailed research is incredible, but it is the poignant writing style that makes you admire the beauty of this book and the people he talks about. There were so many facts about my own country that I did not know. Covering stories from Kerala (Theyyam dancers) to Tibet(The Monk's Tale), from Rajasthan (Singer of Epics) to West Bengal (The Lady Twilight), from Karnataka (Daughters of Yellama) to Benares (The Song of the Blind Minstrel), the book represents the diversity of the Indian sub-continent in its truest form. Covering not only religions, but various faiths, the book is truly secular in nature. True justice has been done to the people and their stories. The disappointment is- why just nine stories, would have loved to know the author's perspective on every religion/faith in India.

  • Paola
    2019-04-27 03:07

    L’India diverse volte ha abitato i miei sogni, il mio inconscio la conosce bene.Mentre a livello conscio da brava occidentale, e questo libro ne é una nuova conferma, la percepisco quanto di più altro ci sia da me.Questo vivere nella carne lo spirituale, il divino, é, per me, materia oscura, comprendo certo quello che leggo, ma non lo sento, ha scarso eco in me.Inoltre conosco pochissimo il pantheon indiano così come le loro sacre scritture, mentre Darlympile ne sfoggia una conoscenza invidiabile. (e meno male il glossario alla fine)A fine lettura di libri che raccontano l’India, che siano un romanzo piuttosto che uno come questo di D, io mi ritrovo con il libro chiuso in mano, lo sguardo perso, e qualche migliaio di impressioni contrastanti in testa. E domande, e poche o nessuna risposta. Mi immagino viaggiare in questo paese, vivere questa realtà, e quello che provo é un misto di repulsione e attrazione annodati in modo tale da non venirne a capo.L’India spirituale, esoterica, mistica narrata da D. é un’India che sta via via sparendo, sommersa dai call center e da internet, interessante a tale proposito il racconto del creatore di idoli di bronzo, da settecento anni la sua famiglia si tramanda di padre in figlio tale arte, ed ora i suoi di figli e nipoti non intendono continuare la tradizione in quanto trovano molto più redditizio e meno impegnativo il loro lavoro di informatici.Come sarà l’India del futuro? che posto avranno le varie espressioni della ricerca del divino, i monaci, i sadhu, i creatori di idoli, gli adoratori della terribile dea Tara, i Baul, gli standing baba e tutta la svariata umanità la di cui vita é interamente dedicata alla ricerca dell’assoluto?Chissà se l’India reggerà l’urto dell’occidentalizzazione senza dissociarsi, senza perdere la sua identità.Comunque interessantissima testimonianza, quasi saggio storicoreligiosoantropologico , un‘ottima guida per il viaggio in alcune forme dell’espressione spirituale indiana.

  • Harsha
    2019-05-02 01:03

    A book entirely out of my comfort zone, when I picked it up I had great doubts whether I would really complete it. But once I started, I was pleasantly surprised- the book just didn't interest me- it drew me in completely and left me enchanted. In this book, the author magically weaves together nine real life stories of nine different individuals from different parts of the country, in what he calls in the title as the ' search of the sacred in modern India'.I had mixed emotions while reading each of these stories. While at an instance they moved me greatly, yet at another they were disturbing or difficult for my mind to come to terms with. Yet, without doubt, each of these stories was an experience in itself. Each an unbelievable yet fascinating glimpse into some strangely contradicting aspects of a culture I am part of. Amazingly enchanting.Recommended to every Indian and non-Indians who are interested in the diverse culture of this country.

  • S.Ach
    2019-05-13 23:55

    Nine distinct lives from different parts of modern India - a forlorn Jain nun, a devoted dancer, an exploited devdasi, a singer of epics, a Sufi nun, a militant Buddhist, a skilled sculptor, a tantric monk and a blind Baul singer. All unique in their own ways. All have different beliefs. Different Gods. Different philosophy. One common thread that combines all - Faith. Each one of the tales - Fabulous. Exquisite writing.

  • Bella
    2019-05-09 20:11

    When i first saw this book, it was like any other book, Simple. once i started reading it.... Wow it was amazing. 9 lives, 9 stories, 9 places, 9 belief's, everything written in simple words yet without loosing its essence..... I hail from a place called Kannur, when i read the story about THE DANCER OF KANNUR, i never thought such hardships were behind such an artist. There are still many things unknown to us, and just by being an Indian or a Keralite doesn't make me understand the true meaning of the lives in India.Because of this book i got a glimpse of the unknown side of India... Whoa... If i had not taken this book from library i would have not known the 9 different lives and cultures.This is a MUST READ book....

  • Anil Swarup
    2019-04-29 02:04

    Dalrymple's understanding of India has always amazed me. It has been on account of his understanding of historical events. This book, however, explores contemporary India, its traditions and splendour through significant experience of insignificant individuals. He takes you to the length and the breadth of the country in a manner as never before. The conversations with unusual people in remote places are quite revealing. The narration is taut.A must read for even those that claim to know India. I discovered how ignorant I was about my own country. Dalrymple at his best.

  • Sandhya
    2019-05-13 21:00

    Nine Lives: in search of the sacred in modern Indiahttp://sandyi.blogspot.com/2010/05/wi...One knows William Dalrymple as a highly accomplished writer of travelogues and historical non-fiction. Over the past two decades, the author with his passionate quest to understand and explore Indian society, culture and history has given us some very fine works like The White Mughals, The City Of Djinns and The Last Mughal. Even his other books, In Xanadu and From the Holy Mountain that plunge into the discovery of other continents and people, have been equally acclaimed. What comes through is Dalrymple's immense love for travel and culture, and all this he puts together with utmost care, evident in his impeccable writing style, elegant covers and pretty illustrations.With his book Nine Lives, which was published last year (2009), Dalrymple travels through the length and breadth of the country to find the last remnants of mystic India. Given that westerners have always imagined ours to be a land of sadhus and snake charmers, many would perhaps conclude that Nine Lives is primarily an attempt at selling exotica.Then again, religion today is seen as such a dangerous entity and divisive force that Dalrymple's preoccupation with the 'religious' in modern India can itself seem as something of an indulgence.I myself took up the book to read only because it was by Dalrymple, otherwise the theme isn't the kind that would have immediately interested me. But having read it, I will say Nine Lives proves to be a thoroughly immersive experience, not just to the curious western reader, but for many of us living in the cities as well. In fact, each story here could make for an excellent documentary film. The only area where I was slightly disappointed was that the language is quite sparse and bit too straight-forward. After reading The Last Mughal, where the launguage was exquisite and every sentence shone out like a jewel, the last two books of Dalrymple - The City Of Djinns and Nine Lives - have been a slight let-down in that respect.The book looks into the lives of nine people, living at the farthest corners of religious ecstasy. It explores various cults and sects, their rituals and practices. Importantly, it tries to understand the essence of each of these faiths and how they continue to persist amidst the country's fast changing landscape. You are acquainted with the rigourous lives led by Jain monks, with their belief in complete renunciation through the first story, The Nun's Tale. The Red Fairy is both an enchanting and telling exploration into the world of Sufis (of Sindh) and the wonderfully syncretic nature of their faith, surviving under the threat of Talibanised Islam. The Singer of Epics brings forth the world of Pabuji worshipers and the bhopas who have been singing the epic of Pabuji (replete with tales of heroism, honour and struggle) for centuries now. The chapter also extends its concerns to the disappearing form of oral tradition throughout the world. The Dancer of Kannur tracks the unusual lives of 'Theyyam' performers in Kannur (Kerala), where they become God-incarnate -- possessed by the deity -- while performing at temples. But it is only for the duration of the theyyam season when they are respected and worshipped. Once it's done, these men go back to their low paying manual jobs for the rest of the year. Dalrymple punctuates this chapter with rich episodes from history, folk and mythology. And as is the case with all the stories in the book where the social context plays an important role in the formation of a faith, the 'theyyam' form was a reaction against Kerala's oppressive, and rigid cast system. Many of the theyyam stories mock the Brahmins and Nayyars and criticise them for the way they treat their fellow human beings. According the theyyam performers, their practice has brought about a great change in the way lower castes are perceived and now the atrocities, they say, have greatly reduced.Among the other stories that equally captivate you include the 'Bauls from Bengal' - the mad men who dismiss societal conventions; the 'devdasis' - once a royal tradition, now fallen from grace; the idol makers of Chola tradition - who try not to get sexually aroused by the alluring goddesses which they create.Dalrymple is a compassionate narrator, who puts the stories of the respective individuals at the forefront, while he himself remains at the background as a keen observer. This not only nicely inverts the travelogue form (where the focus is always on the narrator), it also adds an element of fictional interest in a book that essentially documents different spiritual cults. The author seldom asserts himself strongly, or questions anyone's faith. But the irony is sharp and self-evident in each of the episodes.Nine Lives: in search of the sacred in modern IndiaOne knows William Dalrymple as a highly accomplished writer of travelogues and historical non-fiction. Over the past two decades, the author with his passionate quest to understand and explore Indian society, culture and history has given us some very fine works like The White Mughals, The City Of Djinns and The Last Mughal. Even his other books, In Xanadu and From the Holy Mountain that plunge into the discovery of other continents and people, have been equally acclaimed. What comes through is Dalrymple's immense love for travel and culture, and all this he puts together with utmost care, evident in his impeccable writing style, elegant covers and pretty illustrations.With his book Nine Lives, which was published last year (2009), Dalrymple travels through the length and breadth of the country to find the last remnants of mystic India. Given that westerners have always imagined ours to be a land of sadhus and snake charmers, many would perhaps conclude that Nine Lives is primarily an attempt at selling exotica.Then again, religion today is seen as such a dangerous entity and divisive force that Dalrymple's preoccupation with the 'religious' in modern India can itself seem as something of an indulgence.I myself took up the book to read only because it was by Dalrymple, otherwise the theme isn't the kind that would have immediately interested me. But having read it, I will say Nine Lives proves to be a thoroughly immersive experience, not just to the curious western reader, but for many of us living in the cities as well. In fact, each story here could make for an excellent documentary film. The only area where I was slightly disappointed was that the language is quite sparse and bit too straight-forward. After reading The Last Mughal, where the launguage was exquisite and every sentence shone out like a jewel, the last two books of Dalrymple - The City Of Djinns and Nine Lives - have been a slight let-down in that respect.The book looks into the lives of nine people, living at the farthest corners of religious ecstasy. It explores various cults and sects, their rituals and practices. Importantly, it tries to understand the essence of each of these faiths and how they continue to persist amidst the country's fast changing landscape. You are acquainted with the rigourous lives led by Jain monks, with their belief in complete renunciation through the first story, The Nun's Tale. The Red Fairy is both an enchanting and telling exploration into the world of Sufis (of Sindh) and the wonderfully syncretic nature of their faith, surviving under the threat of Talibanised Islam. The Singer of Epics brings forth the world of Pabuji worshipers and the bhopas who have been singing the epic of Pabuji (replete with tales of heroism, honour and struggle) for centuries now. The chapter also extends its concerns to the disappearing form of oral tradition throughout the world. The Dancer of Kannur tracks the unusual lives of 'Theyyam' performers in Kannur (Kerala), where they become God-incarnate -- possessed by the deity -- while performing at temples. But it is only for the duration of the theyyam season when they are respected and worshipped. Once it's done, these men go back to their low paying manual jobs for the rest of the year. Dalrymple punctuates this chapter with rich episodes from history, folk and mythology. And as is the case with all the stories in the book where the social context plays an important role in the formation of a faith, the 'theyyam' form was a reaction against Kerala's oppressive, and rigid cast system. Many of the theyyam stories mock the Brahmins and Nayyars and criticise them for the way they treat their fellow human beings. According the theyyam performers, their practice has brought about a great change in the way lower castes are perceived and now the atrocities, they say, have greatly reduced.Among the other stories that equally captivate you include the 'Bauls from Bengal' - the mad men who dismiss societal conventions; the 'devdasis' - once a royal tradition, now fallen from grace; the idol makers of Chola tradition - who try not to get sexually aroused by the alluring goddesses which they create.Dalrymple is a compassionate narrator, who puts the stories of the respective individuals at the forefront, while he himself remains at the background as a keen observer. This not only nicely inverts the travelogue form (where the focus is always on the narrator), it also adds an element of fictional interest in a book that essentially documents different spiritual cults. The author seldom asserts himself strongly, or questions anyone's faith. But the irony is sharp and self-evident in each of the episodes.for more...http://sandyi.blogspot.com/2010/05/wi...

  • Kartik
    2019-04-26 22:19

    In this book, William Dalrymple explores nine facets of South Asia's threatened, non mainstream religious traditions, and the lives of some of their most faithful practitioners. The nature of the subcontinent's various peoples, communities, and faiths allowed, since the beginning of time, for highly flexible, heterodoxic belief systems, many of which featured syncretism and influences from many sources. More often than not, these belief systems actually hold greater sway over the hearts of South Asia's vast swathes of humanity than do mainstream versions of these faiths. They're seen as traditions where the divine actually knows and understands one's day to day issues and immediate concerns.One of the book's central themes is how these traditions, after centuries of holding out against the onslaught of dogma, are finally weakening - market forces, forced homogenization, their complex interplay with modernization & globalization, and what some scholars call "Rama-fication", or the cultural assimilation of these local, heterodox folk traditions into the mainstream, with their figures relegated to mere supporting characters and their epics, merely "regional versions" of mainstream epics.The book's format focuses on the lives on nine adherents of different belief systems, instead of talking about the traditions directly.Each story or life, so to speak, provides various perspectives on the tradition the section focuses on, with historical and social context provided for greater , as well as how said tradition contrasts with the dogma of the orthodox, cultural elite who look down upon at as something corrupted or born from ignorance.Well researched, Dalrymple's writing and characteristic flair bring out shades of descriptiveness and vividness a simple account of these stories would lack, something that makes this book all the richer.

  • Izabela
    2019-05-14 03:53

    Zbiór dziewięciu świetnie skonstruowanych reportaży, w których autor usuwa się w cień i pozwala przemówić ludziom żyjącym dla wiary. Tak. Każda z historii jest inna, momentami mroczna i przerażająca, a przy tym nieustannie pasjonuje. W dalszym ciągu nie mogę wyjść z podziwu, jak wiele ludzie są w stanie poświęcić, aby wejść w owianą tajemnicą sferę świętości. Te wszystkie rzeczy dzieją się teraz, a ja jedynie mogę przecierać oczy ze zdumienia i mieć nadzieję, że, tak jak autorowi, uda mi się kiedyś przekonać o tym na własnej skórze.

  • Smitha
    2019-05-03 03:14

    I had heard of William Dalrymple, but had never managed to get hold of it. For some reason, my library’s online search never yielded any results. One day, at the library, I managed to browse through the ‘History and Culture’ section and came across this book. I had no idea whether this was aclaimed or not, but liked what I could glean from the back cover. This is what it says‘ In this title, a Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet – then spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve to death. A woman leaves her middle-class family in Calcutta, and her job in a jute factory, only to find unexpected love and fulfilment living as a Tantric skull feeder in a remote cremation ground. A prison warden from Kerala becomes, for two months of the year, a temple dancer and is worshipped as a deity; then, at the end of February each year, he returns to prison. An illiterate goat herd from Rajasthan keeps alive an ancient 4,000-line sacred epic that he, virtually alone, still knows by heart. A devadasi – or temple prostitute – initially resists her own initiation into sex work, yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling. Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story.’After reading the book, I have to say, I was not disappointed in any way. Dalrymple, covers nine lives, nine people, who have given up materialistic lives and turned towards the spiritual. Spiritual ways that are as diverse as possible from each other. From a Jain nun who pulls out her hair one by one, as part of her vocation, to tantriks who live on cremation grounds. Each just as spiritual, just as believing in their path to divine happiness.The best part of the book, for me was the way it is written. The author chronicles each story with such compassion, honesty, and being totally non-judgemental. It takes you right to where the story unfolds and gives you an insight to what might be propelling people to give up their lives for what they consider their faith. He lets their words say their story.A fascinating account of how diverse India really is, and how beautifully all these diverse faiths and beliefs have lived together, in peace. How Hindus go to Sufi saints for blessings, and how Brahmins get blessings from a Dalit temple dancer. When trouble comes calling, people are ready to try anything that might work. This book is all about how faith intermingled with modernity, of how the old traditions are still revered and followed, even if some of the people who actually keep these traditions alive find it difficult to lead lives without taking on other jobs in order to make ends meet.It also indicates how these practises might soon come to an end. In case of the illiterate story-teller in Rajasthan, the book talks about how education seems to threaten this ancient at of storytelling. For some reason, when people get educated, their ability to read seems to reduce their ability to remember the epics word by word. Interesting, isn’t it?I would give it a 5/5, for being the most fascinating book I have read in recent times. I would recommend it to anybody who is interested in historical and cultural books.

  • Erica
    2019-05-06 22:58

    I think I have a typical American viewpoint of India - romanticized by folkore and Bollywood with a drop or two of actual knowledge. I was probably hoping this book would give me a little more insight as to how the many changes in our new global society has changed the traditions of an ancient culture. I was originnaly intrigued by this book because of the parallels drawn to The Canterbury Tales and had been excited to read a modern version of another culture's pilgrimage toward spirituality and the sacred.I don't think that's what I got from this collection of stories. Not only did I not really see the similarities between this and The Canterbury Tales, with exception to the title of "The Monk's Tale", I rather wound up not really liking William Dalrymple's telling of other people's stories. While worship and ascending to a higher place were certainly the focal points running through each story, I did not get a real sense of what each person's religious beliefs and practices meant to them so much as I saw a brief illustration of what these people do. It was like reading about someone describing their job in one chapter. There was a lack of passion I found disappointing.Regardless of my disappointment, I still enjoyed the book well-enough. I don't think I will read it again, but it was fun to travel throughout India, briefly dipping into Pakistan and Tibet & Nepal. I enjoyed learning about regional dieties and why they had been worshipped. I felt that little twinge of loss so common as we watch the world become homogenized, as we see unique traditions and practices merge into those that are more widely-recognized. I can't say my life was enriched with new knowledge and insight gained from these stories but I was left wanting to travel to these villages to see them for myself.

  • Rachel C
    2019-04-30 00:05

    I recently finished Nine Lives by William Darlymple. The book is a series of nine vignettes about the spiritual lives of nine individuals in India. The book touches on all walks of life and spans the entire sub-continent. It begins with the heart-wrenching tale of a Jain nun who has to stand by while her best friend starves herself to death. Another story touches upon a Tibetan monk, turned soldier, turned prayer flag maker. The book is wrapped up with the story of a blind minstrel who talks about spirituality from the paradoxical point of view of a religious agnostic. All nine stories as a whole paint a comprehensive, empathetic and highly personal account of India. I particularly enjoyed the story of the temple prostitute and the Red Fairy. The first is about a temple prostitute and the second is about a Muslim refugee. Both women lived through tragedy after tragedy but still maintained optimistic attitudes strengthened by their faith. Darlymple took me through the ups and downs of their lives with the fluidity of his writing. He also has a talent for concluding each section in a reflective way giving the reader time to digest the story. Though there were some standout stories, some were harder to get through. Historical fact and religious doctrine is often interwoven through the stories. Although it served the purpose of providing context, I felt that it interrupted the story telling. I was often so confused by the many terms, places and names that I forgot the details of the story I was in the middle of. That being said, the book as a whole was very enjoyable. I felt connected to the individuals in each story. I was moved by their struggles and inspired by how their faith brought them through it. Judging the reading experience as a whole, I'd give it a solid four stars.

  • Tig
    2019-05-14 00:03

    Dazzling , mind-spinning accounts of religious lives, with a richness and texture that only India can deliver. The stories of these nine people are told in very simple, spare prose, using the direct voices of the nine devotees and with little sense of authorial comment, apart from some very useful historical and religious context. The journeys leads you into the India unseen by travellers - the tiny villages of mud-built houses on flooded plains, or beside jungles, the squatting saddhus sharing chillums, and the travelling singers and dancers who perform in tents by village temples. The lives are harsh and unromantic - a recurring motif is how a family can fragment and be lost when the breadwinner dies, and there are many deaths in this book. But there is also a great sense of purpose and fulfillment and of living, breathing spirituality and conviction. I learnt more about the diversity and complexity of Indian religious life by reading this book than in all my previous trips to India and books read. At times the religious practices merge into art (the producer of religious bronzes where the making is a sacrament, whose family have been doing the same job for 700 years and whose children want to work in computers), song, dance, sex and magic (the tantric practitioner who lives in the cemetery, collects skulls and worships on the night of no moon). It was an extraordinary and heartening book to read and one that has spoken to my condition. I am off to order more William Dalrymple.

  • Nelson Minar
    2019-05-09 20:13

    Absolutely loved this book, read it up in just a few days. A very engaging set of personal stories of different expressions of religion in India. Dalrymple is an amazing writer, both deeply knowledgable and able to convey intimate personal details. And bridge Indian culture to Westerners, in a way that's respectful and not pandering. That approach is particularly valuable when treating the diversity of religion in India, doubly so given the rather florid versions Dalrymple focuses on.And such crazy diversity. I knew about Sufis of course, but not the Baul nor the tantric practices at Tarapith. Most of the stories he tells are quite foreign but also positive, holy men and women who have found fulfillment in whatever ascetic or exuberant religious tradition they have adopted. Frankly I find that kind of life incomprehensible and I thank Dalrymple for helping me understand a bit what it is like. Then there's the chapter on the life of a temple prostitute, a woman who is living a terribly miserable life. She too has dignity and her story is told well, but a poignant counterpoint to some of the other stories.All in all just an excellent book. Also I enjoyed reading this much better than Dalrymple's other book City of Djinns, that one never quite grabbed me. Nine Lives totally engaged me and I just wish he'd write three more books exactly like it!

  • Manab
    2019-05-17 20:05

    এর আগে ডালরিম্পলের হোয়াইট মুঘল পড়ে যে ভক্তিশ্রদ্ধার উদ্রেক হইছিলো, এইবার তার টিকিটাও হইলো না। সম্ভবত তিনি এইখানে যেসব নিয়ে কথা বলছেন, সেসব আমার চেনা বলে। তেমনটা অবশ্য নাও হইতে পারে। তিনি এই বইয়ে যেইসব ধর্মাচারের বর্ণনা দিয়ে গেছেন, তার সব কয়টা ঠিক সম-আবেদনের প্রকরণ না, এই কারণে এক ধরনের অমসৃণতার উদ্ভব হইছে বলে মনে হইলো। মানে একদিকে থেয়্যাম নৃত্য, পাবুজির কিচ্ছা, আর রেণুকার দেবদাসীদের মত ঘাড় চেপে বসা গল্পের উল্টা দিকে প্রতিমা গড়া ভদ্রলোকের কাহিনী খুবই ম্রিয়মাণ, তিব্বতি ভিক্ষু বা তারাপীঠের সাধনাও খুব খেলে ওঠে নাই এই বইয়ে। বর্ণভেদের বিষয়গুলি আসছে, লোকাচার আর শুদ্ধাচারের ফারাকটা বারবার উঠে আসছে, থেয়্যাম প্রসঙ্গে, শাহবাজ কালান্দারের মাজার প্রসঙ্গে। কিন্তু তবুও এই বই নবজীবন শুধু নয় অর্থেই, নতুন অর্থে না, ডালরিম্পলের অসাধারণ লেখনীগুণ অধিকারে থাকার পরেও নাইন লাইভস শুধু উপরে উপরেই বর্ণনা দিয়ে যায়, খুব গভীরে ডুব দেয় না একবারও। ভারতের মানুষকে তুলে আনতে গিয়ে ডালরিম্পল নিজের পড়াশোনার ব্যাপ্তিটারে অনেকাংশেই অগ্রাহ্য করে গেছেন, তিনি বলেই রাখছেন, এইখানে বিষয় হতে যাচ্ছে লেখকের চেয়ে বড়। অথচ আমরা জানি, একটা ঘোলা ছবিরে বড় করলে তা পরিষ্কার হয় না, ফেটে যায়।ভারতবর্ষের তাল-বেতাল বৈচিত্র্যের আরেকটা সাক্ষীই হবে এই বইখান, ততোধিক কিছু না। এখন দয়াপরবশ ব্যক্তিবর্গ এনার আরো একটা দুইটা বই ধার দিলে হয়, আমি দরিদ্র, কিনবার সামর্থ্য নাই।

  • Craig
    2019-04-25 21:57

    Picked up this book before my second trip to India. It contains nine well-researched sketches of figures of the diverse religious traditions in South Asia (mostly India, but parts of tales take place in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal). Each character has a chance to tell his or her own story, and the background is richly set. Most of the tales are mesmerizing, though a couple less so, at least for me.Many of the traditions are disappearing. While for the most part he lets the characters tell their tales, there is an implicit plea for tolerance for these traditions which allow people to find their own path to spirituality against increasing orthodoxy. Dalrymple tries to capture the essence of some of these traditions before they disappear, and even bring some hope that a few may carry on in the modernizing South Asian landscape. Fascinating read if you have any interest in the religious traditions of this region.