One of the oldest cities in the world, Varanasi has remained unchanged over the centuries. The prayers the pilgrims chant as they walk its sacred streets, and the hope of redemption they bring with them, are the same as they were hundreds of years ago.

In this magnificent book, made up of images culled from over three decades of work, Raghu Rai captures more of the city’s distinctive, timeless character than anyone else ever has. From its busy ghats to its teeming lanes and bylanes to its daily rituals of death and renewal, Rai documents the intensity of people’s faith. The India Rai mirrors is not a piece of exotica but real, human, multilayered and his best pictures convey the extraordinary simultaneity of Indian street life; each contains not one but several decisive moments.

As Rai’s photographs demonstrate, the secular and the profane coexist in Varanasi; the old can hardly be told from the new, and everything is experienced all at once. For Rai, each trip to the city is like a new awakening, and each time he emerges purified and fulfilled. For the reader, happily, the effect is the same. Whether one is a believer or not, the book draws one into the depths of an ancient civilization.

Maharaja of Banaras, 1986

At Banaras Palace, 1986

Maharaja of Banaras, 1986

Maharaja of Banaras, 1986

During Mahashivratri celebration, 2008

Street scene Varanasi, 2008

Discussion at tea stall, 2010

The bull is a good luck charm for the shop owner, 2009

Street scene, 2009

At a luncheon party, 2008

Buddhist tourists at the Ganges, 2008

Life at Dashashwamedh Ghat, 2008

Pilgrims, Varanasi, 2007

Life at Ahilyabai Ghat, 2008

Shaving of Heads, Tulsi Ghat, 2006

On the bank of Ganga, 2009

Sharing a light moment, 1986

At Dattatreya Ghat, 2008

Worshiping Ganga, 2009

Watching evening aarti, 2009

Activities along the ghat, 2009

Sadhus of Juna Akhara, 2007

A naga sadhu, 2007

A naga sadhu on the ghat, 2007

Two sadhus, 2001

A Faithful in Varanasi, 2008

After cremation at Manikarnika Ghat, 2007

Mourners at Harishchandra Ghat, 2001

A bull at cremation ghat, 2003

At Manikarnika Ghat, 1994

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