Home India News Mainstream Hinduism wiping out local faiths: William Dalrymple

Mainstream Hinduism wiping out local faiths: William Dalrymple

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : Writer William Dalrymple says “smaller and indigenous religions in villages across India are dwindling because of the spread of an urban and refined form of Hinduism”.

“The blood sacrifices and the pagan faiths of Assam, Bengal and Kerala have been marginalised by the overwhelming ‘Ram-ification’ (domination by Ram) of the Hindu mainstream Vaishnavism. It has taken a toll on the ‘devi’ cults. The local ‘devtas’ are falling off the map,” Dalrymple told IANS in an interview at his sprawling Mehrauli farmhouse.

His latest book “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India” was released in the capital Wednesday.

“National gods like Shiva, Parvati and Vishnu are the ones we are familiar with from Doordarshan serials and popular Bollywood calendars. Even in Pakistan, the local village saints and secular Sufi cults are dying because of the spread of a Wahabi Islamic faith that is more textual and urban. It is almost like the reformation in England when the reformists, mostly newly-literate urban professionals, reacted against saints in villages. There was a comprehensive destruction of the icons of saints in villages of Germany and Northern Europe,” said the non-fiction writer, who has made India his home for more than a decade.

His book is a religious travelogue and a distillation of 25 years of travelling around the country to document “lesser known faiths and traditions that exist in remote corners”.

Dalrymple is the author of best-sellers like “The White Mughals” and “City of Djinns”.

The book tells the story of nine lives – all religious protagonists from “traditional religious mosaics”.

“The book has had a long gestation period since 1987 when it was first commissioned at the back of a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) series on Indian religion called ‘Indian Journeys’ that I did. I always wanted to write about religion, but the trouble was I wanted to avoid the usual pitfalls of writing about religion. I did not want to become critical. But after writing, ‘Serving the Goddess: The Dangerous Life of a Sex Worker’, a book on the Devdasis for Random House, I decided to focus on individual characters. ‘Nine Lives…’ is cross between reportage and travelogue,” Dalrymple said.

Many of the interviews took place on the terrace of his house, the writer said.

“Several characters, especially the Bauls (minstrels) from Santiniketan and the ‘tantriks’ from Tarapith are old friends,” Dalrymple added.

“The book was a break from two decades of archival research.”

“I took trouble over the language. The challenge was how to order it – the chronology – as it was a collection of non-fiction short stories based on one-on-one interactions with the characters. It offered more scope for creative literary inventiveness,” he said.

Recalling a tragedy that took place during the course of writing his book, Dalrymple said, “one of his oldest friends Mohan Bhopa, an epic singer from Rajasthan” – one of the nine lives in the book – died soon after the Jaipur Literature Festival in January.

“I sent him to a hospital with a stomach pain and he was diagnosed with leukaemia. He died almost on the pavement outside the Bikaner Hospital, untreated. He wasn’t even able to pass on his musical legacy to his sons,” Dalrymple said. Bhopa used to sing a 600-year-old poem, “The Epic of Pabuji”.

Dalrymple plans to write a sequel to “Nine Lives…” as he feels he has left out several faiths.

“I am also exploring two more subjects – Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor least written about and the spread of Christianity in India,” the writer added.