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Linking Ancient and Modern, A Worldwide Web of Worship

T.K. Jayaraaman waits at Sri Rangam temple in southern India, where he arranges for a Hindu priest to perform devotional rituals purchased by customers of an Internet firm in Chennai.
T.K. Jayaraaman waits at Sri Rangam temple in southern India, where he arranges for a Hindu priest to perform devotional rituals purchased by customers of an Internet firm in Chennai. (Kevin Sullivan - The Washington Post)

From another vendor, he bought a small packet of red and yellow powder, made from vermilion, sandalwood and turmeric, and placed it in his basket.

Jayaraaman walked deeper into the temple complex, arriving at a door that only Hindus may pass through. Inside, he said, he stood before the reclining god, bowed his head and handed the offering basket to Balaji, the priest. Balaji tossed flower petals and basil sprigs onto the statue and called the god's names 108 times. Jayaraaman told him the customer's name -- Kumararajah -- and the priest chanted it loudly, praising Vishnu in her name: "You are great! You are good! Bring her good health, good fortune, a good life!"

Balaji blessed the powder, tucked it into a folded bit of white paper and handed it back to Jayaraaman. Eventually the packet would be mailed to Kumararajah in London, along with a letter certifying that her order with Saranam.com had been filled.

For his efforts, Jayaraaman earned about 75 cents.

"I don't know anything about these people -- except their name and star date," he said. "But it makes me very proud to send them God's grace."

Outside the temple later, Balaji said he liked the temple's mix of old and new. Many people live far away and cannot travel here, he pointed out, so Saranam.com and other Internet-based services are bringing a new wave of worshipers to his ancient temple in spirit, a phenomenon the temple encourages.

"Of course," he said, "we have a Web site, too."

Back in chilly London, Kumararajah awaited her shipment in the offices of the family software company; her mother and sister also purchase pujas regularly from Saranam.com. Dressed in a flowing pink traditional dress, Kumararajah said she couldn't wait to get the red and yellow paste, blessed at a temple she dreams of visiting someday.

When it arrives, she said, she will mix it with a few drops of water and wear it on her forehead, in the traditional Hindu style indicating the presence of God.

"I will put it on every day," she said. "It will give me peace of mind."


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