(Last Updated on : 24/04/2013)
Pepita Seth is the 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.
Early Life of Pepita Seth
Pepita Seth belongs to the clan of that Indian fighter as his great-grandfather was the one who marched the soldier walk in 1857 from Calcutta to Lucknow
. And she retraced her roots from a diary of her great Grandfather from the attic. That was the beginning of a hard core relationship between a state and an angel, who fell in love with the culture of Kerala
who was born and brought up in England. In honour of her contributions to the state of Kerala, she was awarded with "Padma Shri
". She never had a proper educational backdrop, as she plants it "In my family education was only for boys not for girls". A prey of gender inequality she to a large extent is self-taught as she devoured books at young age and penetrated her self into the world of books, of knowledge and into self earned treats of enlightenment. Although born in London, she was brought up on a farm in a very rural part of England. Her parents hardly had time for looking after her attainment of formal schooling and, in a way, no interest in this femme fatale being educated. As soon as she could read, she began devouring books as a way of unconsciously educating herself.
Career of Pepita Seth
Her career began in the cutting rooms, editing British and American documentaries and feature films working with such directors as Stanley Donen, Otto Preminger, Tony Richardson and Ted Kotcheff.
It was the that first experience of India which initiated unfalteringly a deeper curiosity about India and the consecutive years witnessed her retreat , the return of the native 'find out about elephants', which of course brought her to Kerala, to Thrissur
and then Guruvayur where the first photograph she took was of Guruvayur Kesavan, the legendary temple elephant. And indeed auspicious beginning it was for this lady.
She worked in films for many years starting on the lowest rung and working her way up to being a Film Editor which unarguably heightened her self attained sense of the visual and was of enormous help when she finally plunged into the art of photography by introducing her talent into the arena of religious lengthy rituals which have a cinematic quality as if sweeping in motion blending poise with glamour and compositions of an intrigued mind.
Contribution of Pepita Seth
She has lectured extensively on Kerala's traditions in India, Britain at the British Museum and the Nehru Centre, and the United States at the Smithsonian, Columbia and Barnard Universities. Exhibitions of her photographs have been held in India through the British Council, and in Britain and the United States at Nikon House and Barnard University. Her novel, The Spirit Land, was published in 1994 and a year later she began to focus on a single subject: the Theyyam rituals of Malabar
. The 5 years spent in northern Kerala which had resulted both in exhibitions in Britain and the United States and the firm conviction that she would return for deeper and more intensive work.
In 2001, encouraged by the temple authorities, she began her research on Guruvayur Temple. Her book, Heaven on Earth explores The Universe of Kerala's Guruvayur Temple which was published last year and is the culmination of 7 years of research and documentation an experience Pepita Seth acknowledges as having changed her life.
"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.
The book, which includes detailed descriptions of rituals and concepts behind them, is the first such book on the temple. During lengthy sessions with the temple's officiating priests, she came to admire their patience almost as much as their knowledge. Since almost nothing has ever been recorded or written down, she had to repeatedly check, and counter-check facts, especially when some clarifications appeared to be contradictory. Her aim is to create a book on the canvas of visual imageries etched upon the walls of reality whose words and pictures will swathe all aspects of existence within the temple, not only confining its authoritarian life within the created realities, myths and history but its rituals, management, priests, hereditary families, devotees, elephants, performing arts and descriptions of all important events.