Vaishnava Cyber-Puja: Problems of Purity and Novel Ritual Solutions

Nicole Karapanagiotis

Abstract


In this article, I examine Vaishnava Hindu views on cyber-pūjā to Vishnu (the ritual worship of Vishnu online). Based on ethnographic interviews with Vaishnava devotees in the New Jersey tri-state area, I argue that although these devotees have nothing against the online worship of Vishnu in theory (they believe that Vishnu is ontologically present in cyberspace and available there for worship), they nonetheless have reservations about performing such worship in practice. These reservations, I argue, stem from concerns about violations of two types of purity: spatial purity (the purity of the sacred cyber-altar space in which Vishnu resides) and mental purity (the purity of the mental state of the devotee who is performing the cyber-pūjā). However, although devotees have concerns over the violations of purity that stem from cyber-pūjā, many have come up with novel, medium specific, ritual practices that can help overcome or at least mitigate these purity violations. I discuss these ritual practices—which include actions such as lighting incense in front of the computer, clearing one's private data (browsing history, etc.,) and moving the computer to a separate part of the desk—and the ways that they enhance both the computer as a space for worshipping Vishnu and devotees' mental purity while doing so. Finally, I conclude the article with a discussion of the importance that Vaishnavas place on purity of intention, and show that for many devotees, pure devotional intention is all one needs in order to overcome any seemingly problematic aspect of cyber-pūjā.

Keywords


senses , internet , religious practice , Hinduism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11588/rel.2010.1.9391