Friday, December 30, 2005


India: The Power of Technology and SMS in Indian Temples

SMS or Short Messaging Service is the default mode of communication for many cell users. The other default method of communication is the "missed call" phenomenon. The "missed call" is a very interesting trend, and a fascinating one. Talk about eeeking out every paisa from your service provider :-)

It is wonderful to see how the world of mobile communication is morping and changing in India. Millions of users have access to mobile phones, and millions of SMS messages fly to and fro between various cell users all over India. Not email, but SMS is the preferred mode of communication. Interestingly there appears to be a limit on the size of the is generally about 160 characters. An upshot of the spread of this technology is the new lingo that is being created on the fly. On a personal note, I am sometimes lost when I have to decipher these cryptic SMS messages.

The mobile phone has also turned out to be a new medium for advertisers and advertising revenue. It is an economical way to use your advertising money. You can send one message to many users...that is broadcast the message to a huge user base.

Besides advertisers, other savvy organizations and institutions have discovered the power of SMS. One such institution are the temples in India, who have discovered the power of technology and telecom to deliver rich media solutions to their clients. There are two temples that appear to be in the forefront of implementing IT solutions to make the whole process of praying and seeking blessings a relatively pain-free and hassle-free process. No more pushing and shoving, and jostling in a tightly packed room. Sit back, relax, have a cup of tea and seek your blessings from the comfort of your living room. Welcome the world of virtual living.

Siddhivinayaka Temple at Prabhadevi in Mumbai has a website with all the works. I have passed by this temple numerous times, but have never stepped in.

This is a temple that almost everybody in Bombay appears to visit. It is a "must-do" thing for the folks from the entertainment world. The "60 Minutes" interview of Aishwarya Rai was partially shot at this temple. More recently, Abhishek and Jaya Bachchan were seen praying at this temple. Then there is the famous story of the lady who loves everything that starts with "K"...the head of Balaji Productions...her name slips my mind...who walks from her home in Juhu to the temple. And, that is quite a walk.

The temple appears to have embraced technology completely. They have an official website. You can send donations by downloading a form, and those of you who live outside the country, don't worry all your security and firewall concerns have been addressed: there is a special payment gateway to handle your donations. Not only do you have a choice of banks to route your donation, but you also have the option of using your credit card. Note that there is no bank charge for this transaction.

No time to go for a puja at the temple? Or live far away and cannot drive or fly down? That is not an issue. You can sit in the comfort of your house, and depending on your Internet connectivity speed, you can watch a live webcasting. So, finally I was able to see a bit of live puja through my broadband connection. I no longer feel guilty for not having stepped into the temple. Whew! What a relief! Look Ma, I had a darshan of Ganeshji.

The latest feature that the temple has added is SMS. Yes, you can send SMS prayer requests. The temple has teamed with Mauj, mobile games and content provider for the SMS service. The temple's CEO (yes, there is one) mentioned somewhere that they have not advertised this feature to many people, and yet they have got thousands of SMS. Probably the CEO has not heard about the power of word of mouth advertisment in India.

Other temples are not being left behind in this race, and are fast adopting and utilizing the latest and greatest technology. (I wonder if some of the temples have an IT department? On second thoughts, I think not. They might have outsourced it.)

Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh, the temple which is supposed to have crossed the Vatican in its earnings, is also an IT enabled organization compelete with website, edonations, audio and SMS. (When I checked I got an error from their audio page...somebody needs to check on that and fix it.) They don't seem to have live webcasting. The temple has a call center that handles "queries" from people, and the SMS component is another way of reaching out and getting Lord Venkateshwara's blessings. Tirupathi gets about 14-15 million people a year and that is almost the size of the current population of Bombay! No wonder IT is being harnassed to help sort the log jam.

Indian temples are not the only ones embracing technologies, other religious institutions appear to be on the same path. In the US, many churches have their own radio station, and if you missed a sermon, you can download and listen the sermon on your iPod. I am sure that mosques, Buddhist temples, Parsee temples, and synagogues and other religious institutions have adapted and adopted similar technologies.

As this year draws to an end I am mulling my options. Should I watch the live webcast from Siddhivinayaka and seek virtual blessings, or send an SMS prayer request to Tirupati? I wonder if there is an URL that I can send asking for a particular prayer to be recited for me? (There is a business idea for somebody looking to start one.) Or, do I brave the cold and trek to the nearest temple? Who knows? I might just sleep in after the New Year's celebration.

SMS is supposed to be the thing in 2006 for India and most other nations.
Great Blog you have going. I thoroughly enjoyed your post on SMS in temples. Goes a long way in showing how seamlessly our tradition is embracing moderninty,

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