I had the privilege of reading ‘Heaven on Earth: The Universe of Kerala's Guruvayur Temple’ by Pepita Seth and published by Niyogi Books, New Delhi. It is indeed a monumental work that takes the reader into the heart of Guruvayur temple, chronicling the temple's myth and history, describing in detail its complicated but well laid down rituals, various festivals and patronage of Kerala's ancient art forms, its elephants and, of course, the beliefs of all those who worship within its precincts.

Naturally, one would imagine that this book has been prepared by a Malayalee. But no, it is the result of 7 years of hard work and perseverance of Ms. Pepita Seth, who belongs to England. It seems her great grandfather had served the British army during the pre-independence period (during 1857 or so) and after she happened to read his diary, she decided to visit India and also by chance visited Kerala. It was a proverbial ‘love at first sight’, as she made Kerala her second home and made several visits since then (she stays in Thrissur most of the time). She was fascinated by Pooram, Paampin Thullal, Theyyam and other folk/ritual art forms of Kerala and immersed herself in undertaking in-depth research on some of these art forms. By profession, she is an editor of films and a brilliant photographer as also a writer.

She was granted special permission to enter the Guruvayur Temple and take photographs inside the temple. She has chronicled each and every minute details about the temple (for example, the architectural details, all the details about the Melsanthis, Keezhsanthis, othikkans, koymas, the duties performed by the various ambalavasis, how much rice and provisions are required for Prasada Oottu, how many thiris (wicks) are used for lighting the Deepasthambham, the story behind the big bell (Naazhika mani) etc).

Even though my family belongs to Punnathur which is hardly 2 kms. from Guruvayur and we were frequent visitors to the temple, a majority of the information contained in this book were beyond our knowledge. The book is studded with more than 200 brilliant colour photographs taken by her that embellish the mind and eyes of the readers with every thing that is happening inside the temple and can easily be described as an encyclopaedia on Guruvayur temple. She is humble enough to admit that the time she spent in Guruvayur temple while preparing this book has completely transformed her and believes that the book was made possible only by the trust and willingness of people, including the temple priests, to share their knowledge.


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