Pontiff reaches overseas devotees through IT

Monday, 25 November 2002, 08:00 Hrs
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CHENNAI: There could perhaps be no better example of how religion can adopt technology than the story of a Hindu pilgrimage centre in Tamil Nadu.

The Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is one of the first major religious institutions in India to introduce computer-aided services for thousands of its followers around the world.

The centre, established by the first Shankaracharya about 2,000 years ago about 80 km south of Chennai in Kancheepuram town, went online about five years ago.

Today, its Web site, www.kamakoti.org, has 5,000 web pages -- 2,000 of them in Tamil. A Telugu service is to be launched shortly.

The site is maintained by the centre's own computer division; all accounting and financial records are maintained on computers.

And it is not just computers, but the entire gamut of electronic technology that is bringing a revolution in the dissemination of religion at Kanchi.

Most gizmos were presented to the centre by expatriate Indians and industrialist devotees who were only too glad to be able to give servers, special screens and printers, telephones, fax machines, anything that would help the place modernise, instead of the traditional gifts of fruits and jewellery.

There are closed circuit TVs in the centre that telecast in-house programmes to various departments, schools and other institutions of learning run by it.

Especially popular are talks by Kanchi pontiff Jayendra Saraswathi and dignitaries who visit him throughout the year. The best part is that the pontiff can now interact with his devotees through a video conferencing facility.

A week ago, the pontiff talked to 5,000 Hindus at a gathering in a badminton stadium in Kuala Lumpur across the oceans.

Hindu seers are reportedly not permitted to cross the seas but online there is no such limit and the CEO of the Kanchi centre loves to bless his overseas followers whenever there is an occasion.

"This is not the first such videoconference he has had with his devotees," says Vasanth Mehta, who heads the communications division of the centre.

A graduate from BITS, Pilani, Mehta says very often Saraswathi has religious discussions with his followers in the U.S.

But the conference with Malaysian Hindus on November 17 was the biggest event of its kind.

The pontiff spoke to his Malaysian followers from a facility at Sastra, a university in the temple town of Thanjavur.

As many as 37 Hindu groups including the Malaysia Hindu Sangam, Malaysia Hindu Dharma Mamandram, Malaysia Siva Sidhantha Mandram and International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) participated.

The Shankaracharya discussed how to propagate Hindu religion, especially to the younger, technology savvy members of the community.

Subjects as complex as the "Relevance of Hinduism in Modern Society" and "Challenges of Hinduism from Within and Without" were debated at the daylong event.

One programme on the agenda of Hindus in Malaysia and in Kanchi was "modernising Hindu print and electronic media" to reinforce the faith.

More electronically printed books in Tamil, English, Malaysian and other languages using modern desktop technology are on the cards.

So is the production of audio-visual religious aids, CD-ROMs, VCDs, DVDs, CDs and more Web sites about Hinduism -- a long-term programme to be guided by the citadel of tech-savvy Hinduism, the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.
Source: IANS
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