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1-Page Summary of Nine Lives
William Dalrymple is a journalist who has spent a lot of time in India. He wrote a book about nine Indian people and how their lives were shaped by faith. The book examines the diversity of religion in India, which he believes sets it apart from other countries that are more materialistic.
In the first chapter of the book, “The Nun’s Tale,” a nun tells about her friendship with another nun. The two nuns practice extreme asceticism and detachment from worldly concerns. They gave up their possessions and left their families behind to become Jain nuns. One of them died after starving herself for days as a ritual associated with Jainism. The other nun believes that she is being punished by God for breaking one of the tenets of Jainism—she formed an attachment to another person in addition to God.
In India, there is a caste system. The highest castes are the Brahmins and the lowest caste is called Dalits. During a season of Theyyam rituals (a Hindu ritual), Dalits become possessed by gods. This happens in December through February. The Brahmin members of society show deference to them during this time because they believe that it’s actually god who has taken over their bodies. Additionally, these performances contain social critiques which encourage the Brahmin members to change their behavior and be more respectful toward other people from different walks of life
The third chapter, “The Daughter of Yellamma,” tells the story about Rani Bai, who was dedicated to a life as a devadasi when she was only six years old. The devadasis are part of an ancient tradition and so is the singing that Dalrymple meets in Chapter 4, “The Singer of Epics.” Mohan Bhopa and his wife Batasi are two of the only remaining singers for The Epic of Pabuji.
Chapter 5 is about Lal Peri, a Muslim woman who was persecuted in India and moved to Bangladesh. She then traveled to Pakistan where she became the victim of religious persecution again. The author’s impression of Sufis is that they are tolerant people, but he also thinks that Wahhabis are dangerous because they’re radical Muslims.
In Chapter 6, the author relates a story about Tashi Passang, who fled Tibet after it was invaded by the Chinese. He trained with India and the CIA but never got to fight for his country. Instead, he helped liberate Bangladesh from Pakistani forces. Now that he’s returned to being a monk in Dharamsala (the same town as Dalai Lama), he no longer believes violence is something Buddhists should take part in.
The seventh and eighth chapters, “The Maker of Idols” and “The Lady Twilight,” tell the story of Srikanda Stpaty who can trace her lineage back twenty-three generations to Chola dynasty bronze casters in Tamil Nadu. She explains some Tantric practices that include drinking from human skulls. The ninth chapter, “The Song of the Blind Minstrel,” tells about wandering mystic minstrels from West Bengal. These Baul traditions combine a number of different philosophies brought together by this musical tradition
The book Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple is about his travels and interactions with people from different religions. He concludes that there are many ways to reach God, not just one way. The book was widely acclaimed upon its release but some reviewers found fault with it for failing to address Hindu extremism or Indian Christianity in depth.