cover image Sacred India

Sacred India

Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet, $29.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-1-86450-063-9

Don't be fooled by the dazzling coffee-table format of this extravaganza or by the fact that it comes from one of the travel industry's major publishing houses. The photography is stunning, to be sure, but it is complemented by a perceptive, inclusive text. The first third of the book is devoted to Hinduism and its vibrant pastiche of religious beliefs and practices. The photographs illustrate various concepts of Indian beliefs (one two-page spread shows a corpse decorated for burial and a peacefully sleeping infant, to demonstrate samsara, the cycle of rebirth). The authors, all Lonely Planet writers, profile Hinduism's various deities and interview pilgrims and practitioners about their devotion. Readers meet, among others, a professional parcel packer who lights incense and blesses his tools in preparation for work and an elderly housewife who spends an hour each morning greeting and feeding the household gods. In addition to Hinduism, major religions such as Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism are well represented; nods are also given to other religions such as Christianity (whose 18 million followers are concentrated primarily in South India), Jainism, Zoroastrianism and tribal religions. A brief but fascinating section explores India's tiny Jewish community. (A Jewish baker declares proudly, ""As long as there is one Jew, I'll continue to make challot on Friday. It is tradition."") The book offers gorgeous photographs of sacred buildings, such as an unforgettable night shot of the Sikh Golden Temple, its image reflected on the Pool of Nectar. Even more impressive are the representations of the ""tangibles"" of Indian religions: prayer books, shrines (including one in a taxi), figurines, foods, ritual clothing, holy books and body decorations. Sacred India is a feast for the mind as well as the eyes. (Nov.)