Collated By John Stapleton

Russell Shakespeare is one of Australia’s most celebrated photographers, having worked in newspapers and magazines for the past three decades, fulfilling an obsession which began in early childhood. He is rarely ever seen without a camera in hand. John Stapleton is the editor of A Sense of Place Magazine. The pair have worked together on many stories, both for this magazine and two of Australia’s leading newspapers, The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Russell says: “My series on Varanasi, a pilgrimage city famous for its burning Ghats. India came about literally by accident. In 1987 I was studying photography at The Queensland College of Art in Brisbane, I was 24 years old at the time. Six months into the course I was hit by a drunk driver.

“After almost three months in Hospital, I was desperate to regain my former strength and really hungry to travel. I decided India was as good as anywhere.

“That first trip I did with a walking stick, and a very simple camera setup. It wasn’t until I arrived in Varanasi that I felt this was my place, and I knew instantly that I wanted to come back here and document this city and tell peoples stories. So that’s what I did. Ever since I have been going back every 12-18 months. These photographs were all taken this year.” Mantra 11: The Special Sacrifices

May the moving one who strikes at morning delight us;
May Vata delight us, pourer of waters;
Indra and Parvata quicken us;
May the All-gods vouchsafe us this.
I hail the dear names of yon impetuous ones,
That, O Maruts, calling they may rejoice.

For glory they are wreathed in flames,
In the rays of the sun, adorned with rings they are accompanied with singers;
They wearing daggers, impetuous, fearless,
Here found the dear home of the Maruts.

With their most present succour, may we be united;
May the mighty ones, hearkening, establish this sacrifice
For release from sin, for freedom.

1.1.138 Mantra 138 – Pusan. Author: Parucchepa Daivodasi.

STRONG Pusan’s majesty is lauded evermore, the glory of his lordly might is never faint, his song of
praise is never faint.
Seeking felicity I laud him nigh to help, the source, of bliss,
Who, Vigorous one, hath drawn to him the hearts of all, drawn them, the Vigorous One, the God.
Thee, then, O Pusan, like a swift one on his way, I urge with lauds that thou mayst make the foemen
flee, drive, camel-like, our foes afar.
As I, a man, call thee, a God, giver of bliss, to be my Friend,
So make our loudly-chanted praises glorious, in battles make them glorious.
Not stirred to anger, come, Free-giver, nigh to us, to take this gift of ours, thou who hast goats for
steeds, Goat-borne! their gift who long for fame.
So, Wonder-Worker! may we turn thee hither with effectual lauds.

1.1.143 Mantra 143 – Agni. Author: Dirghatamas Aucathya

To Agni I present a newer mightier hymn, I bring my words and song unto the Son of Strength,
Who, Offspring of the Waters, bearing precious things sits on the earth, in season, dear Invoking Priest.
Soon as he sprang to birth that Agni was shown forth to Matarisvan in the highest firmament.
When he was kindled, through his power and majesty his fiery splendour made the heavens and earth
to shine.
His flames that wax not old, beams fair to look upon of him whose face is lovely, shine with
beauteous sheen.
Send thou with hymns that Agni to his own abode, who rules, one Sovran Lord of wealth, like Varuna,
Him, All-possessor, whom the Bhrgus with their might brought to earth’s central point, the centre of the

Keep us incessantly with guards that cease not, Agni, with guards auspicious, very mighty.
With guards that never slumber, never heedless, never beguiled. O Helper, keep our children.

1.1.160 Mantra 160 – Heaven and Earth. Author: Dirghatamas Aucathya

THESE, Heaven and Earth, bestow prosperity on all, sustainers of the region, Holy Ones and wise,
Two Bowls of noble kind: between these Goddesses the God, the fulgent Sun, travels by fixed decree.
Widely-capacious Pair, mighty, that never fail, the Father and the Mother keep all creatures safe:
The two world-halves, the spirited, the beautiful, because the Father hath clothed them in goodly forms.
Son of these Parents, he the Priest with power to cleanse, Sage, sanctifies the worlds with his
surpassing power.
Thereto for his bright milk he milked through all the days the party-coloured Cow and the prolific Bull.
Among the skilful Gods most skilled is he, who made the two world-halves which bring prosperity to
Extolled in song, O Heaven and Earth, bestow on us, ye mighty Pair, great glory and high lordly sway,
Whereby we may extend ourselves ever over the folk; and send us strength that shall deserve the
praise of men. Mantra 2: The Praise of the Sacrificer with the Dvadaçaha

The theologians say, ‘By the first day of the twelve-day rite what is it that the sacrificer takes from the
priests?’ ‘Brilliance and power’ is the answer.

‘What by the second?’ ‘The breaths and food.’

‘What by the third?’ ‘These three worlds.’

‘What by the fourth?’ ‘Four-footed cattle.’

‘What by the sixth?’ ‘The six seasons.’

So much is there as that. So much as that he takes from them.

1.1.191Mantra 191 – Water, Grass, Sun Author: Agastya Maitravaruni

Slayer of things unseen, the Sun, beheld of all, mounts, eastward, up,
Consuming all that are not seen, and evil spirits of the night.
There hath the Sun-God mounted up, who scorches much and everything.
Even the Aditya from the hills, all-seen, destroying things unseen.
I hang the poison in the Sun, a wine-skin in a vintner’s house,
He will not die, nor shall we die: his path is far: he whom Bay Horses bear

This little bird, so very small, hath swallowed all thy poison up.
The three-times-seven bright sparks of fire have swallowed up the poison’s strength.
They will not die, nor shall we die: his path is far: he whom Bay Horses bear
The scorpion’s venom hath no strength

Scorpion, thy venom is but weak.

1.1.31 Mantra 31 – Agni. Author: Hiranyastupa Angiras

O Loving God! This whole world with its wealth belongs to you. You are the One who has given us
life. You give us the love and protection of a father. You are our friend.

You make us strong and brave. You defend the doers of virtuous deeds. You make it possible for men to acquire hundreds and thousands of material possessions. Good men flock to you.
Thee, Agni, have the Gods made the first living One for living man, Lord of the house of Nahusa.
Ila they made the teacher of the sons of men, what time a Son was born to the father of my race.
Guard of our seed art thou, aiding our cows to bear, incessantly protecting in thy holy way.
Agni, thou art a guard close to the pious man; kindled art thou, four-eyed! For him who is unarmed.
With fond heart thou accept even the poor man’s prayer, when he hath brought his gift to gain

There as he lies like a bank-bursting river, the waters taking courage flow above him.
The Dragon lies beneath the feet of torrents which Vrtra with his greatness had encompassed.
Then humbled was the strength of Vrtra’s mother: Indra hath cast his deadly bolt against her.
The mother was above, the son was under and like a cow beside her calf lay Danu.
Rolled in the midst of never-ceasing currents flowing without a rest for ever onward.
The waters bear off Vrtra’s nameless body: the foe of Indra sank during darkness.
Guarded by Ahi stood the thralls of Dasas, the waters stayed like kine held by the robber.
But he, when he had smitten Vrtra, opened the cave wherein the floods had been imprisoned.
A horse’s tail wast thou when he, O Indra, smote on thy bolt; thou, God without a second,
Thou hast won back the kine, hast won the Soma; thou hast let loose to flow the Seven Rivers.

1.1.3 Mantra 3 – Ashvins. Author: Madhucchandas Vaisvamitra

YE Asvins, rich in treasure, Lords of splendour, having nimble hands,
Accept the sacrificial food.
Ye Asvins, rich in wondrous deeds, ye heroes worthy of our praise,
Accept our songs with mighty thought.
Come ye whose paths are red with flame.
O Indra marvellously bright, come, these libations long for thee,
Thus by fine fingers purified.
Urged by the holy singer, sped by song, come, Indra, to prayer.

Other stories on Varanasi in A Sense of Place Magazine

To view more of Russell Shakespeare’s work or to commission him for a photographic project go to his website:

To view John Stapleton’s journalism dating back to the 1970s or to commission him for a project go here: