If you're seeking God, there's a good chance of finding him online these days
Virtual worship is increasingly becoming the norm in households across India and abroad. With religion forming an integral aspect of every Indian's life, savvy Web site operators are catering to the spiritual inclination that resides within the soul of every hindustani.
"The idea behind creating a site was to make people in India as well as abroad more aware about the temple," says Vinayak Jaiswal, business development manager at Divine Technologies, which created siddhivinayak.org, the Web site of the Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai.
Adds Sanjeev Bhagwat, CEO of the temple, "We wanted to reach out to all devotees. We also receive donations from all over the world, some through credit cards, which are processed online. Devotees can also book a pooja through the Internet." In June 2000, on the occasion of Aangaraki Chaturthi, ICICI Bank tied up with the Siddhivinayak Temple Trust to enable its Internet banking customers to order and pay for a pooja online.
Services offered by online prayer sites include poojas and aartis, where one can actually maneuver a mouse to put tilak on Ganpati's forehead or scatter flowers at Goddess Lakshmi's feet; to audio links that play stotras and shlokas, as well as Koranic verses and hymns.
Some sites like urday.com, boast a panel of spiritual scholars and gurus on their team, who offer advice on astrology, palmistry, numerology, gemology, vaastu and other spiritual remedies. They also perform Vedic rituals and poojas for clients, all for a fee of course. Sudhir Kumar, technical supervisor at urday.com says they receive 8000 to 10,000 hits per day, most of which are from abroad.
Others like blessingsonthenet.com host the sites of important temples across the country such as the Badrinath temple in the Himalayas, the Chandi Devi temple in Haridwar and the Ashtavinayak temples in Maharashtra, and provide e-offerings like seva requests, online donations as well as bookings for accommodation and travel.
Apart from the convenience of doing poojas without the mess of tilak and rice, these sites also offer a chance for Indians overseas to acquaint themselves with the culture, religion, customs and traditions of the country. Sejal Patel, a college student from Chicago, knew very little about India and its religions. Now, she checks urday.com twice a day to keep herself updated.
Grappling with a culture unlike the traditional set-up at home, many Indians, especially first-generation settlers, find solace in the spiritual advice offered on these sites. Rajendra Singh of California, unable to find a suitable match for his daughter was a worried man. He sent his horoscope to urday.com and is today a relieved father as his daughter is happily married.
Surprisingly, it is not only Indians overseas who worship online. Online poojas are catching on in India as well. Sumathi, who lives in India and works for the Bank of Madura, says that most of the employees start work only after doing Ganpati pooja downloaded from e-prathana.com.
Jaiswal says the Siddhivinayak site is an ideal solution for people who cannot wait in serpentine queues that surround the temple. "In the evening, the rush at Siddhivinayak is so much, especially on Tuesdays, when the aarti takes place. Very few people can enter the temple, and even less make it through to the inner sanctum. The idea of putting the aarti online is so that people can see it in the comfort of their homes."
For devotees like Pritsikha Anil of the United Kingdom, Webcasting of the aarti for is the next best thing to being there in person.
Virtual worship sites also offer a wealth of knowledge about different religions. Buddhanet offers a world of information on Buddhism, including the story of the Buddha, online courses, a crossword and comic book, as well as audio facilities to aid chanting and meditation. The Sikh Network aims to connect Sikhs worldwide and offers its share of high-tech religion through banis (prayers) on a personal device assistant in original Gurmukhi script.
On Al Sunnah, technology goes a step further as users can download prayer times on their pager or cell phones. The site also features software that serves as a prayer call reminder. Muttaqun.com users can chant along with an audio recording of Islamic prayers at fixed times throughout the day.
With technology entering the sanctum of religion some skeptics are uneasy, while other like Quentin Schultze, author of Internet for Christians, believe that cyber worship will bind people of different religious faiths together.
According to him, the Net allows people to explore different religious faiths and correspond with members of various religious groups. Due to the widespread availability of information and its anonymous nature, cyberspace will gradually become a personal medium for those seeking spiritual and religious solace.