Writer and historian William Dalrymple reads from his latest book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, in a unique series of Asia Society events in New York, Washington, and San Francisco. In the New York and Washington events, artists visiting from India and Pakistan will accompany Dalrymple with music and dance exploring ritual, ancient tradition, and sacred expression in contemporary society. The programs will explore how faith and rituals continue to thrive in South Asia despite huge social and economic changes.
Nine Lives looks at South Asia's diverse sacred traditions through the personal stories of a Sufi, a possession dancer, a Buddhist monk, a Jain nun, a tantric, and others. While much has been written about how India is transforming at a most incredible rate—the economy has been predicted to overtake that of the US by 2050—little has been said about the way the country's growth has affected the great South Asian traditions of mysticism, monasticism, music, and dance.
Dalrymple's collaborators include Paban Das Baul, who comes out of the tradition of the Bauls of Bengal—the 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, Pakistan. British Indian singer Susheela Raman offers insight into the Thevaram hymns of Tamil Nadu, and while the Theyyam Dance Group showcase the spectacular folk ritual from Kerala.
Music, above: Paban Das Baul and Susheela Raman recorded live at the Jaipur Literary Festival in 2009.