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Nine Lives

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  4,456 Ratings  ·  445 Reviews
From the author of The Last Mughal and In Xanadu, comes a mesmerizing book that explores how traditional religions are observed in today’s India, revealing ways of life that we might otherwise never have known.

A middle-class woman from Calcutta finds unexpected fulfillment living as a Tantric in an isolated, skull-filled cremation ground . . . A prison warder from Kerala i
Paperback, 284 pages
Published 2009
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Aomame* I loved the first three stories (the jaina who starves heself to death, the teyyan dancer and the sacred prostitute Rani). Sadly I found stories to…moreI loved the first three stories (the jaina who starves heself to death, the teyyan dancer and the sacred prostitute Rani). Sadly I found stories to become less and less engaging as the book moved on: to me, it was as if Dalrymple played his ace card at the very beginning. After that, reading became kinda tedious...(less)
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'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 ar
Flevy Crasto
Dec 30, 2013 Flevy Crasto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more

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
Jan 19, 2014 Shanmugam rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 14, 2016 dely rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to dely by: Dhanaraj Rajan

This 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 fu
Cornelia Funke
Nov 12, 2015 Cornelia Funke rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 02, 2014 Rachel Rueckert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, tibet
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 no
May 03, 2016 Daren rated it really liked it
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 superstitio
Apr 25, 2013 Aliya rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 21, 2016 Jaylia3 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-re-read
A glimpse back to a time when all religions were local

The 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 t
Jun 09, 2016 Lisa rated it liked it
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 meticul
Sameen Borker
Jun 04, 2014 Sameen Borker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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? ...more
Nov 22, 2014 Paola rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: saggistica
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 invidiabil
Aug 24, 2014 Harsha rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
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 ea
Ritika Gupta
Dec 09, 2013 Ritika Gupta rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Aug 07, 2014 Bella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Anil Swarup
Jul 28, 2015 Anil Swarup rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Aug 10, 2010 Sandhya rated it liked it
Nine Lives: in search of the sacred in modern India

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 di
Sep 17, 2012 Smitha rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, india
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
Rachel C
Jun 22, 2013 Rachel C rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Students of world religions/history, India enthusiasts, anyone interested in spirituality
Recommended to Rachel by: Mr. Ferrin
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 ...more
Mar 03, 2012 Tig rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nelson Minar
Jul 31, 2015 Nelson Minar rated it really liked it
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 cr
Mar 13, 2013 Craig rated it it was amazing
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 th
Apr 08, 2012 Neil rated it it was amazing
This book is absolutely brilliant. Dalrymple takes a socio-cultural and anthological look at some very diverse and non-mainstream forms of religious practice and spiritual pursuit in India. What Dalrymple has done, in a single book, is amazing. If you're interested in learning about how religion might have begun (all over the world) then evolved, grown up, turned into something mainstream, and ultimately something that has largely become standardized in large parts of the world, this book will ...more
Jan 13, 2010 Carmen rated it it was ok
I found this book quite interesting and enlightening. I am always amazed that people have such strong faith regardless of the difficulties they face in their daily life.
Rasana Atreya
Jul 23, 2012 Rasana Atreya rated it really liked it
What a wonderful book, fabulously researched. I learned so much about spiritualism in my own country. This book is so well written it reads like fast-paced fiction.
Shreya Vaid
Jul 13, 2016 Shreya Vaid rated it it was amazing
Nine Lives by William Dalrymple is a book that doesn't need a review, it only needs to be devoured into. In search of the sacred in modern India, Dalrymple has written a masterpiece in the world of travel writing. After reading Nine Lives, my bucket list has now places that are still unknown to many.

What I love about William is that all the books he has written over the time, he never mocks his subjects. He is tender in his approach, understanding each and every aspect and then narrates for peo
Sep 01, 2011 Ilya rated it really liked it
This book consists of interviews with eight Indians and one India-born Pakistani about their religious lives. A Jain nun's only friend and companion caught tuberculosis, and slowly starved herself to death, which is the highest sacrifice in her religion. The nun has started on the same path, although only 38 and healthy; the sacred books leave open the possibility that she will be reunited with her companion in the next world. A Dalit man from Kerala works as a well digger and a prison guard for ...more
Ampat Varghese
May 12, 2014 Ampat Varghese rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
Another terrific book that does not strain my grey cells but releases endorphins. Have loved William Darlymple ever since I read his "From the Holy Mountain'. Yeah, he is not better than Bruce Chatwin who is my favourite travelogue writer. But he often thrills. This is a book that trawls seven spaces of religion but the impact of each spiritual practice, path, genre, complex is brought closer home to the reader by means of personalisation. Each tale is about a person,a sort of representative of ...more
Henk-Jan van der Klis
Jul 07, 2013 Henk-Jan van der Klis rated it really liked it
Getipt door een Indiase collega en projectmedewerker heb ik William Dalrymple in de bibliotheek opgezocht. Ik had eigenlijk Return of a King (2012) op het oog, maar ben eerst in Negen levens (in 2010 vertaald uit het 2009 in het Engels verschenen origineel) gaan lezen. In dit boek komen 9 verschillende religieuze invullingen uit diverse hoeken van het subcontinent India aan bod. Van een tempelprostiuee, een beeldenmaker tot een Soefi-aanhanger. Krisjna opvattingen en allerhande seksueel getinte ...more
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The Armchair Trav...: * Nine Lives * discussion 31 6 Jun 11, 2016 06:39AM  
  • Hall of a Thousand Columns
  • No Full Stops in India
  • Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River
  • India: A Million Mutinies Now
  • In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India
  • A Journey in Ladakh: Encounters with Buddhism
  • Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity
  • Travelers' Tales India: True Stories
  • Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond
  • Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land
  • The Hindus: An Alternative History
  • Chasing the Monsoon
  • On a Shoestring to Coorg: An Experience of Southern India
  • The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India
  • Slowly Down the Ganges
  • Calcutta: Two Years in the City
  • The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan
  • India: A History
William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six ...more
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“One day Lal shahbaz was wandering in the desert with his friend Sheikh Bhaa ud-Din Zakariya. It was winter, and evening time, so they began to build a fire to keep warm. They found some wood, but then they realised they had no fire. So Baha ud- Din suggested that Lal Shahbaz turn himself into a falcon and get fire from hell. Off he flew, but an hour later he came back empty handed. "There is no fire in hell," he reported. "Everyone who goes there brings their own fire, and their own pain, from this world.” 3 likes
“I grew up in extreme poverty,’ said Hari Das. ‘Like me, my father was a day labourer, who also did theyyam during the season. Today theyyam can bring in much
more than labouring – in a good season, after expenses, maybe Rs 10,000 a month – but in those days earnings were very meagre; maybe only Rs 10 and bag of rice
for a single night.
‘I lost my mother when I was three years old. She had some small injury – a piece of metal pierced her foot – but it went septic, and because she couldn’t afford a
real doctor she saw a man in the village instead. He must have made it worse. Certainly he failed to cure her. She died quite unnecessarily; at least that is what I feel.”
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