Benares Illustrated

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benares illustrated by James Prinsep
Benares Illustrated: James Prinsep with James Prinsep and Benares
Edited by: O.P. Kejariwal

ISBN: 8177694006
2009 (Reprinted), Limited Edition
Cover: Hardback, English
232 pages, 270×310 mm, B&W Sketches of Benares.

If ever there has been an unsung genius, it is James Prinsep. Born in 1799, he has a short life of only forty years, dying in 1840. And yet, considering his wide variety of interests and his seminal contributions in many of these areas, it can, with some confidence, be stated that he was one of the greatest geniuses born in human history. Thus, he was at the same time a physicist, a chemist, an anthropologist, a geologist, a meteorologist, a numismatist, an epigraphist, a town-planner, a cartographer and an architect and one may not have exhausted the list. Actually his one achievement, that of deciphering the Brahmi script, through which India and the world came to know of that unique figure in world history – Emperor Asoka – would have entitled him to a place alongside those of Champollion and Rawlinson, among the greats of intellectual history. And when one considers that James deciphered not one but two accident scripts – Brahmi and Kharoshthi – through which was revealed the existence of a whole line of Indo-Scythian kings, one stands in awe of the man.

But among all these varied interests, it was Benares, which was his passion. He spent only ten years there, but in this short span, considering his contributions, one can say that no individual contributed to this holy and ancient city as much as James Prinsep did. For consider these: he was the first to draw up a map of the city, the first to determine its latitude and longitude, the first to carry out an authentic census, and the first to construct a bridge over the river Karamanasa, a feat which had defied engineers and architects for nearly a century. He was also the person to lay the underground drainage system – no one that still serves the city. As a family memoir says: ‘to extend the catalogue to a detail of the roads, bridges, drains and other works of every variety of description [in Benares], which were put in hand and completed would fatigue the reader’.

Amidst all this hectic activity, one can almost picture him sitting on a winter afternoon on one of the ghats, with the river [which he fondly calls ‘our Ganga’] flows quietly by, looking around and then conceiving of this magnificent work Benares Illustrated. As you turn these pages, you not only travel with him from ghat to ghat, but also participate – though in a limited way – in the life of the city. One can only marvel at the three-dimensional portrayal of the various sites and the play of light and shade in these marvelous sketches.

With this edition, one hopes that James will also come to occupy a place among the greatest artists of his age!

Note: This present edition is a reproduced edition which includes Benares Directory. Mr. Kejariwal revisited those important places in Benares where Prinsep worked and this present edition is included their photographs.

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