Book Review Faith

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

A few months back I read a review of this book “Nine Lives” by William Dalrymple, I picked up a copy on my next visit to Landmark store. Over the next week or so, I finished reading the book, but what an impact this book made on me. I was thinking about it for weeks now, so I got delayed in doing this post.

The book is about “Nine people” and “Nine lives”, the story is about different faiths that prevail in the Indian subcontinent. William Dalrymple, I learned is a Scottish born writer who now lives with his family on a farm outside Delhi in India. What was striking to me about the book was the stories narrated in the People’s own voice, rather than the author who tries to stay away for the most part and not introducing his judgment, speculation or colour it with his experiences.

The first story on a Jain Nun was very revealing for me before it I hardly knew anything about Jain Religion other than having visited few of the Jain temples in Rajasthan. The other stories include one about a Buddhist monk who took up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet, a Tantric skull feeder in a remote cremation ground in Kolkata, A Theyyam dancer in Kerala worshipped as a deity for few months returning to his job as a Prison warden, a tribal leader from Rajasthan keeping alive an ancient 4,000-line sacred epic that he knows by heart, a devadasi or temple prostitute called as Yellamma’s children initially resists her own initiation into sex work yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling, a story of worshippers of Lal Shahbaz in rural Sindh, Pakistan highlighting the difference between Orthodox Islam vs Sufism.

Overall, a must-read book. I was exposed to the various faiths that are being practised in our modern India.