A monsoon storm of data--historical, religious, mythological, etc.--that may refresh the scholar but threatens to engulf the merely curious. Eck is a professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard and brings 15 years of love and learned enthusiasm for Banaras (the erstwhile Benares) to her study. This passionate involvement is appealing and, to a degree, contagious, but it often gets out of hand. In one brief paragraph, for example, describing a popular pilgrimage route, she rattles off some casual details: ""This grouping of five tirthas is mentioned in the 'avimukta Mahatmya' of the Matsya Purana, one of the earliest mahatmyas of Kashi and one which does not mention many specific sites. In its closing verses, the five places are listed: Dashashvamedha, Lolarka, Keshava, Bindu Madhava, and Manikarnika. Lolarka is the oldest of the Asi Ghat tirthas, Keshava is the temple of Adi Keshava at the Varana confluence, and Bindu Madhava is the temple of Panchaganga."" Did you get that, class? To be fair, Eck does define her terms, as well as supply a glossary. And the book as a whole has encyclopedic range. Newcomers to the subject can learn all sorts of things about the Hindu gods and goddesses (Eck selects Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and a few dozen others from among the reputed 330,000,000 deities, the meaning of Om and the omnipresent linga, religious seasons, festivals, and rites (Panchakroshi, shraddha, etc.) The one subject Eck is disappointingly terse on is modern Banaras--even the holiest of cities must have a political and economic life, but we don't see it here. Still, for persistent readers with retentive memories, this is a rich and quite reliable source of Hindu lore.