Hindu prayer service there’s an app for that. – csmonitor.com e suvidha electricity bill lucknow


Spirituality is no stranger to hand-held devices: think of Christian podcasts, virtual Buddhist prayer wheels, or apps listing the start time for breaking the Ramadan fast or for each week’s Jewish Sabbath. But perhaps nowhere are the horizons for religion and technology wider, or more lucrative, than in India: Roughly 1 billion residents identify as Hindu, and more than half the population is still off-line. A new crop of start-ups is springing up, such as apps letting worshipers request prayer services at far-away temples. Many feel that there’s no substitute for an in-person temple visit, but some religious leaders appreciate the tools. “We’ve got to evolve,” says one, heir to a temple and the acting head of his sect’s youth group. He worries that even relatively modern Hindu movements risk atrophy if they turn away from new forms of communication, so his organization has distributed sermons via YouTube and is laying the groundwork for podcasts of religious texts. “We don’t want them to lose that connection to community,” he says of followers who have a hard time getting to temples.

It’s not just businesses taking notice. Some religious institutions are keen to expand their reach and retain their followers using new technology; a growing number of priests are accepting donations and puja requests online. “I’m happy that I’m able to serve people who are unable to come to the temple directly,” says Suresh Gurukkal, a fifth-generation chief priest at the Srikalahasti Temple, in the south Indian city of the same name. “People are very busy and they don’t have time to travel to famous temples in remote regions of India,” Mr. Gurukkal notes, “so this is the easier, better alternative.”

While a bookmarked webpage is not a substitute for a temple visit, new tech can strengthen religious ties, says Vrajendraprasad Pande. He is heir to the Swaminarayan Temple of Kalupur, Ahmedabad, and acting leader of the sect’s youth group, Nar Narayan Dev Yuvak Mandal, which he says has more than 120,000 members. The group has distributed sermons via YouTube to reach followers who are away at college, Mr. Pande says, and is laying the groundwork for podcasts of religious texts.

“We’ve got to evolve,” he explains. He worries that even relatively modern Hindu movements like the Swaminarayan sect – formed in the late 1700s – risk atrophy if they turn away from new forms of communication. “We don’t want them to lose that connection to community,” he says of followers who have a hard time getting to temples.

For many worshipers, though, there’s no substitute for the spiritual invigoration of a temple visit. “The look of the deity, the whole ambience, the experience you get while you’re entering the temple, by seeing the deity – I think that experience you can’t get through these tools,” says Ravi Kumar, a program manager at a multinational bank who lives in Bangalore and requests pujas every year through an online portal. Although he travels to the temple to perform the same puja every two to three years, it’s more affordable and accessible online, he says.

Many Indians share his concerns. “Technology is something that is superfluous,” says Chirayu Thakkar, a practicing Hindu studying religion at Oxford University in the UK, and the purest spiritual benefits come from a trip to the temple. He holds up a smartphone. “If I do a darshan on this,” he says, describing the sacred visual connection Hindus make with icons, “it doesn’t equate to doing darshan in the temple.”

But if technology has shaped religion, the reverse is also true, insists Mr. Thakkar. One of the first things many religious iPhone owners do with a new device is download a wallpaper of their favorite deity, he says. App stores are overflowing with religious applications, some providing religious guidance in the form of astrological advice, daily scriptures, and muhūrtas, or auspicious time periods.

The Hindu embrace of techno-religiosity isn’t particularly surprising, says Joanne Punzo Waghorne, a professor of religion at Syracuse University in New York. She’s tracked the rising popularity of mobile phones and other modes of electronic communication used by gurus and temples across South Asia. Visuality has long been important to Hindu practices, she says, noting that the photos temple devotees take and share via cellphones fit into that tradition.

Technology has even influenced how religious leaders conceive of spirituality, says Dr. Waghorne. During the tech boom of the 1960s, for example, Hindu priests “used to use electricity to talk about gods and ‘power transfer,’” she says, referring to a sacred connection between the divine and devotees. Today those priests might incorporate “the waves of the internet” to explain the same concept, she says.