Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Spiritual India Handbook - Book Review

Stephen Knapp's Spiritual India Handbook is a must have book not only for pilgrims but for all those who love to travel. It not only covers the pilgrim centres but also those places which are of little religious significance. It covers Hindu sacred spots as well as those reverred by Jains, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians as well.

He has divided the book into five parts viz. Holy places of East and Central India and Nepal, those of South India, temples of Western India, holy places of Northern India and temples of far Northeast India. The book primarily aimed at foreigners also has an appendix on preparing trip to india. It also suggests routes for short pilgrimages. The book has black and white photographs which are unattractive. But the author says that he has chosen to have black and white photographs in order to keep the cost of the book low.

Stephen is a member of Iskon and has travelled India for long durations. No wonders his words are filled with devotion for the Lord. His introduction to the book is an excellent essay on Indian temples. He is more biased while describing the places associated with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

I am not only a voracious reader but a frequent traveller as well. I read descriptions of Stephen and I was amazed at the amount of data he has compiled. Reading the descriptions of the places mentioned in the book definitely serve as a primer before actually visiting that place. I even tallied the places which I have already visited with those mentioned in the book. 

The major drawback of the book is  Stephen's description of the order of spots at a given place. If you are required to go from spot A to E via B, C and D, Stephen will first describe spot A than C, D and again revert to spot A and B. So if you walk with this book as your handbook, you will definitely have to shuttle between two places more than once. 

For example while describing parikrama of Omkareshwar (spelt as Omkeshvara in the book) he first goes to Gauri-Somnath temple and then returns to the Sangam. Actually when you go on the parikrama (which is one way, you do not return by the same route and which can be done only by foot) you first come across the sangam and then after a few miles comes Gauri-Somnath. Further he describes another temple with a large black lingam inside and an outdoor museum of old deities. Now this another temple is nothing but Gauri-Somnath again. 

 Similarly while describing Anegudi near Hampi he says after crossing the river first comes Rangnatha temple, then Pampa Sarovara and then Hanuman temple. Now this comes in  the exactly reverse order. He goes to Vasudhara and Satopanth (without telling how arduous trek it is) and again comes to describe Vyasa's cave in Mana.

Also while describing Hampi he says “A bicycle rented in Hospet may make things easier for most places.” Now Hospet is 13 km apart from Hampi. You get rented bicycles in Hampi and not Hospet. Such mistakes should have been avoided if you claim your book to be a handbook. A traveller is bound to be lost if you follow his order. Also there are grammatical mistakes in the book. Take for instance the line on page 411. “The is paved way from the Badrinatha temple all the way to Mana” It should have been There and not the.

Still I liked the book. Bringing out a voluminous book like this one is no easy feat. I really liked the stories associated with the holy places which are described in the book. Reading the book before visiting any place would ensure that you know about the history of the place. But following the track mentioned in the book would land you in great trouble.

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