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Speaker

Author and Photographer

Date & Time

Wednesday Wed, 17 Apr 2024 6:30 pm — 8:00 pm
Free Entry on a First Come First Served basis on RSVP and availability.

Location

Bangalore International Centre
7, 4th Main Road, Domlur II Stage
Bangalore, Karnataka 560071 India

In this illustrated lecture, Pepita Seth presents her decades of work on Theyyams published in her recent book, In God’s Mirror: The Theyyams of Malabar. The word ‘Theyyam’ is a corruption of ‘daiva’, meaning, quite simply, God. Theyyam is an act of worship that brings the deities down from heaven to be among their devotees. The practitioners of Theyyam perform specific rituals and dance to express their joy at seeing their devotees, while the last stages of their manifestation involve them in blessing, healing, exorcising, answering questions and maintaining the link between humanity and the divine. While the process is an internal one that obliterates the practitioner’s human persona, on an external level his face is transformed by intricate make-up and his body fantastically costumed. There are Theyyams for Gods and Goddesses, warrior heroes, wronged women, ghosts, spirits, tigers, snakes and even a crocodile; there are also a few Muslim Theyyams (performed by Hindus). A Theyyakkaran must be able to sing, dance, play the chenda, bless, exorcise and be proficient in kalaripayattu, Kerala’s martial art form since it is used in the rituals of the warrior heroes. Pepita Seth’s decades-long association with Theyyam’s practitioners gave her unprecedented access to their unique culture. In God’s Mirror: The Theyyams of Malabar is the culmination, in her words and photographs, of her commitment to this extraordinary subject.

Pepita Seth writes: “In God’s Mirror is the outcome of Theyyam’s practitioners suggesting I do a book about them. This was in order to establish that Theyyam is a ritual act during which devotees seek the blessings, and even the help, of the elaborately costumed deities. This was to dispense with the outside world always referring to Theyyam as a dance or a performance when in fact it is a sacred ritual in which men belonging to certain families have the ‘right’ to ‘carry’ a deity. Their only condition was that I stayed with them in order to know and understand their lives, respect their multiple skills and realise what was important to them.” 

“Although I was born in the UK and trained as a film editor, it was the chance discovery of my soldier great-grandfather’s diary documenting his regiment’s 1857 march from Calcutta to Lucknow that took me to India. Yet despite going there in 1970 to retrace their long march, I finally found another India in Kerala. And it was there that I eventually settled and began photographing and writing about the region’s unique culture.”


Tea will be served at 6:00 pm.

Speaker

Pepita Seth

Author and Photographer

Over the past 50 years Pepita Seth has devoted her life to the exploration of the closed worlds of the Guruvayur Temple and the Theyyam rituals in Kerala. She has undertaken her work with remarkable dedication and stamina in extraordinarily demanding circumstances, whether living with the Theyyam community or observing, documenting and photographing rituals of the Theyyam and of the Guruvayur Temple. Her achievement is all the more remarkable that as a woman she has penetrated these patriarchal and secret worlds. She has meticulously recorded these hidden universes and through her accessible writing and brilliant photography opened them to a broader public – in India as well as internationally.

Pepita Seth (born 1942) first visited India in 1970. After several years, she became drawn to Kerala and eventually based herself in Thrissur, where she now lives. She has written and lectured extensively on Kerala’s traditions and had exhibitions of her photographs in India, Britain and the United States. In 1981, she received official permission to enter Kerala’s temples, and she has been photographing Theyyam since the early 1990s. Her book Heaven on Earth: the Universe of Kerala’s Guruvayur Temple was published in 2009, and In God’s Mirror: The Theyyams of Malabar was published in December 2023 by Scala. She has also published two novels, The Spirit Land (1994) and The Edge of Another World (2015).

In 2012, the Indian Government awarded her the Padma Shri. In October 2023, she was awarded the Sir Richard Burton Medal by the Royal Asiatic Society for her life’s work in Kerala.