City Immersed in Prayer

David Scheinbaum

An unforgettable portrayal of India's holiest city.
Date Published :
November 2022
Publisher :
George F Thompson Publishing
Contributor(s) :
B. J. Miller, Diana L. Eck
Illustration :
110 color photographs
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding : Hardback
ISBN : 9781938086960
Pages : 160
Dimensions : 10.75 X 12 inches
Stock Status : Not Yet Published. Available for Pre-Order


Varanasi, also known as Kashi and Banaras, is a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh dating to the 11th century B.C.E. Regarded as the spiritual capital of India, the city draws Hindu pilgrims who bathe in the Ganges River’s sacred waters for prayer and ritual. In Varanasi, one is in a time warp where one is living in history as if time has never stopped, for the people, both residents and pilgrims, continue their daily practices and worship in ways relatively unchanged for millennia, a continuum of thousands of years. Being in Varanasi is like being on a thread pulled from a cloth that dates back to the beginning of time. Here, one doesn’t “see” a ruin, as one does in other ancient civilizations, but a living city where history hasn’t stopped.

David Scheinbaum guides us, with his camera, through the city’s winding streets that are filled with thousands of shrines and temples at virtually every turn. He takes us on an incredible visual journey to the Ganges, the sacred river where bathers are in prayer, and to the funerary Ghats, steps that lead down to the river where cremations take place, filling the air with incense and burning pyres. Hindus believe that being cremated along the banks of the holy Ganges allows one to break the cycle of death and rebirth and attain Moksha, (salvation) making it a major center for pilgrimages.

David Scheinbaum’s beautiful, soulful photographs present an ancient, holy city immersed in prayer. Woven through are the words of B. J. Miller and Diana L. Eck, noted scholars and writers who each shed light on the special qualities that make Varanasi the holy city it has always been.

About The Author

David Scheinbaum is former Director/Chair of the Photography Department in the Marion Center for Photographic Arts at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and Professor Emeritus at the College of Santa Fe. He is the author of Bisti, (University of New Mexico Press, 1987), Miami Beach: Photographs of an American Dream (Florida International University Press, 1990), Stone: A Substantial Witness (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2006), and Hip Hop: Portraits of an Urban Hymn (Damiani Editore, 2012). He and his wife, Janet Russek, have collaborated on three other projects: Ghost Ranch: Land of Light, Photographs by David Scheinbaum and Janet Russek (Balcony Press, 1997), Images in the Heavens, Patterns on the Earth: The I Ching (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2005), and Remnants: Photographs of the Lower East Side (Radius Books, 2017). Together they operate Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd., fine-art photography dealers and consultants in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

B. J. Miller is an American physician, author, educator, and practicing hospice and palliative medicine physician who is best known for his 2015 TED Talk, "What Really Matters at the End of Life?" B. J. has taught at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, since 2007. In film, B. J. is the subject of Netflix's Academy Award-nominated short documentary, End Game, by veteran directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. His book for approaching the end of life, A Beginner’s Guide to the End, was co-authored with Shoshana Berger (Simon and Schuster, 2019).

Diana L. Eck is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Frederic Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society at Harvard University. She is the author of Banaras: City of Light (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982); Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India (Anima Books, 1981); and India: A Sacred Geography (Harmony Books, 2012). As the founder and director of the Pluralism Project, she produced the Web-based resource On Common Ground: World Religions in America. On the subject of pluralism she has written Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras (Beacon Press, 1993) and A New Religious America: How a “Christian” Country Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (Harper San Francisco, 2001). In 1998, she received the National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton for her work on religious pluralism in America.


“What a beautiful and moving book this is! In it, David Scheinbaum gives us vivid, intimate, stirring, contemplative photographs and personal reflections of life in Varanasi. He brings us to this incomparable, special place where the expansive range of human experience finds expression. We see why he, when in Varanasi, feels a pervasive inner peace within the complexities of life and death. Diana Eck's informed and illuminating vignettes invite us into a sense of the history and inner meaning of this holiest of places. And BJ Miller thoughtfully reflects on the mystery of death, a mystery that life in the City of Light itself so fully and prayerfully embodies. Varanasi is indeed a remarkable book.”

- William K. Mahoney, Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious Studies, Davidson College, and author of The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination

Varanasi is visually compelling and beautifully written. David Scheinbaum's delivery is elegantly complete with his photographs standing alone in their intimacy with the subject of prayer. His annotated visual notes as well as BJ Miller's essay and Diana Eck's reflections give an even greater appreciation of the material in this superb book. Varanasi is an extraordinary achievement.”

- Martha A. Strawn, Professor of Art Emerita, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and author of Across the Threshold of India: Art, Women, and Religion

“David Scheinbaum's remarkable photographs of Varanasi bring us to a place that is simultaneously eternal and contemporary. They show people that, at times, seem as familiar as those we might encounter on a morning walk or commute, as if humanity is peering back. But this is Varanasi, where the returned gaze is especially raw and wondrous, challenging and tender. Scheinbaum presents us with kaleidoscopic views of extraordinary contrasts: life and death, fire and water, the sublime and the ordinary. The dreamlike pictures seem almost otherworldly. In Varanasi, Scheinbaum has captured the pulse of India's holy city. I am grateful for his gift and find his book profoundly moving.”

- Christopher Jordan, Associate Professor of Photography and Digital Studies, University of Alabama, and author of Nowhere in Place

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