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Technology and Hinduism

Published: 
Monday, November 24, 2014

Hinduism is oft times described as the world’s oldest “living” religion. It has thus been the one subjected to the effects of changing technologies over the longest period of time. Adapting to new changes is a core characteristic and this is certainly going to be tested as technology, particularly of the disruptive digital varieties, become ubiquitous.

Hindus are generally quite conservative and though Hindu scriptures are replete with examples of technology usage, the diffusion of new technologies into traditional practices can be a slow process. The use of gas-fired crematoria to cremate the dead is a case in point.

The vast majority still prefer their loved ones to be cremated using the traditional wooden pyres, though it can also be properly done in a crematorium. This will persist, one presumes, judging from the extensive usage of the cremation sites throughout the country. 

On the other hand, the use of voice-amplification technology, in all ceremonies, has been totally accepted. In the case of weddings, particularly in the processions, the car-mounted horns proved to be a rather noisy nuisance to many. The adoption of music-truck technology has only made it worse. 

The introduction of multi-media presentations in the delivery of religious discourses has not found favour with the majority to date. One factor for this may be the difficulty in placing the screen, owing to the non-standard layouts and sizes of the seating arrangements. 

Another factor is that it may lead to the conclusion that the pandit or swami needs memory aids to deliver his message. Traditional Hinduism places a premium on memory learning and recall. Pundits pride themselves on being able to deliver learned (and sometimes quite lengthy) discourses without reference to notes.

Similarly, in the performance of pujas, reference to books or notes was frowned upon. These days, however, laptops and tablets are being used to provide speaking points and this, generally, has a positive impact on the quality of the discourses. 

Until recently, the pundit was the sole repository of knowledge with regard to spiritual practices and auspicious dates, etc. The advent of Google has led to vast quantities of information being accessible to all and sundry. A positive development has emerged in that the average Hindu is now a lot more conversant with many aspects of his/her religion. 

The down side is that many of these sites may contain information that has not been verified or may not be authentic. This naturally leads to some degree of confusion, but it does provide an opportunity for debate and hence for deepening the understanding of the religion and culture.

The internet and its associated technologies are global in nature and do provide an international communication infrastructure. Hinduism evolved as and continues to be a decentralised religion.

The new and emerging technologies like You Tube, WhatsApp and cloud computing provide an excellent platform for interconnectivity and hence internationalisation, with an acceptable level of standardisation. The world’s perception of and the influence of the religion will be greatly enhanced if this opportunity is seized.

Some points to ponder down the road include the following. Can a puja be performed over Skype? I once did perform a puja in which some devotees were located in another country. Through Skype, they listened to the puja and indeed did participate in a similar manner to those in the room in which the worship was taking place. Their experience was a positive one. 

Technology has had an impact, positive and otherwise, on the practice of Hinduism and will continue to so do. It would behove Hindus to manage this process.

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