In addition to dispensing punya to people who call you, you can also earn punya for yourself. How? For 5 rupees, just download a religious wall paper as the background for your cell phone. The payoff? It lights up every time someone calls you, giving you small doses of darshan throughout the day. There's even a cartoon wall paper version of Lord Ram and his wife, for the young at heart. Or maybe it is meant for kids, to give them an early start in the lifelong process of acquiring merit.
Astrologers have gone online as well. The simple road-side jyotish now has competition from "Ask Pandit" services, where for a fee paid online, you get horoscope consultation and religious advice via email. Advice is provided on everything under the sun, ranging from marriage, career, infertility and education. It is a tiered price structure, starting at $2 for a basic reading, and progressively becoming more expensive as you ask for more specific information. Oh and there's a shopping cart, where you can pay by credit card.
The big temples have understood technology too. The richest, Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, offers e-Darshan, a facility where you can buy tokens online so you don't have to queue up to see the Lord. The Tirupati website proudly explains that they're now using biometrics to regulate entry at the temple gates. Tirupati also has branded their other offerings - they have e-Seva, e-Hundi, e-Donation and e-Sales (whatever that is!). The website is a smoothly functioning e-Commerce centre, where you can engage with the Lord from the comfort of your home.
But if you really want to see technology working hand-in-hand with religion, you should go see Akshardham in Delhi. It's a sort of cross between a hi-tech Disneyland and a traditional temple. There is a boat ride though an artificial tunnel, a yagna-kund that is also a synchronised colourful fountain, an "audio-animatronics" show, and a giant movie screen that shows a special movie filmed in over 100 locations in India, with a cast of 45000 people.
Akshardham has welcomed technology, dreamt large dreams in technicolour using technology, and moulded technology with a confident hand to fit the special needs of its faithful. The scale and drama of Akshardham make me wish it were a metaphor for modern India - eager to accept new learning, but at the same time, vibrant and self-confident enough to convert it into something uniquely Indian. Do you think that will happen?
In any case, to me it looks like Technology is quite permanently wedded to Religion in India, and this is going to be a long and fruitful marriage. All I can say is - Jiyo mere dulha dulhan. May you prosper and produce interesting offspring!