Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

William Dalrymple, Author
William Dalrymple, Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-27282-9
Reviewed on: 05/17/2010
Release date: 06/01/2010
Paperback - 284 pages - 978-1-4088-0124-6
Hardcover - 275 pages - 978-0-307-27282-9
Open Ebook - 205 pages - 978-0-307-59359-7
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-02891-3
Hardcover - 284 pages - 978-1-4088-0061-4
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-1-4088-0153-6
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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 India’s 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. (June)
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