Magazine Web Edition > July/August/September 2015 > Book Review: India Unveiled Gets and Upgrade

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SMITA TURAKHIA

A lasting legacy: A woman rings a bell at Tilinga Mandir, the “bell temple” in Dibrugarh, Assam

BOOK REVIEW

India Unveiled Gets An Upgrade

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Hundreds of color photographs and vivid writings offer a breathtaking exploration of one of the oldest and most culturally rich nations on Earth

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BY TARA KATIR, WASHINGTON

TRAVELING TO INDIA IS ALWAYS A WONDROUS adventure. If blessed with the luxury of unrestricted time, one can attempt to explore her vastness and experience her profound spirituality. Robert Arnett’s sixth edition of India Unveiled: Spirit, Tradition, People—a newly released and richly expanded 308-page collection of 307 dazzling color photographs and vivid narration—can be enjoyed by anyone, be they students and educators or even staycationers. It provides an experience of the beauty and spiritual richness of an immense country and ancient culture.

India possesses one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and her original culture, languages and religious beliefs still thrive today. This diverse land is the birthplace of four major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. India is truly a place of religious, cultural and geographical superlatives, and India Unveiled does an outstanding job of bringing that to life as it meanders all across the nation. Arnett guides us through six major geographical areas of India, each presented with glorious photos and a map of the states in the region.

Most Westerners have seen pictures of Agra and the Taj Mahal. From there one can travel southeast to the Holy City of Varanasi, where Hindus worship at the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple complex, generally considered the holiest of all Hindu pilgrimage sites. Beautiful photos showcase the ancient city’s pilgrims, waist deep in the cool waters of the sacred Ganges River, immersed in their worship. “What impressed me most about the many pilgrims,” Arnett relates, “was their devotion, which their facial expressions clearly mirrored and the cold morning air and water temperature could not chill.”

Just seven miles from Varanasi is the ancient city of Sarnath, site of Deer Park, where it is said Buddha delivered his first oration. Believed to be over 3,700 years old, the city went into decline with the Muslim invasions. Archeologists have extensively excavated this ancient city, and today the Archaeological Museum in Sarnath houses exquisite carvings from the cultural heights of this Buddhist-influenced complex. Some of these are pictured in the book.

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A lasting legacy: “India Unveiled” cover.

Allahabad, at the confluence of the Yamuna and Ganges rivers, is one of the four sites at which the Kumbha Mela is alternately held. “The Kumbha Mela is the largest religious festival in the world. On auspicious astrological days, the surging crowds swell to over 27 million.” Our author arrived on one of those occasions and spent four days surrounded by a sea of pilgrims immersed in religious devotion. His description of the experience, along with the accompanying photos, give us a momentary glimpse of something that defies ordinary human comprehension.

Continuing our zigzag across India, we visit the western states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa. Gujarat was the home of one of India’s most venerated citizens, Mahatma Gandhi. And 4,500 years before Gandhi, the great Indus Valley Civilization flourished in this area. “Along with ancient Egypt, Iran and China, it is one of the earliest civilizations in the world and was the most widespread, stretching from northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India.” It is noted for its urban planning, water supply engineering, elaborate drainage systems and much more.

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ALL PHOTOS: ROBERT ARNETT

A lasting legacy: Marble interior of Jain Vimal Vashi Temple.

Scholars and scientists long wondered what happened to this rich civilization. They know now that climate changes shifted the monsoon track, and tectonic movement altered the river’s flow, forcing migration to more fertile regions. “The Indus Valley Civilization did not disappear suddenly or become extinct, and many elements of the Indus Civilization can be found in later cultures. The Indic people shifted eastward towards the Ganges, which explains the large influx of settlements in India after 1900bce.”

South India—the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu—was the one area of the subcontinent never fully conquered by invading Muslims. “Thus, its culture is discernibly different from that of the North.” To exemplify this contrast, Arnett juxtaposes a spectacular photo of the reflective glass Infosys building in Bengaluru, representing 21st-century India, with one of the ancient Pallava dynasty’s seaport of Mamallapuram with its magnificent carvings on gigantic granite outcroppings.

Several appendices enhance the book. The first succinctly summarizes the British Rule in India from 1613 to Independence in 1947. The second is a timeline of India compared to the rest of the world, dating from before 3000bce up to the present. The third is an excellent but simple glossary that explains unfamiliar terminology. A collection of thoughtful quotes includes my personal favorite, from the American author Mark Twain, who traveled to Sri Lanka and India from January to April in 1896: “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”

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A lasting legacy: A Rajasthani woman in Jaisalmer.

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A lasting legacy: A man stands in the Betwa River after his morning bath.

The stunning photography in this marvelous book displays the glories and contrasts of ancient and modern India. Adding to that, Mr. Arnett’s superb narrative accurately describes the richness of India’s many-faceted culture. In a few well-chosen words, readers are given clear and elegant definitions that will unfold their understanding of India’s religions, scriptures, devotion, worship and the principles of dharma.

Because of these perfectly expressed truths and magnificent photos, India Unveiled has been given a stamp of approval to be carried around the world in Indian Embassies and Foreign Missions. Ajit Kumar, the recently appointed ambassador and permanent representative of India to the United Nations in Geneva, stated it best when he said that India Unveiled: Spirit, Tradition, People is “the best book on India there is.”

When we tried to commend Mr. Arnett for his work, he deftly deflected our praises, bringing his collaborator, Smita Turakhia, to the forefront for her artistic layout, adept editing and amazing photography. This team’s loving dedication to a true depiction of Bharat has created a sixth edition of India Unveiled, which is a must have for anyone who loves India and wants to share it with the world.


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