- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; First United States Edition edition (June 15, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307272826
- ISBN-13: 978-0307272829
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 87 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #288,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 15, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Historian-travel writer Dalrymple (The Last Mughal) knows his Asian subcontinent, having moved to New Delhi in 1989. The engine of Indian economic development is bringing rapid change, and Dalrymple spotlights changes and constancies brought about in IndiaÖs dizzyingly diverse religious practices. The titular nine lives are those of a variety of religious adherents: a Jain nun, a sacred dancer, a Sufi mystic, a Tantric practitioner, among others. His subjects, for the most part, do their own show-and-tell in explaining their religious paths, which differ but share the passionate devotion (bhakti) that characterizes popular religion in India. Dalrymple has a good eye, a better ear, and the humility to get out of the way of his subjects. It helps to know a bit about the subject coming in, as it saves endless flipping to a very helpful appended glossary. The author also notes in his introduction he has made a special effort to avoid exoticizing £mystic India,¥ yet he has picked some extremes to exemplify different kinds of religious beliefs and practices. Still, those are minor quibbles about this ambitious and affectionate book that respects popular religion.
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Dalrymple, author of prizewinning works of far-roaming inquiry, including The Last Mughal (2007), knows when to let others speak. Which is what he does with great finesse in this evocative set of portraits of nine spiritual seekers living across India. Nine lives that open doors onto nine of India's many arduous paths to the divine and reveal striking, nearly surreal juxtapositions between the old and the new. There's the haunting tale of a Jain nun who as a girl renounced her life of privilege and the wrenching story of Rani Bai, a devadasi, or servant of the goddess Yellamma, who was forced into prostitution as a girl. Hari Das describes what it feels like “to be taken over by a god” when he performs theyyam, the sacred possession dance of Kerala, only to return to his dangerous work as a prison guard. Dalrymple sets each vivid profile within an intricately drawn history of the ancient and now-endangered tradition each devotee is dedicated to preserving in the escalating battle between holiness and hustle that is transforming India. --Donna Seaman
Top customer reviews
A main question seems to be whether often-isolated, syncretistic, devotional religious practices will continue in the face of India's burgeoning economy and, presumably, growing secularism and consumerism, on the one hand, and the exclusionary fanaticism of a militant segment of Hindus and Muslims, on the other. While much will be gained by greater educational opportunity and a higher/healthier standard of living for the rural and urban poor and powerless, rich, curious, sometimes bizarre religious practices in the name of the gods will probably fade away.
This book is not about mainstream religious practices or faiths of the great religions --- or even of "smaller traditions" that have gained acceptance, if not understanding, because of their great age. The `Sacred" referred to in the title are approaches to gods/God that are, for all the integrity of those interviewed who practice them, mightily strange.
The book certainly shows that devout, faithful approaches to belief are common to all levels of people and a belief in a "greater power" is sustaining in the most difficult of situations. The book is a wondrous "read" about good people whom most of us will never otherwise hear.
A couple of the stories illustrated how the rigid, strait-laced Indian society fostered the extremes that people would go to express themselves- in the first and last stories, children of well-to-do families rejected the conventional `safe' path for the unknown- one embracing celibacy, although supposedly practising non-attachment, was devastated when the companion of 20 years died- and the other engaging in tantric-like Baul practices.
Published in 2009, it documented well the devastation of HIV/AIDS on one family forced to continue in prostitution under the `tradition' of dedicating the young girls to Yellamma/becoming devadasis - applicable to pre-Mugal India, certainly not 21st century `Shining India'!
The book was very informative about Sufism and illustrated well the devastation Partition had on the lives of ordinary Indians. The story about the Idol-maker reminded me of the part in Anil's Ghost where the final part of installation of the eyes is very sacred, but sadly that tradition is also under threat of the Mass-produced market. Interesting and informative too was the fact that the erotic images/sculptures on the Khujharo temples were illustrating Tantric practices prevalent when the temple was being built.