Art as Devotion: Theyyam Dancers: Background information when reading Nine Lives

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Nine Lives

In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

by William Dalrymple

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple X
Nine Lives by William Dalrymple
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 304 pages
    Jun 2011, 304 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Art as Devotion: Theyyam Dancers

Print Review

The subjects of Dalrymple's Nine Lives seek transcendence and divine communion in different ways. Some embrace aceticsm, while for others like the wandering Baul minstrel, the reciter of holy epics, or the maker of bronze deities, "art and religion are one."

The most vivid practitioner of art as devotion is Hari Das, the dalit  (untouchable) theyyam dancer. In an article for the London Times, Dalrymple explains, "Theyyam dance is a spectacular form of possession dance from northern Kerala, in the southwest of India, remarkable for its vibrant music and its astonishingly powerful and elaborate makeup and masks. The word theyyam derives from daivam, the Sanskrit for god. During the season, the theyyam dancers bring stories of the gods to life, and overturn the caste barriers in Hindu society."

Here is Hari Das as the transformation from man to god begins:

"He pauses as the makeup boy continues applying face paint from the pigment he is mixing on the strip of banana leaf in his left hand. Hari Das opens his mouth, and the makeup boy carefully applies some rouge to his lips,

'It's like a blinding light,' he says eventually, 'When the drums are playing and your makeup is finished, they hand you a mirror and you look at your face, transformed into that of a god. Then it comes. It's as if there is a sudden explosion of light. A vista of complete brilliance opens up—it blinds the senses...'"

  • Watch the makeup being applied and costume being assumed (also in video below)
  • A theyyam dancer at an event hosted by Dalrymple for the British Council
  • A dancer in northern Kerala
  • A photo of Hari Das (scroll to the bottom of the page)
  • An interview with William Dalrymple on NPR

Article by Jo Perry

This article was originally published in July 2010, and has been updated for the June 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Speak No Evil
    Speak No Evil
    by Uzodinma Iweala
    Young Nigerian American writer Uzodinma Iweala is fast becoming known as a powerful chronicler of ...
  • Book Jacket: Winter
    by Ali Smith
    "God was dead; to begin with." This first sentence of Winter perfectly sets up the dreamy journey ...
  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano

    A charming, bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily's newest amateur sleuth.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One N U G

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.