Heaven on Earth is for Hindus to relive their experiences and understand Guruvayur’s rituals and ceremonies. For non-Hindus it is to see a world we could not have even imagined. Pepita Seth is to be commended for so vividly bringing to life the temple and its importance to India.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
The Universe of Kerala’s Guruvayur Temple
By Pepita Seth
Every day of the year, thousands of pilgrims swarm into the sacred precincts of Kerala’s Guruvayur Temple. They come to seek the blessings of Lord Krishna, known locally as Guruvayurappan, a deity whose precious idol was, according to myth, originally worshipped by Lord Vishnu. Another belief states that the idol was eventually inherited by Lord Krishna and enshrined in Dwaraka and that, just before His death, He declared that it was to be re-installed in India’s most sacred place. The task was carried out by Brihaspathy, the Guru of the Gods, and Vayu, the Wind God, whose combined names gave the temple its name. After travelling all over India, they eventually arrived at the place where the present temple now stands, and were welcomed by Siva and told that the purpose of their journey was fulfilled.
From these mythical beginnings, Guruvayur became one of India’s most important temples, the small shrine that the Lord once occupied, now a mahakshetram, a great temple. It is a temple whose elaborate poojas have survived the many vicissitudes of history, of wars and changing times, always adhering to the rules that Adi Sankaracharya is said to have laid down a thousand years ago. That the temple has not only preserved this remarkable link with its divine origins, but has also continued to respect and honour its unique customs is largely due to the presence of the hereditary families, priestly and otherwise, who continue to fulfil the duties assigned to their ancestors many centuries ago. It is also a temple where devotion to Guruvayurappan has remained undiminished by the passing centuries, where the thousands of devotees who seek His compassionate blessings still uphold the mystery of His divine presence.
Heaven on Earth: The Universe of Kerala’s Guruvayur Temple takes the reader into the heart of this complex universe, chronicling the temple’s myth and history, describing 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 a book made possible both by the trust and willingness of people, including the temple priests, to share their knowledge, and by author-photographer Pepita Seth’s commitment to the project and her determination to represent the scope of the temple’s world.
This remarkable and unique record is the outcome of 7 years of careful research enhanced by sensitive photographs that not only portray all aspects of life within the temple, but its atmosphere of intangible divinity.