Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hindus Take Cyber-Path to Salvation

BANGALORE, India -- When an astrologer warned an Indian stage designer and mother of three children that bad luck was on her horizon, she took the road increasingly traveled by modern Hindus looking to appease ancient divinities.

Anasuya Dhanrajgir logged onto the Internet.

In the old days, 39-year-old Anasuya might have taken her astrologer's advice literally and made the 1,450-kilometer journey to a temple on the southern tip of India to pay respects to Shani -- the Hindu god she was said to have angered.

"I surfed the Internet to see if there was a way out," said Anasuya, from the western city of Pune, near Bombay.

She found that technology offered an easy way to keep the faith -- and a new means of communicating with at least some of her religion's 330 million gods and goddesses.

The site -- www.prarthana.com, named after the Sanskrit word for worship -- offers to conduct prayers for a fee at some 400 temples across India.

With the click of her mouse, Anasuya placed an order for a ceremony, or puja, which she was told would cost 1,250 rupees ($25). This particular prayer service, marked by chanting of Vedic verses and worship of fire, was designed to propitiate the angry god.

Hindu temples offer puja ceremonies depending on the need -- good health, success in business, marital bliss and so on. Prices vary according to the service required. Prayers involving simple chanting and offering of flowers come cheap, starting at around 50 rupees. More elaborate ones require a donation of cows and silk saris to poor people, for example, and can cost upward of 20,000 rupees. The online service is an extension of a tradition -- in Hinduism, one person can perform a temple prayer for another and family members do it often for each other.

"We performed the puja on Anasuya's behalf," said K. Ganesan, the web site's founder. The company sent her an e-mail confirming the ceremony was done, and the temple used a courier to send Anasuya a parcel with part of the offerings, which symbolically conveyed the god's blessings.

"I was happy to know there was a remedy," said Anasuya.

When it was time to perform a blessing on her newborn son, Anasuya returned to her computer. This time, she planned to make the trip to the faraway temple, but let the web site handle all her travel arrangements.

Ganesan estimates the number of web sites offering similar services to Hindus have swelled to 300 in the last few years. Many customers are Indians living abroad who are unable to visit home temples to say their prayers in person.

With religion going high-tech, entrepreneurs are looking to cash in. The Indian software industry employs about 522,000 people, many of them pious Hindus. Some are driven to set up online puja services as much by religious faith as by entrepreneurial itch.

The rewards could be enormous in India -- the world's second-most populous country with more than 1 billion people, 80 percent of whom are Hindus. While fewer than 1 percent own a personal computer -- and even fewer have Internet access -- Indians are visiting Hindu sites at mushrooming cyber cafes where Internet browsing costs 25 rupees an hour.

Temples themselves can find helpful services online.

Bangalore-based software maker M.R. Balakrishna hopes he's found the answer to every temple's wishes. A devout Hindu, Balakrishna devised an application called Ganati -- derived from the Sanskrit word for "calculating" -- to help run temple finances.

Balakrishna, founder of software maker Mediateck i Solutions, said he noticed while visiting a temple that it was run in such a haphazard manner that devotees would not be able to tell how funds donated to the temple were used.

"This convinced me there was need for temples to use technology to improve planning and transparency," he said.

Many of India's holy sites and holy people are also getting Internet savvy.

The Venkateswara temple in the southern town of Tirupati, reputed to be the world's richest Hindu temple, gets so many donations that workers use a conveyor belt to transfer the cash, jewels and other offerings to a separate storage building. Now, credit card donations are accepted, too, at www.tirumala.org.

The official web site for a Hindu holy woman, Mata Amritanandamayi, shares her teachings of love and spirituality. It also runs a travel exchange where devotees from around the world can plan car pools and group accommodations in cities on the traveling guru's itinerary.

Those creating the new technology predict ample returns -- though the payoff might not be in riches.

"I have spent a fortune running the web site and haven't made any money," said Ganesan, founder of www.prarthana.com. "But I'm sure I'll be showered with divine blessings for the service I am rendering."