Nine Lives: Sacred music from Modern India

Featuring Paban Das Baul & the Bauls Of Bengal, Shah Jo Raag Fakirs, Susheela Raman & Chandu Pannicker Theyyam Dance Group

25 September 2009 / 19:30


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Writer and historian William Dalrymple’s latest book Nine Lives is subtitled In search of the sacred in modern India. This special concert, curated by the author, brings together music and readings to offer a unique insight into some of the fascinating spiritual and musical traditions that still thrive in the subcontinent despite huge social and economic change.

Featuring the Bauls of Bengal - a group of itinerant mystic minstrels whose beliefs draw on Vaishnavite Hindu and Sufi Muslim thought - and the Shah Jo Raag Fakirs, who sing at the shrine of Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai in Sindh. Susheela Raman offers insight into the Thevaram hymns of Tamil Nadu, and there will also be Theyyam dance from Kerala.

Paban Das Baul

Paban Das Baul

Bauls of Bengal

Susheela Raman at the Lincoln Center

Some background on the book
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, only to find unexpected love and fulfilment living as a tantric in a skull-filled hut 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.

An illiterate goat herd from Rajasthan keeps alive an ancient 4,000-line sacred epic that he, virtually alone, still knows by heart. A devadasi - or temple prostitute - initially resists her own initiation into sex work, yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling.

Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. Exquisite and mesmerising, and told with an almost biblical simplicity, William Dalrymple’s first travel book in a decade explores how traditional forms of religious life in South Asia have been transformed in the vortex of the region’s rapid change. A distillation of twenty-five years of exploring India and writing about its religious traditions, Nine Lives is a modern Indian Canterbury Tales which introduces you to characters and takes you deep into worlds you would never have imagined existed.

Click here to read the London Evening Standard's feature on William Dalrymple

Produced by the Barbican

Teamwork Productions


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