Over the past fifteen years, several scholars have investigated the internet as a new landscape for religious expression, ritual, and salvation. The growth of virtual worship platforms and spiritual social media is driven partially by the Indian diaspora’s need for temple access as well as the growing number of women in the workforce within India. Recent studies in media representation consider how online ritual and worship practices both resemble and alter the traditional surroundings/liturgical context of yajñā (ritual) and pūjā (worship).
Digital platforms also become the center of a debate regarding access and accessibility. While many worship platforms and websites focus on offering convenience and ease of service, this “access” still seems disinclude those already excluded from the material sacred spaces-marginalized castes, in some cases women, and those with a disability or malformation.
Most ritual sites market services as “authentically” Vedic reifying caste and class structures in the virtual space. Accessibility to online worship modules also requires financial means, often out of reach of many members of these groups. Apps and social media broaden accessibility by lowering costs and present an interesting problem of being “too” accessible. Durga puja in Bengal provides an excellent example of how app engagement is integrated into the government’s agenda in homogenizing worship practices. While smaller merchants also participate in this process by offering digital access to the material elements of worship such as pamphlets. For each of these four limbs of Hindu religious praxis, the shift online results in the commodification of both material and spiritual elements of worship. Additionally, social media worship platforms have become an important tool for various groups (e.g. government entities, religious organizations, political parties, etc.) to convert particular Hindu rituals and holidays into saleable products. In a sense, they become unwitting partners in an advertisement campaign for a particular “brand” of Hinduism. One that can be marketed globally, to both modern and traditional groups, and most importantly, dovetails with a fiercely nationalist, identification with a vision of “Hindu-ness.” My project looks at that how these four aspects of the virtual economy of Hindu soteriological and worship practices have created the conditions for the emergence of a global Hindu brand. I am interested in how these platforms both provide greater access but at the same time maybe help irrevocably curb accessibility. By launching Hindu belief services as products and creating a soteriological marketplace, virtual worship platforms and services in competition for customers have helped construct a “Vedicized” product, one particularly of interest to higher castes who also tend to be wealthier.
Examples of Online Ritual Sites: