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Benares Seen from Within

Richard Lannoy (Author)
Synopsis A rare combination of creative photography and cultural history put together by one man, this book both visually and textually is the most massive presentation of this extraordinary city ever attempted. It is the fruit of a lifelong interest in Benares from 1953 until the present day. The populace of Benares lives within a historical environment spanning at least three millennia of continuous habitation. Though now beset with all the characteristic urban ills of the age, it is arguably the oldest living city in the world. A centre of learning since antiquity, its way of live has not essentially changed. Its fame as the spiritual capital of India was given added luster two thousand five hundred years ago when the Buddha commenced his ministry there. The book includes an absorbing account of the Buddha's life and the significance of his teaching today. Lannoy's Benares is no tourist's idyll, nor yet is it an exercise in penddling a 'Third World' mythology of exotica garnished with grunge. Unflinching in his observations, yet enourmously sensitive to his subject, Lannoy records the everyday life of Hinduism' most sacred city. And it is not through the formal acts of ritual, but through the most ordinary gestures of riverside and marketplace that the charged, heightened drama of life in Benares unfolds. The variety and range of themes is remarkable. Lannoy opens with a revealing account of the way he deals with the interplay between photographic instantaneity and sacred time. He then explains the metaphysical substructure of the city organized as a microcosm of the universe, and proceeds to find photographic equivalents for this, exploring the symbolism of Benares as cosmogram and centre of the Word. The reader is inducted into the distinctive atmosphere of the city by images which reach a psychological level of great intensity. He then weaves words and pictures together in cloth of daring originality and with full command of the historical background. The primeval worship of river, tree, Sun and Cosmic Pillar are shown to coexist with the highest flights of mystical and existential speculation, mastery of Yoga, meditation on the charkas and devotional fervour. These themes are photographed as they are happening in daily life, along with fantastically animated street scenes, ritual and the arts of festivity. There is a searching critique of the city's troubled history of conflict between Hindus and Muslims, the politicization of the crisis between religion and secularism, and the lively account of leading personalities, artists, poets, thinkers and great sages. Lannoy presents an illuminating interpretation of the unique way of cremating the dead in the very heart of the city. He faces up to the more disturbing features of Benares, but maintains his deep and well-known sympathy for the variegated life of the Indian people. When the shutter opens, the inhabitants of Benares are revealed as bearing witness to a world of higher vision beyond common experience. Many pictures present the sheer human beauty, richness and simplicity of Indian life at his heart-warming best.
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About the author

Richard Lannoy

Richard Lannoy is the author of several books on India, including The Speaking Tree: A Study of Indian Culture and Society, published by Oxford University Press in 1971 and still in print in India. He was on the founding staff of the ICA, London (1950-52), where he set up a celebrated forum, the Independent Group. He became a freelance photographer working for various international magazines, and on assignment for United Nations to the Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza (1952). He became seriously interested in India back in 1947, but began his work there, and particularly in Benares, in 1953, and on several subsequent visits until 1960, returning again in the Eighties, but completing his magnum opus on Benares in 1999. His thinking on Benares has never ceased for close on half a century, despite the infrequency of opportunities to reside there. He lives in Batah, and equally regards his work as author, photographer and painter as ways to advance a holistic view of life.

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Bibliographic information

Title Benares Seen from Within
Format Hardcover
Date published: 29.05.1999
Edition 1st ed.
Publisher Indica Books
Language: English
isbn 1902716000
length 640p., Illustrations; 31cm.