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Sun, 26 May 2019

Northeast Today

Have you clicked your way to puja yet?

Have you clicked your way to puja yet?
May 13
13:30 2019

It seems that God has arrived on the Internet, and with a rather imposing presence that is hard to overlook. Sampurna Das writes about the recent surfacing of internet ritual service providers in India.

 

“Do you often wish to thank God? Well, what better way than offering a puja? But it is not the easiest thing to do, we understand! Some people may not have the time, while others may be living in distant lands. What if all of that didn’t matter anymore? Introducing epuja…from the comfort of your home…” (From an advertisement)

 

First Words

Religious rites and rituals in all cultures have a notion of spirituality based on the personal contact between the devotee and the place of worship. Material connection is almost always considered to be a given feature of religion – across totemic to more complex religious systems. But some recent occurrences points at muddling the truisms. The notion of spirituality is undergoing slow but steady changes with the increasing popularity of internet-based religious practices. Sociologist Ken Bedell terms this growing trend as “cyber spirituality”. In a study conducted at the United Methodist Church, which attempted to decipher the relationship between religion and the Internet, Bedell found that nearly 80% of the respondents mentioned that internet played a role in their spiritual lives.

 

Disruption through Internet

The advent of the internet has been as revolutionary for religious growth and dissemination and is often likened to the invention of the printing press. This is made possible through the proliferation of religious service providing website and web applications, like where’smypandit.com, epuja.co.in, ritualkart.com. In India, these internet ritual service providers offer a possibility to book a ritual, buy essentials for conducting the ritual and even make ‘hassle-free’ payment of dakshina through credit cards. They provide interactive communications and religious services; or simply sell religious items. Practice of religion through the internet has altered the religious experiences of the users. Face-to- face interaction is no more the defining aspect of ritual performance. While certain rituals have been modified, certain other rituals have gained a new found prominence. Analyzing some of these websites brought to notice the extent to which internet has been instrumental in introducing and popularizing certain pujas like ‘birthday puja’, which do not traditionally exist. Behind the transition from the traditional mode to the internet lays the commoditization of religious products and services.

Epuja

A screenshot from ritualkart.com

 

 

But while there are instances of using internet for conducting religious rituals, in most places and in India as well, they are particularly limited to metropolitan locations. The traditional way of visiting the temple personally, fixing the mahurat for a certain puja with the pandit followed by search of puja samagri from one place to another and lastly paying the dakshina, is still the preferred mode of offering puja.So, as of now internet based puja service providers exist alongside the traditional puja service providers.

 

Will e-puja displace the old way?

Nonetheless, one cannot completely ignore the rise of the e-puja. The testimonials endorsed by some of these websites point at the growing popularity of these internet service providers, pointing towards a potential shift in the way rituals may be connected in the years to come. Take for instance, “I have been using this puja service from last year. Their customer service is very prompt. I placed orders mostly for Pujas for a year. The puja prasadam is sent regularly with a good packing. Even though I am far from Indian temples, with help from this website, I am still able to do archana in temples. Thanks to this puja service provider and team”. It will be interesting to observe, whether websites providing religious services in India are/will be displacing or transforming traditional modes of religious services. The Internet undoubtedly provides a whole new array of possibilities for faith seekers today, but can the Internet sufficiently deliver the emotional side of religion and belief? Admittedly, religion and spirituality are being assimilated by the Internet in various ways, but can we really conceive of a faith community of so many people plugged into their individual computer terminals?

Epuja

A clip from LiveIndia coverage from 28 May, 2015

 

 

 

(The author is a doctoral researcher of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. When not chatty, she alternates between embroidering and fabric paintings.)

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