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

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Nine Lives

In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

by William Dalrymple

Nine Lives
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 304 pages
    Jun 2011, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Art as Devotion: Theyyam Dancers

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 ...

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