Representative image | Photo: AFP
Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find – Bible.
Profound words that have guided many faithful for centuries. But time chips away at everything, and these words are no exception. The problem now is that the word “search” is inevitably associated with the internet, and many people’s first reaction to hearing that word is to reach for their mobile phones.
Be it getting a plumber or finding the way to a destination, googling the information is the way for most. So, it is a natural extension that websites have sprung up to connect you with powerful deities. (Nope, not referring to the websites of Kerala ministers unveiled recently.)
A recent report said that Malabar Devaswom was riling against sites that offered to do pujas in temples across the region for a fee.
Take a look at the sites; it is like searching a delivery app that provides links to different restaurants in your area, each showing the full menu of what is on offer. However, the temple authority in the Malabar region has come down firmly against this, making clear that it did not authorise these sites to provide the service they offer.
The news report also alleged that some sites never kept their promise and pocketed the money sent by the faithful. If that is true, it is a fraud, and the victimised faithful could initiate legal action.
But if the site owners carry out their part of the bargain and the sites did as they guaranteed, there could hardly be any scope to act against them. Their activity could probably qualify as a new business model and a legitimate service. The claim that the temple authorities have not approved the service is weak as any follower of the Hindu religion can get a proxy to pay the agreed fee and get the puja done. Nowhere does it say that the faithful must personally do this.
So, all these sites offer is just a service, like a proxy, to get pujas done without being present at the distance temples. “With bookings possible at multiple temples for multiple people on multiple dates,” says one site.
One gnawing thing here, however, is the worry that such rituals are not carried out with the necessary zeal every time.
So, at least one site assures: “Our team works well with the management of all the temples listed on the website. As a result, all poojas booked through us will be performed with the same zeal and emotion as if booked in person at Temple counter.”
This assurance must be even more encouraging for some people, given the emotions they evoke in their friends and relatives often border on the uncivil realms. After all, a postal ballot is as good as a vote cast in person and is equally valid and effective. So why discriminate against an absentee devotee?
The claim that these sites do not link directly to the temple administration is also shaky, as the existing internet business models show there is no need for such a thing. For example, popular food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato do not own any restaurants nor have a stake in them but deliver food on payment.
Restaurants have welcomed the new model and readily signed up for such delivery services as it increased their sales volume and revenue. Moreover, these apps offer an option to lodge complaints if the items delivered were not precisely the items ordered, are below par or are inordinately delayed. This might, however, be problematic when it comes to sites offering to help you seek the blessings of the supernatural forces.
Suppose a website user is complaining about not realising the desired result of a particular endeavour. It could, then, become a bit messy and lead to splitting hair in courts as to who is responsible for the lack of results. Such a situation can evoke knotty problems, as portrayed in the Hindi movie Oh My God, in which a trader sues God for his misfortunes. The court scenes of that flick end up blaming the people propagating such promises, a position our temple authorities would be well advised not to get caught in.
Technological innovations and scientific progress have conflicted with religions since Galileo’s time. And the arrival of the internet has influenced almost every aspect of our life. Religion is no exception. Many people now consider that posting pictures of a deity or a prayer on their Facebook page as a substitute for praying. And many who see such posts religiously post a salutation or whisper an amen as if it is a place of worship.
Internet, social media apps and high-tech gadgets are all finding their way into religions. In the Middle East, for example, digital prayer counters are replacing Subha, the traditional prayer beads. You click away on this gadget instead of counting each of the hundred-beads long Subha, and the screen will show you the total, saving you from the burden of keeping a mental note of the numbers. Just like health apps that tell you how many steps you walked instead of you counting the steps. And predictably, some old-timers are frowning upon this.
Still, not all religious authorities are Luddites. Some actively embrace the changes, and many godmen and spiritual leaders have risen to celebrity status thanks to their social media following. A few bright ones among them are keeping pace with the technology too.
A church in Hong Kong said it is creating a church in Metaverse, the virtual world that tech giants are now building. The devotees can slip on their headsets and visit the virtual church, and your avatar can sit in the virtual pew and listen to the sermon by the virtual priest – no need to put on your Sunday Best and head out.
This trend could spread to other religions too, and soon you (No, your avatar) will be able to visit places of worship that spring up in Metaverse by simply donning your virtual reality headset while lazing away on your couch.
In Indian mythology, gods used to send avatars to help the world when their worldly creatures were in trouble.
Technology is now upending things in every sphere. At this rate, we could soon send our avatars to visit the gods.