British photographer and researcher Pepita Seth’s book on the Guruvayur temple
British-born photographer and Theyyam researcher Pepita Seth is the only foreigner who is allowed entry into the centuries-old Guruvayur temple in Kerala. And this is entirely due to her complete devotion and what she describes as a “totally personal and internal process”. She acknowledges this ‘blessing’ in the form of a book — “Heaven on Earth: The Universe of Kerala’s Guruvayur Temple” — which is the culmination of seven years of research and documentation.
Pepita says the experience changed her life. It takes the reader into the heart of this complex universe, chronicles the temple’s myth and history, describes its rituals and beliefs, its traditional style of management, its festivals and patronage of Kerala’s ancient art forms, its elephants and, of course, the beliefs of all those who worship within its precincts.
It is the first such book on the Guruvayur temple. The temple has been mentioned in the “Mahabharata”. Arjuna’s great grandson Janamejaya is believed to have done tapas here. The history of the idol goes back to to the Dwapara yuga during which Lord Krishna is believed to have lived. The idol is said to have been worshipped by him and later installed on earth by Brihaspati and Vayu, according to the instructions of Lord Krishna himself, at the time of his swargarohana. Every day, thousands of pilgrims throng its precincts. The small idol, made of black bismuth, represents Maha Vishnu who is invoked as baby Krishna here. The rituals conducted at Guruvayur are said to have been stipulated by Adi Shankara. There is always a long queue of devotees waiting to catch a glimpse of the deity . But not many know what happens there daily. “Grasping the complexities of the rituals; the chapter on the ‘Daily Poojas’ took four years to complete, and getting what, I hope, is the correct position and order of worship of the balikkals within the nalambalam also took four years,” Pepita reminisces. A 5000-year-old radiance, mythical beginnings, beauty, charm… has she left anything about the temple unexplained, one may wonder. “I checked, double and triple checked whatever I could. I didn’t omit something because I couldn’t find the information about it,” says Pepita.
“Heaven on Earth”, published by Delhi-based Niyogi Books, has 17 chapters, almost 100,000 words and 215 pictures, all taken by Pepita. The book “aims at covering all aspects of life within the temple, and is not just an explanation of the rituals.” Pepita is content for, “The book is an offering to the Lord, telling people about His temple and all that takes place within it.”
Guruvayur has risen to glory and been on the brink of destruction several times over the centuries. Pepita book is a fine documentation with many sensitive pictures.LEKSHMY RAJEEV