NYC Event: Nine Lives, In Search of the Sacred in Modern South Asia


Contact: Elaine Merguerian, (212) 327-9271

Asia Society in association with Indo-American Arts Council, Inc. Presents

Nine Lives - In Search of the Sacred in Modern South Asia

Two Nights of Reading and Performance Kick Off William Dalrymple's U.S. Tour of His Latest Book

Friday and Saturday, June 18–19, 2010
7:30–11:30 pm at Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), NYC

Writer and historian William Dalrymple reads from his latest book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, at a special evening program kicking off his U.S. book tour. Artists visiting from India and Pakistan will perform music and dance exploring ritual, ancient tradition and sacred expression in contemporary society. The evening offers unique insight into the lives and spiritual beliefs of the performers, exploring how faith and rituals are thriving 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.

The evening's performances 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.

The program is followed by a reception. Held in association with Indo-American Arts Council, Inc. Major support for Nine Lives has been provided by the Rockefeller Foundation's New York City Opportunities Fund. Additional support provided as part of the Creative Voices of Islam in Asia project funded by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

About the Performers

William Dalrymple wrote his first book, In Xanadu: A Quest (1989), at the age of twenty-two.  In 1989, he moved to Delhi to research City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, which went on to win the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. White Mughals (2002) marked Dalrymple’s shift from travel writing to history, and won many awards. His most recent book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, will be published by Knopf in June 2010.  

Paban Das Baul & the Bauls of Bengal
- Paban Das Baul (vocals + dubki (tamborine) + khamak (plucking drum))
- Mimlu Sen (vocals /translations of texts + cymbals)

The music of the Bauls refers to a particular type of folk song carrying the influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as of Sufi music, representing a long heritage of preaching mysticism through songs in Bengal, like Shahebdhoni or Bolahadi sects.

Bauls use a number of musical instruments to embellish their compositions. The "ektara" is a one-stringed drone instrument, and by far the most common instrument used by a Baul singer. It is the carved from the epicarp of a gourd, and made of bamboo and goatskin.

Shah Jo Raag Fakirs
The Shah Jo Raag Fakirs belong to a family of musicians who sing at the shrine of Shah Lateef in Bhit Shah in the traditional manner created by the Sufi saint himself about 400 years ago. Their weekly sessions begin after the esha (night) prayers and last the entire night.

The Wai is usually sung by a group of four, sitting in a circle facing each other holding the dhamboor. Wai zingers dress in black and then chant strumming the dhamboor, the instrument that was created by the Shah himself and sing "Wai," the kalaam of the Shah, by turns. 

The group has won awards including the Lateef Award and Rafi Peer Award in Pakistan.

Susheela Raman and Sam Mills
Tamil Londoner Susheela is equally at home with South Indian classical music as with Jimi Hendrix and Fela Kuti, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Aretha Franklin. As a composer, arranger and interpreter she has forged a unique, inclusive sound and has garnered immense critical and popular acclaim for her four albums: Salt Rain (2001), Love Trap (2003), Music for Crocodiles (2005) and 33 1/3 (2007). Salt Rain went gold in France and was shortlisted for the UK Mercury Prize. Love Trap features Indian devotional songs and, amongst others, Afro-Beat maestro Tony Allen on drums. Music for Crocodiles features musicians from South India and was partly recorded in Chennai (Madras). 33 1/3 is a collection of soulful and distinctive re-interpretations of songs by groups such as Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Can, and Joy Division. Accompanying Susheela will be her long-time collaborator, guitarist Sam Mills, and percussionist Atef Durvesh.

Theyyam Dance Group
Theyyam or Theyyaattam is a pattern of hero worship performed in Kolathunaad, a territory comprising the present Cannanore District and Badagara Taluk in Kerala, India. It is a ritual and a folk dance form supported by a vast literature of folk songs. Theyyam is a corruption of Devyam  God, Aattam means dance. Thus Theyyaattam means the God's Dance. In this ancient performance ritual featuring spectacular costumes and headdresses, ritual dancers “become” the deities.

About the Asia Society
Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonprofit nonpartisan educational institution. Through exhibitions and public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art, and in Asia today. Asia Society is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City.

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Image, above: Paban Das Baul. (Courtesy of the artist.)