Eighty year-old Jayantilal Vanjara suffered from hydrocephalus (a condition where water enters the brain) eight years ago. His fortnightly routine of visiting his sister’s house in Juhu, followed by a stop at the Valia Chaganlal Laljibhai Prarthna Prasad temple in Juhu Scheme that he had followed for over 50 years abruptly came to an end. Bedridden and morose, Vanjara finally found succour on August 10 this year, when he was able to see his beloved Thakorji without leaving the confines of his house.
All thanks to Vallabhnidhi(.in), a website that the temple trust by the same name launched on Janmashtami this year. “This site is for devotees who have been visiting our temples for years but are unable to do so due to ill health or other circumstances. We wanted to reach out to youngsters and show them all the activities conducted at the premises, and also wanted to end the practice of people standing in front of the deity with their cameras instead of joining hands in prayer,” says 60 year-old trustee Jayant Parekh, the brainchild behind the soft launch of the site on August 10 this year.
The site currently offers photographs from four temples under the trust, which are located in Rameshwar, Champaran, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. “We have trained our young maharajs in photography so they can take pictures after each of the six darshans in the day. It starts with Mangala, the first darshan of the day, followed by Shringar darshan when the lord is bathed and Rajbhog and he is lavishly fed, and others. The site also carries the latest news about all temple activities, information on upcoming events, and the Hindu calendar. The site also lists the classes, including Thakorji’s seva, garland making and abhushan (ornaments) making, conducted at the temple.
Vanjara’s daughter, Darshana, loves the smile the service has brought to her father’s face. “It’s a fantastic step towards bridging the gap between the temple and the devotee. There are so many people who cannot visit the temple every day. Today, my father’s face lights up when we log on to the site and surf through the pictures together,” she smiles. But Parekh and his team are not satisfied yet. “We have a lot of work to do — by the month-end, we will have videos of live darshan on the site. In the next phase, we will start a courier service for prasad delivery in any part of the world and offer an option of online donation as well,” says 44 year-old Hemang Jangla, coordinator and convener of temple activities.
Bring Lalbaugcha Raja home
It was with the same idea that Rajiv Sanghvi started secular website Divine India in 2009. The CEO’s vision was simple, to bring the darshan of shrines and temples to the doorstep of devotees. Today, the site, that offers monthly memberships at Rs 200, has 55 sole partnerships with temples, and streams events from 2,000 temples and shrines all over India such as Dargah Hazrat Miran Sahib Taragarh, Ajmer; Infant Jesus Church, Bangalore; Golden Temple, Amritsar, and Sarnath Kashi.
This year, Sanghvi has tied up with service providers in the city to live stream audio and video of aartis conducted at the city’s most famous Ganpati pandal, at the measly price of Rs 2 per day. “There are people who stand in line for hours, and then get to do a hurried darshan for a few seconds. Their quest for a real darshan remains incomplete. This techonology is a boon for those who do not have the time to go to the temple and for the differently-abled. You actually feel satisfied at having seen the lord to your heart’s content,” he explains.
Lalbaugcha Raja sees 1 crore devotees throng the mandal every year during Ganesh Chaturthi, and approximately eight to 10 lakh devotees visit the idol every day. “For mukh darshan, people stand in the line for eight to 10 hours, and for mannat darshan where they can go on the stage, 24 to 30 hours. Now, they can do the darshan without any line,” seconds Sudhir Salvi, secretary, Lalbaugcha Raja.
From 10,000 members last year, Divine India counts 50,000 members today. Every morning, 60 year-old SK Mahajan and his wife Anita begin their day with the darshan at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, New Delhi. But they are over 1,000 kilometres away in their Marol (east) home. An advisor for airport development, Mahajan switches on his laptop and logs onto Divineindia(.com) and chooses the aarti of his revered Lord. “Two months ago, I signed up for live streaming of darshans. It is not important that you are in a temple to pray.
That same feeling can be experienced at home, if you put your heart to it,” says Mahajan. Like Mahajan, 21 year-old Pooja Pathare from Borivli chanced upon the website’s Facebook page last month. “I don’t go to the temple often, but what I liked on the page were the positive quotations. I signed up as a member on the site and visit Shirdi Sai Baba’s link often. I also help my mom use the site. On a tiring day, even a few minutes on this site helps me relax,” says Pathare.
Meanwhile, 25 year-old Sona Gurnani was inspired to visit the shrine in person, after an inspiring virtual encounter. “The doctor has advised my mother not to travel, so I signed up on the website last month. We would often visit Shirdi Sai Baba, Mumbai’s Mahalakshmi temple, Shani Shinganapur in Maharashtra and IC Church, Panjim. Now, she is pleased that her god is still with her. In fact, I was so touched by one of the aartis, that I visited the temple on behalf of my mother,” smiles Gurnani, who says a virtual darshan may not be the complete experience but it calms her down and de-stresses her on a stressful day. “All you need is a laptop. When I come home from work, I close my room, log on to the site and watch a few aartis. Now, I don’t need to find time to connect with god,” she says, with a content smile.
Meet Virtual Ganesha, Krishna
When you are sitting at your desk some time in the afternoon, whiling away time, log on to Virtualworship (.in) and take a tour through the virtual temples. Radhe Krishna and Ganesha are waiting in temples that give the feeling of a delectable spot where the river flows and the lotuses bloom. Girish Dhakephalkar, who launched this site along with his team in April this year, has added a personal touch. Ring the bell, do the pradakshina, or even better, conduct a puja.
Shoonya3D, a company that develops interactive 3D software, has created this website. Both, Krishna 3D and Ganesh 3D are available on the Chrome webstore, in the life style section under category religion. The Krishna 3D is also available on the Apple app store for $1.99. “The idea was to create a peaceful audio-visual experience that people can visit for some calm. “We get 1,000 users per day, out of which 40 per cent are from out of the country, such as Russia and Brazil,” says Dhakephalkar, adding that during festivals, the visitor count increases by another 1,000.
“The Internet quality in India is really poor, so a video may take time to buffer. But after that it is as good as watching a video on YouTube,” explains Dhakephalkar. Fifteen to 20 per cent of their users are return visitors, and the number is increasing, he adds. “The Ganesh puja is a very eco-friendly way to make offerings, especially during Ganesh Chaturthi when water pollution becomes a major issue,” says Dhakephalkar. The VirtualWorship (.in) site and the Chrome Web Apps are freely accessible and they rely on donations from our users to help create other such temples