Similarly, Gyani Maharjan says she spends a most of her days on video calls and other social media platforms. Because she has high blood pressure and is therefore at a greater risk for a more serious infection if she contracts the virus, she too is limiting physical contact with others, including family.
To stay healthy physically as well as mentally, she participates in a yoga class through a messenger application on her mobile. Like Dhanamaya, she says this has helped her regain a sense of community when she would otherwise be almost completely isolated.
Gyani and her nine siblings changed the way they celebrated the festival season this year, but she says, this did not make them feel any less connected as a family. During recent festivals, each sibling would participate in group video calls where they would show what they had prepared for that particular day and joke with each other and laugh. Gyani said she feels less anxious and stressed when she gets to connect using these platforms and watch videos of her grandchildren.
In India, virtual reality (VR) platforms are being marketed as a way to enable people to do darshan even when they cannot physically get to the temples. This began even before the beginning of the pandemic for people who have moved out of their home state or to a foreign country, because they are elderly or ill, and for those who the major traffic jams of the Indian metropolises prevented them from visiting the temples regularly.
Smartphone application downloads for VR temple experiences have increased exponentially since temples were closed in response to the spread of Covid-19. VR apps enable priests to continue to perform the rituals and maintain their livelihoods while devotees can continue to engage, though from afar.
Likewise, many Americans have adopted the habit of attending virtual church from their laptops every Sunday. Even after the virus is managed and in-person worship can resume, many churches report that they will continue live streaming weekly services to accommodate those who are unable to attend the service or who prefer to worship from home.
However, not everyone has embraced these changing forms of worshiping and socialising though. Baburaja Bajracharya, a priest, says he has heard that some of the Brahmin priests are instructing people to perform puja through video calls, however, he and other Newa priests that he knows have not adopted this practice.
For Baburaja and many others who are hesitant to involve technology in religious practice or who reject it outright, the experience and perceived benefits of being at a temple or in the presence of a priest during puja cannot be replicated virtually. The sense of community afforded through religious practice is not felt to the same degree when those experiences are happening on a mobile phone.