Nine Lives by William Dalrymple [Book Summary – Review]

Extending from the Himalayas to the tropical zest nurseries of its southern shores, the dry fields of Rajasthan to the wilderness domains of its eastern boundary, India is a genuinely tremendous country. 

The variety of India’s geology is reflected in the variety of its numerous doctrines. Old beliefs like Buddhism and Hinduism hobnob with relative novices like Islam and Christianity. At that point, there are numerous types of mysticism, which additionally flourish here. 

Scottish travel essayist and antiquarian William Dalrymple have been investigating India for more than 25 years. Furthermore, all through his movements, he has requested that devotees disclose to him their accounts. 

From a Buddhist priest who revoked his pledges to battle with the Indian armed force to a Jain sister who watched her dearest companion ceremonially starve herself to death, the outcome is a brief look into the lived religion of contemporary Indians. 

In this synopsis, you’ll learn 

  • what position means for strict practices; 
  • why a visually impaired kid took to the street and turned into a meandering performer; and 
  • how the Chinese intrusion of Tibet molded the existence of a Buddhist priest. 

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Chapter 1 – Jainism is a profoundly parsimonious doctrine.

Jainism is one of the world’s most established religions. Tracing back to the third century BCE, it arose in the Ganges bowl – an immense valley associating the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. This bowl isn’t only the heartland of Jainism, however. It’s additionally the support of Hinduism and Buddhism. 

These three beliefs have an ensnared history. Truth be told, Buddhism and Jainism were halfway responses against Hinduism. Both Jains and Buddhists reprimanded the ability of Brahmins, the most elevated Hindu position, to butcher creatures for sanctuary penances. They additionally disdained this present station’s feeling of social predominance. 

Each of the three religions has critical customs of austerity, the dismissal of common connections, and the act of self-control. For Jains, however, plainness isn’t only one piece of their confidence – it’s a primary responsibility. 

In antiquated India, Jain priests were celebrated for their refusal to wash. An early portrayal of a Jain priest portrays him as being so filthy he looked as though he were wearing an “intently fitting suit of the dark protective layer.” Jain priests in contemporary India are permitted to wipe themselves with a wet towel, yet washing in running water and the utilization of cleanser are illegal. 

Jains are similarly exacting with regards to other parsimonious practices. While Buddhist priests shave their heads, Jain priests pluck their hair out by the root. Essentially, while the previous may ask outsiders for food, a Jain priest should put his correct arm behind him. If bystanders overlook this sign, he should hit the sack hungry. 

The expression “Jain” itself comes from Jina, a Sanskrit word signifying “deliverer” or “otherworldly victor.” According to the confidence’s sacred text, there have been 24 incredible Jinas – human educators whose abstinence permitted them to accomplish extraordinary information on the universe. 

Through Jains’ eyes, austerity is the lone way to salvation. This is the reason they laugh at Brahmins’ conviction that virtue ceremonies can get the job done. In an old content, a Jain priest who is conversing with a gathering of suspicious Brahmins contends that the lone genuine penance is the penance of one’s own body. “Gravity,” the priest states, is a “conciliatory fire,” and his own life “is where the fire is fueled.” 

As we’ll find in the following part, current Jains keep on living by this antiquated priest’s words. 

Chapter 2 – The creator found out about the convictions of present-day Jains from a religious woman in Karnataka.

One of the most punctual unmistakable proselytes to Jainism was the third-century BCE sovereign Chandragupta Maurya. The confidence showed him the uselessness of his common achievement and the wickedness of the activities that had presented to him that achievement. In penance, Maurya abstained himself to death. 

In the 10th century CE, a Jain general called Prince Bahubali fabricated a 60-foot sculpture to honor Maury in Shravanabelagola, a slope town in the province of Karnataka. Bahubali likewise repudiated common aspiration. 

He withdrew into the wilderness and went through a year in contemplation while standing completely still. At last, plants developed around his feet and attached him to the spot. 

Jains think of him as the principal human to accomplish Moksha – “otherworldly freedom” – and the sculpture is one of the holiest Jain destinations in India. 

Consistently, a large number of Jains set out on a journey to Shravanabelagola. It was during one of these journeys that the creator noticed Prasannamati Mataji, a little, bare-headed sister in a white sari, scaling the means to the sculpture’s base. Before setting her exposed feet on the stone advances, Mataji tenderly brushed the surface with a quill – a measure to guarantee she didn’t damage or execute a solitary creepy crawly. 

The following day, Mataji disclosed her confidence to the creator. 

All connections, she started, bring enduring, which is the reason Jains like her surrender them. This standard had driven her to leave her family and part with all that she possessed. For a long time, she had meandered India’s streets, driving a daily existence committed to ahimsa, or “peacefulness” and empathy toward all animals. 

Twenty of these years had been gone through with another religious woman called Prayogamati. At the point when Prayogamati turned out to be genuinely sick, she didn’t battle against this disease. All things considered, she followed Maurya’s model and embraced sallekhana – an intentional quick consummation in death. 

In contrast to self-destruction, which Jains see as wrongdoing, sallekhana isn’t a passing of sadness. Or maybe, it is tied in with accepting the entry into the following life. 

Mataji respected Prayogamati’s choice – her confidence, all things considered, drove her to consider this to be a demonstration of profound freedom. Be that as it may, she was likewise sorrowful to lose her companion and friend. 

This connection, she told the creator, had been the hardest test to her confidence. She felt the torment; how should she not after offering her life to Prayogamati for each one of those years? 

Chapter 3 – Kerala is quite possibly the most socially abusive state in India.

Extending along the southwestern tip of the Indian subcontinent, Kerala has a portion of the world’s most rich soil and tasty vegetation. Frequently alluded to as India’s “zest garden,” the state has been important for the worldwide exchange of flavors like pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla for centuries. 

It was these flavors that allured Greek, Roman, Arab, and Jewish brokers from the Mediterranean into the Indian Ocean. In the archaic period, Kerala was the end of an exchange network associating Venice, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of India. Later on, the Portuguese and British realms competed for control of this honored tropical coastline. 

Kerala’s rural scene and rural wealth just reveal one piece of its story, nonetheless. 

The standing framework in Kerala was long famous for its inflexible progressive systems as well as for the savagery with which they were policed. 

In the mid-nineteenth century, a British explorer called Francis Buchanan noticed that individuals from the most elevated stations – Brahmins and Nayyars – were inside their privileges to execute a lower-standing man on the off chance that he set out to step foot on the similar street as his social bosses. 

Buchanan additionally reported the definite lawful codes that administered each part of lower-station Keralans’ conduct, including how they styled their hair. 

After a century, Nayyar property managers kept on executing lower-rank inhabitants for minor infractions like neglecting to introduce desserts as a badge of their accommodation. Today, this sort of viciousness is a lot more uncommon, yet individuals from the lower stations – known as Dalits – still face standing dogmatism from Nayyars and Brahmins. 

Take it from Hari Das, a Keralan Dalit whom the creator met. Low maintenance worker, Das burrows wells for individuals from the higher stations. At the point when these businesses serve their Dalit specialists lunch, they utilize extra-long spoons to pass them their food at a “protected” distance. 

Normally, they likewise use plantain leaves to keep their hands from contacting any utensil contacted by a Dalit. When the workers are done, these utensils are discarded. Dalits drawing water from the well they, at the end of the day, burrowed, in the meantime, is carefully no-no. 

As we investigate how Kerala’s social disparity collaborates with religion in the following section, we’ll meet Hari Das once more. This time, however, he will not show up in the appearance of a well-digger . . . 

Chapter 4 – Theyyam functions permit Dalits to voice their objections against upper-standing Keralans.

At the point when the creator initially met Hari Das, he wasn’t dressed as a day-worker. Nor was he wearing the uniform of a jail superintendent, his other low maintenance occupation. 

Lying level on a palm tangle in a straightforward cottage, Das wore only a white lungi – a kind of sarong hitched at the abdomen. A little youngster tripped over him, applying brilliant cosmetics to his face and body. His middle was canvassed in yellow paint while his cheeks were spread with sharp-smelling orange turmeric. Paisley’s designs surrounded his eyes, with white rice-glue spots and slender red stripes finishing the impact. 

This was the initial phase of Das’ change into Vishnu, the Hindu god who might have him during the theyyam service for which he was setting himself up. 

Theyyams are strict services based around dance that investigate social unfairness. In contrast to most strict rituals in Kerala, they are not constrained by Brahmins. All things considered, Dalit ministers manage theyyams, which happen in little altars and consecrated forests somewhere down in the open country. 

The expression “theyyam” comes from the Sanskrit word daivam, signifying “god.” During the service, Hindu divine beings manifest themselves in the assortments of artists. They pick Dalits like Hari Das instead of their social bosses for a basic explanation: these divine beings, similar to the mistreated lower stations, are dismayed at the shameful acts submitted by the higher ranks. 

Ordinarily, the story told during a theyyam service centers around an individual from the lower ranks who encroaches on acknowledged traditions and is shamefully rebuffed, generally by death. One renowned story, for instance, describes how a Dalit worker was decapitated by an upper-position rancher in the wake of being found washing in the last’s lake. 

Shocked at this present worker’s fierce passing, the divine beings revere him and he gets undying in the nearby type of one of the incomparable Hindu divine beings. This structure is then embodied in the assortment of artists like Das. Along with the foundation of a nearby sanctuary and faction, the function quiets the god’s irate soul and establishes the equity that was absent in the worker’s own life. 

These services help Dalits voice their grievances against the decision standing while at the same time making their standard of saints and set of customs. As opposed to being straightforward profound quality plays, theyyams give Dalit people group a feeling of fortitude and fearlessness. 

Chapter 5 – After a cavern retreat, a Tibetan religious community understudy promised to turn into a loner.

Tashi Pasang was brought into the world in 1936. In the same way as other Tibetans, Pasang’s family lived in a house during the unforgiving winters and spent the summers grouping yaks in the sloping fields over their home. 

Pasang was 12 when he initially went with his siblings into the mountains. He appreciated the family exchange, and things started to become all-good; he would likewise turn into a yak rancher. 

This choice disappointed his distant uncle, a Buddhist priest. Pasang was a splendid kid and could as of now peruse and compose. That made him an ideal contender for a religious community. 

Cultivating, he told Pasang, may bring him common abundance, however, nobody can bring wealth into the following life. As a priest, however, he’d learn dharma – the unceasing law of the universe. Wasn’t excessively worth more? Pasang concurred it was. 

The Buddha spread out four things that should be stayed away from throughout everyday life – want, covetousness, pride, and connection. These interests bring only conflict and hopelessness. More regrettable, they are dreams. As Pasang’s distant uncle had contended, the things that we acquire in this world don’t last. Indeed, even the bodies we occupy are given up when we pass on. 

This thought was the first, and generally significant, exercise Pasang learned in his cloister. Relinquishing want, covetousness, pride, and the connection is troublesome. However, there were approaches to help a youngster like Pasang disregard yaks, cash, and wonderful ladies – strategies like reflection and retaining heavenly sacred text. 

Seclusion was another method. Following three years of guidance, Pasang was shipped off a collapse of the mountains. His undertaking? To go through four months learning the estimation of isolation. 

Pasang performed 4,000 surrenders per day and implored until yearning and weariness, at last, overpowered him. In the wake of drinking some margarine tea and eating a thrifty supper, he nodded off and the cycle rehashed itself. 

Forlorn and frightened, Pasang’s first weeks in the cavern were hopeless. Following 14 days, however, something changed. Unexpectedly, he got a handle on the uselessness of delights and desire. His brain was clear, and he felt his wrongdoings being washed away. The loner’s life had sanitized him. 

This, he understood, was genuine bliss, and he chose to commit himself to an existence of calm dedication. History, nonetheless, had different plans. 

Chapter 6 – Tibetan priests repudiated their pledges and waged war to oppose the Chinese occupation.

In 1912, the Chinese Qing tradition imploded, releasing the Chinese state’s hold over its tremendous domain. Tibet, which had been a protectorate of this domain, out of nowhere acquired its freedom. 

In 1950, following quite a while of common war and unfamiliar occupation, the Chinese state – presently under Communist control – started to reassert itself in regions like Tibet. Its powers immediately overpowered Tibet’s little armed force. Inside a year, Tibet had been reoccupied. 

From the outset, Pasang scarcely saw the Chinese presence in his nation of origin. Before long, however, gossipy tidbits started to spread that China needed to annihilate Buddhism. In 1954, there were accounts of awful slaughters in cloisters. Gradually, priests like Pasang started discussing opposition. 

Peacefulness is at the core of Buddhism, so Pasang’s choice to battle and possibly execute different people was not trifled with. 

Valid, there are a few special cases for this standard in Buddhist sacred writing. Brutality is allowed if it forestalls a much more noteworthy sin, like the annihilation of confidence. This is a type of penance, however: the individual who submits savagery, in any case, advocated, takes the awful karma that streams from this follow-up on himself. 

The Tibetan obstruction was inadequately outfitted and coordinated, and the Chinese armed force immediately squashed gatherings like the one Pasang joined. He escaped to India and joined different Tibetans in Dharamsala, the capital in a state of banishment of the nation’s chief, the Dalai Lama. 

In 1962, China and India reached boiling point over a contested boundary district. Already impartial toward China, the Indian government changed course. Foreseeing further conflicts on the Indian-Chinese boundary, India enrolled Tibetans like Pasang into an exceptional mountain fighting unit. They were guaranteed the chance to lead the freedom of Tibet. 

This guarantee was rarely satisfied. In 1971, India interceded in East Pakistan – present Bangladesh – to help the neighborhood autonomy development. Pasang’s mountain unit was conveyed close by the Indian armed force to help Bangladeshi contenders. For India, this war was an incredible triumph. 

For Pasang, it was an absolute loss. He had shot and slaughtered men without any justifiable cause – Pakistani powers, all things considered, weren’t a danger to Buddhism. In his heart, he realized he had submitted a horrendous sin. 

As a volunteer, Pasang couldn’t leave the Indian armed force until 1986. He got back to Dharamsala and given the remainder of his life to giving penance for his transgressions. 

Chapter 7 – Bauls’ recondite doctrine draws on antiquated Indian strict practices.

When a year in mid-January, a huge number of wiry men with disheveled hair, long stubbles, and splendid, saffron-shaded robes assemble on the floodplains covering the Ajoy stream in West Bengal. 

There, they fabricate a tremendous, shoddy camping area. They light huge fires, smoke Maryjane, trade tattle, and welcome old companions. At the point when dusks, they assemble around the flames and start moving and singing. 

These men are known as Bauls, signifying “lunatics” in Bengali. For more than 500 years, these meandering entertainers have voyaged northeastern India’s streets, halting just to play out their tunes. Bauls aren’t simply performers, however – their specialty is a method for showing an elusive profound way of thinking. 

Bauls are the watchmen of an assortment of information that extends from reflections on breathing methods to sexuality, magic, theory, and austerity. At the base of their statement of faith, however, is a conviction that opposes ordinary religion. 

God, Bauls accept, doesn’t stay in bronze or stone symbols. Nor will you discover him – or her – in the sky or eternity. No, God must be found in the collections of the people who look for truth in the present time and place. If you will surrender your common belongings, take to the street, and follow the way of adoration, you will discover god. 

The Bauls’ tenet merges impacts from India’s various strict customs. On their excursions, Bauls stop to implore in sanctuaries and mosques. They love Hindu gods like Krishna and draw on the shrewdness contained in messages worshipped by Buddhists and Muslim monks known as Sufis. 

Through their eyes, no single doctrine can like to debilitate the reality of God. They all, in any case, contain important hints and signs that can direct the mindful toward Moner Manush – the type of illumination known to the individuals who have figured out how to adore god from their own heart. 

What sort of god is this god? Bauls don’t accept there is the last response to this inquiry. In such a manner, they draw on old humanist practices in India. Take the Rigveda, an assortment of Sanskrit songs made more than 3,000 years prior. 

Like the Bauls, this content leaves inquiries concerning the birthplace of the universe open. Perhaps, it expresses, the world made itself, yet perhaps it didn’t. Just god, it adds, knows – be that as it may, on the other hand, “maybe he doesn’t have a clue.” 

Chapter 8 – A day-to-day existence scarred by misfortune drove a visually impaired kid to join the Bauls.

How would you join the Bauls? The creator met one of these meandering performers, a visually impaired man called Kanai Das Baul, to discover. 

Kainai lost his sight when he was only a half year old. His initial years were loaded up with misfortune. At the point when he was ten, his sibling was executed by a falling bull truck. His dad kicked the bucket a year later, the survivor of an asthma assault. That left Kanai, his mom, and his sister. 

Incapable to fill in as a rancher, the teen Kanai turned into a bum. His neighbors were benevolent, giving him enough food to help the family. In any case, they declined his solicitations to give a husband to be to his sister. They realized he was unable to give an endowment and accepted the family was reviled by fiendish karma. Hopelessly, his sister passed on by self-destruction when Kanai was 15. 

It was excessively. Broken by sadness, he took to the street. 

A passing Baul had heard ten-year-old Kanai singing as he washed in the town lake. The kid had a high, miserable voice – the sort of voice that fits the Bauls’ tunes. He had requested that the family permit Kanai to turn into his student. A visually impaired man, he contended, can’t cultivate, however, he can bring in cash as a vocalist. 

The family had turned this Baul down, yet Kanai recalled the name of the ashrama sort of strict seclusion – where he could now and then be found. He made plans to discover the Baul and devote his life to singing. This fine art would permit him to live the “existence of the heart.” 

Kanai was shadowed by a booming tempest for a lot of his excursion. Utilizing his uncovered feet to feel his way along streets and through fields, he was doused when he, at last, found the ashram. He expected to be dismissed. Yet, when the old Baul looked at him, he invited him, saying that he had been anticipating his appearance. 

Today, Kanai carries on with the meandering existence of the Bauls. This life, he told the creator, can be desolate, yet it is likewise satisfying. At the point when residents in the country networks that Bauls visit spot one of these “psychos,” they are excited, shouting out, “presently we can go home and relax and have a good time!” as a trade-off for a little fish or rice, Kanai sings for them. 

Frequently, these pieces mock the rich, bother Brahmins for their affectation, and acclaim widespread fellowship. Most importantly, however, they look to help basic society discover their way toward the heavenly.

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple Book Review

A Jain priest battling to grapple with the demise of her companion, a Buddhist priest who did battle, a Dalit who embodies the divine beings, and a kid who went to otherworldly singing after a family misfortune. 

What do these accounts share practically speaking? All things considered, they show that confidence in contemporary India is about considerably more than sacred writing and philosophical tenet. Behind each story, there is a human battling to square their convictions with a world molded by imbalance, mysteries, and far-off authentic powers.

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