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

Highlights from Asia Society's Nine Lives program on June 19, 2010, featuring William Dalrymple, Susheela Raman, and others. (4 min., 23 sec.)

NEW YORK, June 19, 2010 - Writer and historian William Dalrymple read from his latest book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, at a special evening program kicking off his US book tour. Visiting artists from India and Pakistan performed music and dance exploring ritual, ancient tradition, and sacred expression in contemporary society. The evening offered 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.

The evening's performances included 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 provided contemporary insights into the Thevaram hymns of Tamil Nadu, while the Theyyam Dance Group showcased the spectacular folk ritual from Kerala.



William Dalrymple wrote his first book, In Xanadu: A Quest (1989), at the age of twenty-two. That year 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 book Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India was published by Knopf in June 2010.
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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.


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. Among the group's many honors are 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).


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.



Susheela Raman and Paban Das Baul in sync at the Jaipur Literary festival in January 2009. (1 min., 30 sec.)


Major support for Nine Lives was 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.

Produced by Teamwork Productions
In association with Indo-American Arts Council Inc and South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA)