Nine Lives : In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

Nine Lives : In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

Product ID: 27031

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Author: William Dalrymple
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year: 2010
Language: English
Pages: 284
ISBN/UPC (if available): 1-4088-0124-8


A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet – then spends years 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, to find unexpected love and fulfilment living as a tantric in a remote cremation ground. A prison warden from Kerala becomes, for two months of the year, a temple dancer and is worshipped as an incarnate deity; then, at the end of February each year, he returns to prison. A devadasi – a temple prostitute – initially resists her initiation into sex work, yet pushes her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling.

These are among the nine lives whose mesmerizing and unforgettable stories William Dalrymple tells with an almost biblical simplicity in his first travel book in a decade. A distillation of twenty-five years of traveling around and observing India, Nine Lives takes us deep into worlds we would never have imagined existed, even as it explores how traditional forms of religious life in South Asia have been transformed in the vortex of the region’s rapid change.


‘Any of these stories could make a great film or play, they are so full of passion, tragedy, violence, compassion and religious fervor, and so vividly evoked; we hear these men and women telling their own amazing stories and are swept up by them…Only a brilliant writer like Dalrymple could bring off his astonishing and unprecedented revelation of the humanity of people on the farthest extremes of religious ecstasy’.

‘I was enchanted by these poignant and magical stories. By artfully weaving together travel, history and legend – all without guile – Dalrymple creates a compelling narrative, reminding us why India is one of the world’s greatest storytelling cultures, and why he is one of its greatest storytellers.’

‘Any travel writer so good at his job as to be brilliant, applauded, loved and needed has to have an unusual list of qualities, and William Dalrymple has them all in aces.’

‘Dalrymple may well be the greatest travel writer of his generation.’



1. The Nun’s Tale
2. The Dancer of Kannur
3. The Daughters of Yellamma
4. The Singer of Epics
5. The Red Fairy
6. The Monk’s Tale
7. The Maker of Idols
8. The Lady Twilight
9. The Song of the Blind Minstrel