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Hinduism in Cyberspace


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HINDUISM IN CYBERSPACE By BRADLEY STERLING ACKROYD A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2006

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Copyright 2006 by Bradley Sterling Ackroyd

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ACKNOWLEDMENTS This thesis is dedicated to my olde r brother, Norm, whose lifelong love for computers and science fiction novels was the ge nesis of my own interest in cyberspace and technology. His technical a dvice and assistance with th is thesis was invaluable.

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iv TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDMENTS....................................................................................................iii ABSTRACT.......................................................................................................................vi CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................1 2 CYBERSPACE AND SACRED SPACE.....................................................................9 Definition and Significance of the Internet................................................................9 Religion and the Internet..........................................................................................17 Taxonomy of Hindu-Related Sites...........................................................................21 Authority and Unity in a Global Context.................................................................31 Concluding Remarks................................................................................................36 3 THE DOMAINS OF HINDU TEMPLES IN AMERICA.........................................38 Assimilation, Accretion, and Adaption....................................................................38 Temple Culture.........................................................................................................39 Ecumenical Tendencies and Temple Names............................................................41 Website Aesthetics and Technology........................................................................47 Little India ..........................................................................................................48 Seva, Dana, and Temple Budgets............................................................................52 Promotion and Advertisement..................................................................................58 4 VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM: HINDU STUDENTS COUNCIL ACTIVITIES ONLINE..............................................................................................63 Ethnic Preservation and Generational Conflict........................................................63 Hindu Students Council (HSC)................................................................................66 Hindu Students Council on the World Wide Web...................................................68 Website Aesthetics and Technology........................................................................75 Interactivity and Community...................................................................................78 Concluding Remarks................................................................................................84

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v 5 VIRTUAL REALITIES: VIRTUAL RITUAL AND CYBERCOMMUNITY.........87 A Satguru's Cybercall...............................................................................................87 Embodiment and Authenticity.................................................................................88 Virtual Ritual ..........................................................................................................94 CyberCommunities.................................................................................................101 Concluding Remarks..............................................................................................116 6 CONCLUSION.........................................................................................................118 APPENDIX A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL TEMPLE WEBSITES USED IN STUDY.................124 B TEMPLES WITH GENERAL, ECUMENICAL NAMES......................................127 C TEMPLES WITH DEITY OR LINEAGE SPECIFIC NAMES..............................129 D LIST OF HSC CHAPTERS OBSERVED...............................................................131 E EMAIL QUESTIONNAIRE....................................................................................133 F HSC CHAPTERS EMAILED THE QUESTIONNAIRE........................................134 G HSC LOGO..............................................................................................................135 H DISCUSSION ON FAITH.......................................................................................136 I DEVANAGARI-STYLED FONT............................................................................138 LIST OF REFERENCES.................................................................................................139 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH...........................................................................................143

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vi Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts HINDUISM IN CYBERSPACE By Bradley Sterling Ackroyd May 2006 Chair: Vasudha Narayanan Major Department: Religion Much like a Venn diagramwith Hinduism, Am erica, and the Inte rnet as the three circlesthis thesis explores the relationship and intersec tion of American Hinduism in cyberspace. The focus is on how the Internet is used by Hindus in America, though this question must be explored in the larger context of Hindu migra tion and adaption to America. The Internet is a primary tool used by Hindu communities to maintain broad suburban networks and communities, pa rticularly built around the temples and community centers. Therefore, the Internet is shaping Hindu communities in America by allowing massive, simultaneous communication among large groups of practitioners and extended families. However, the Internet al so reflects adaptations and transformations that Hindus developed in becoming pa rt of the American melting pot. As Hindus migrated to America and assim ilated into American culture, certain elements of their religious practice have in evitably been dropped, wh ile other aspects are transformed and retained. American Hinduism tends to be ecumenical, simultaneously representing many various Hindu traditions, in an inclusive effort to bring many

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vii immigrant minority Indians together as a uni fied group. Such unity provides a support network and social community, and is funda mental to the process of migration. However, some skeptics are concerned that this ecumenical tendency is creating a generic, Brahminical ideology th at breeds Hindutva ideals and revisionist histories. While Hinduvta elements have indeed seeped into th e American cultural and religious bricolage, and found a new home in cyberspace, my study indicates that the orthodoxy and Hindutva are only one portion of Hinduism in cyberspace and America; and a relatively small portion, at that. To the contrary, the Internet provides of multiplication of voices, allowing many diverse individuals to expre ss their beliefs and e xperiences. As the Internet continues to increase in usage and sign ificance, it will cont inue to generate and reflect the diversity of Hinduism, and the many global variations in practice and belief.

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1 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Much like a Venn diagramwith Hinduism, Am erica, and the Inte rnet as the three circlesthis thesis explores the relationship and intersec tion of American Hinduism in cyberspace. The focus is on how the Internet is used by Hindus in America, though this question must be explored in the larger context of Hindu migration and adaption1. The Internet is a primary tool used by Amer ican Hindu communities to maintain broad suburban networks and communities (par ticularly those built around temples and community centers). Theref ore, the Internet is shaping Hindu communities in America by allowing massive, simultaneous communication among large groups of practitioners and extended families. However, the Internet also reflects adaptations and transformations Hindus have developed in becoming part of the American melting pot. During Hindu assimilation2 into American culture, certain elemen ts of their religious practice have inevitably been dropped, while other aspect s are retained and transformed. American Hinduism tends to be ecumenical, simultane ously representing various Hindu traditions, in an inclusive effort to bring minority Indi ans together as a unified group. Such unity provides a support network and social communit y, and is fundamental to the process of migration. For this reason, many scholars, including Raymond Brady Williams, refer to the American form of Hinduism as Ecumenical Hinduism. 1 I have, rather unreflectively, used the terms adaption and adaptation as synonymous words referring to the general process of retaining and modifying Indian cultural elements in America. 2 I have used the term assimilation to mean the gradual process that migrant non-resident Indians adopt American customs and attitudes.

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2 The seeds for ecumenical, inclusive attitude s and shared sacred worship are not a uniquely American dimension of Hinduism, with India having a long history of religious diversity and inclusivity. Indian Muslims, Sikhs and varieties of Hindus have shared sacred places of worship in India, and this seems to have prepared many Indians for inclusive shared worship in the American melting pot. However, some skeptics are concerned that this ecumenical te ndency is creating a generic, Sanskritized ideology that (in some contexts) breeds Hindutva ideals and revisionist histories. While Hindutva elements have indeed seeped into the American cultural and religious bricolage, and found a new home in cyberspace, my study indicates that orthodoxy and Hindutva are only one porti on of American Hinduism in cyberspace; and a relatively small portion, at that. American (Ecumenical) Hinduism does not represent a homogenization of history and ideals built along anti-Muslim ideology, but rather a hybridized transformation built ar ound general commonalities. The Internet supplements this diversity by providing a multiplication of voices, allowing many individuals to express their be liefs and experiences, and offers a forum to discuss their challenges and solutions. As the Internet cont inues to increase in usage and significance, it will likewise continue to generate and re flect the diversity and flexibility of Hinduism, and the many global and individual va riations in practice and belief. Chapter 1 analyzes central issues invo lved with religion in cyberspace, and attempts to answer key questions regarding the possibility for performing religion online. I then outline the various types of websites relating to Hinduism, focusing on the various degrees of information and interaction provided and allowed by the Internet. The dynamics of Internet communication are diffe rent from other forms of communication,

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3 and cyberspace presents distinct limitations as well as new benefits. How Hinduism is constructed online, and who controls this inform ation, is a central conc ern of this chapter. Chapter 2 explores the various websites for Hindu temples in America, analyzing the function of the Inte rnet and what can be learned a bout Hinduism in America from the World Wide Web. The Internet actually re flects the ecumenical nature of American Hinduism, and the various strategies and tec hnologies of assimilation. Temple activities and services are promoted through their web si tes, and list-serves function as a tool for outreach and networking. Furthermore, the In ternet provides an efficient means for generating temple membership, funds, volunteer service and community support programs. Chapter 3 analyzes the websites of th e various chapters of the Hindu Students Council (HSC), and explores the same ecume nical dynamics. Differences in culture and values between the first-generation migrant parents and their American-born children create distinct challenges that are worked out in the home, temple community and within the childrens social group of peers. The HSC presents a forum for these American-born Hindus to discuss these difficulties on their own terms, and build a student community for support. Though the HSC is officially part of the Vishva Hindu Parishad in America (VHPA), each chapter is individually ma naged and operated by students from each campus, with little oversight from the natio nal HSC office or the VHPA. Furthermore, emphasis on the performing arts, social enga gements and discussions about interracial dating show us that these are not young Hindutvavadins, but rather young adults working out difficult issues relating to minority status generational conflicts with their parents and elders, and challenges of being Hindu in a Christian majority nation.

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4 Chapter 4 addresses the current applic ations and potential for the online performance of Hinduism. Online services such as online astrology and marriage matchmaking servicesand virtua l ritualssuch as streaming bhajans digital darshan and cyberpujas present a beginning to online reli gion performance, though they still primarily serve as supplemental practices. Ho wever, the interactive nature of cyberspace and Internet communication have created various online cybercommunities, which generate significant dialogue and disc ussion. Although these communities may not replace real life social ne tworks, they do constitute a form of online religious performance so long as they create and maintain social solidarity a nd religious identity. Concerns regarding Hindut va presence in America and on cyberspace should be taken with a grain of salt, and distincti ons between generic Hi ndu beliefs and Hindutva ideology must be established. The emphasi s on broad, general Hindu beliefs does not mean that American Hinduism and the HSC are Hindutvan, because Hindutva (or Hinduness) is a political retelling of Indian history, a nd not a religious ideology. In his seminal Hindutva text, Veer Sava rkar (2003: 4) explains that When we attempt to investigate into th e essential significan ce of Hindutva we do not primarilyand certainly not mainlyc oncern ourselves with any particular theocratic or religious dogma or creedH indutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race. Lal (2003: 108) further explai ns that Hindutva operates by Drawing upon the writings of Veer Sava rkar, Madhav Sadashiv, and other Hindu ideologies who defined India as the eterna l land of the Hindus and insisted that the blood of Hindus streamed through everyone born in the motherland ( janmabhoomi ), the advocates of a renewed Hindu militancy have endeavored to turn Indiato deploy Islamic terminol ogyinto the land of the pure and the faithful. However, Savarkar (2003: 9192) is clear that not everyone born in the fatherland is Hindu, and not everyone accepting Hindu beliefs is Hindutvan because

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5 we Hindus are bound together not only by the tie of the love we bear to a common fatherland and by the common blood that courses through our veins and keeps our hearts throbbing and our affections wa rm, but also by the tie of the common homage we pay to our great civilizati onWe are one because we are a nation a race and own a common Sanskriti (civilization). Savarkar builds this definition of the Hindu race along an anti-Muslim platform, with an inclusive attitude towards all indigenous Indian religions, incl uding Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and the many variations of Hinduism. Revisionist history of Hindutva is problematic, for a number of key reasons. First, the factual accounts of Hindutvan history are highly erroneous, and built solely around sensationalized accounts in north Indian hi story and language. Sout h Indian history and dynasties (as well as linguistic, cultural and re ligious variations) are completely omitted from Savarkars unified history. Second, Sa varkar includes religious communities that sought to identify themselves outside the Hindu fold (suc h as Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism), denying their unique history and identity. Lastly, Savarkars emphasis on religious traditions indigenous to India fails to account fo r the reasons that Islam and Christianity became established in the Indi an subcontinent, and the various methods by which these foreign traditions were local ized and adapted. Islam is a South Asian tradition, representing a substant ial percentage of the populat ion and primary contributor to the Indian history and culture, de spite Muslim origins in Arabia. The process of globalization itself is ch allenging such nationa listic politics and identities as local traditio ns spread beyond their geographi c boundaries and develop new variations; Hinduism is no longer a South Asia n religious tradition, despite its origins in India. Cyberspace, which exists outside of geographic boundaries, is now furthering this process by illuminating the many global variations of Hinduism, and by providing religious information and ritual practices in the domain of cyberspace. Therefore, the

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6 Internet brings two dynamics to the table: first, it allows for religious discussion and practice outside the basic geographic boundaries of traditional religious performance; and second, it is providing a voice and forum to express the many global variations of Hindu belief and practice. Although global Hinduism still is largely wedded to individuals and communities of South Asian ethnic origins, many of the American Hindu communities are twiceimmigrated, having moved to the US from parts of the Carribean, Africa and Europe. Furthermore, many Hindu religious groups ar e drawing in American converts; some groups, such as the International Society fo r Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and the Shaiva Siddhanta Church, are quite conscious of a connectio n to the geographic borders of India, and are active in their global outreach and connection to Hindus (and Hare Krishnas) around the world. Other groups, includ ing the myriad of American gurus and religious movements (Transcendental Medi tation, Deepak Chopras Center, Siddha Yoga, etc.), draw on all-inclusive tropes to bring in Caucasian Amer ican participants, and do not emphasize the Indian origins of thei r practice and tradition. Unfortunately, due to the scope and time-restrictions of this thesis, these groups were not included in this analysis. Despite broad parallels of inclusivity in Hindutva history a nd American Hinduism, the similarity ends there. Savarkar places great significance on the varna system, though caste importance is often dropped outside of I ndia, especially in America. Furthermore, American Hinduism draws on many sources of south Indian ethnicity and religion, including south Indian sects (such as the Shaiva Siddhanta Church), deities (especially Venkateswara and Murugan), and performing arts (such as Carnatic music and

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7 Bharatnatyam dance). Furthermore, ecume nical tendencies are not the same as homogenization or unification; Hindus in America do not share the same deities, but rather include many deities together in shared spaces, including temples spaces and cyberspace. Many of the dynamics of Hinduism in Amer ica are a product of the particular group of Hindus that immigrated to America. Statistically speaki ng, American Hindus are among the wealthiest individua l groups in the US. Although the statistics show a high medium income and education for American Hindus, we must not make any overarching generalizations about individuals. Many Indian s in America are working class, and not part of the elite occupations, such as me dicine, business, engineering, finance or computer programming. Nonetheless, with a prevalence in the IT industry and a high level of education in general, American Hindus have access to the Internet, and are among the most active developers of Internet sites and technologies. While this thesis explores the distinct challenges to performing religion online, many American Hindus are receptive to technol ogical revolutions because of their urban environments, socio-economic status, edu cation and occupations. Therefore, though many scholars are concerned that online reli gious performance will never be considered authentic, such technophobic skepticism seem s ungrounded. In only the first 10 years of the Internets existence, Hinduism has flourishe d in cyberspace. Furthermore, I anticipate this trend to continue to de velop globally, particularly as India becomes more globally dominant in the IT industry. Although education and socio-economic status are significant factors, the rapid migration of Hinduism to cyberspace also reflects the great significance of sight and

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8 sound given in Hindu ritual performance. Th erefore, although In ternet technology is currently limited to text, images, a nd sounds, Hindus can still have sight ( darshan ) of a sacred deity, guru, temple, or tirtha (sacred site) online, and even listen to sacred bhajans shlokas, and mantras Virtually every American Hindu temple now has a web site and actively use e-mail listserves for outreach, and many sites now offer various online Hindu services. Soon Hindus will be able to witness the perf ormance of religious song and dance online, take virtual pilgrima ges of sacred sites and temples, see the blessed site of their guru, or witness a family members samskara (life-cycle ritual) through a web cam. While it is difficult to as certain the religious significance of the Internet because it is so new, it is clear th at religious ideology and praxis are rapidly migrating to cyberspace. Just as Hinduism has transformed as it has migrated to new geographic spaces, so too can we expect new transformations as Hinduism migrates to cyberspace. my lack of training in the field of globa lization has resulted in a somewhat careless use of globalization terminology through the essay. Rather unre flectively, I have used the terms assimilation, adaption and adaptation as somewhat synonymous terms, when in actuality the concepts are used to refer to di stinctly different processes. For example, I have used assimilation and adaption to refer to two separate but related functions: the process of retaining Indian cu ltural elements while living in the US, and the process of incorporating American cultural elements into their lives. The ambiguity of this terminology ultimately reflects my inexperi ence in the subset of globalization and religion, and reflects my need for future training in this field.

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9 CHAPTER 2 CYBERSPACE AND SACRED SPACE Definition and Significance of the Internet The Internet, though grammatically written as a proper noun, is not one single 'place' or communication protocol. In popular usag e, the Internet typica lly refers to e-mail and the World Wide Web, which actually account for the vast majority of Internet usage. Technically, the Internet refers to the overall exchange of information between individual computers and servers, using a variety of telecommunication networ ks (copper telephone lines, coaxial cable lines, fiber optic connections wireless frequencies, etc.), transmitting data in 'packets' using an IP address (Internet Protocol). Fo r example, when one computer sends an e-mail, this message is broken into a series of small p ackets, encoded with a recipient address (IP) and the packets are relayed through a series of other computers (servers) and network lines, ev entually finding its way to the correct mail server, where the packets are reassembled into the original e-mail message. It is important to note that the Internet and World Wide Web are not synonymous. The Internet refers to the entire coll ection of networked computers and servers communicating through various telecommunication systems. The World Wide Web is only one aspect of the Internet and consists of a series of web documents, stored and networked on web servers, and made accessi ble using hyperlinks and URL's. Although the World Wide Web and e-mail comprise the ma jority of all Internet usage, many other Internet protocols are use d, including newsgroups, FTP and file sharing, Instant

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10 Messaging, Gopher, session access, as well as re al-time services such as Internet radio, streaming video and other live web casts. The use of the term 'Internet' can be somewhat arbitrary, particularly when conflated with other prefixes, such as 'cyber', 'virtual', and 'e-/electronic' (such as in ecommerce, or e-mail). Not all electronic transm ission of data is considered part of the Internet. For example, with recent advancem ents in cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDA's), communication between computer-based messa ging and e-mail is accessible through interfaces other than a computer Yet, this is not considered Internet usage for two basic reasons. First, techni cally, the Internet an d text messaging use different protocols; the Inte rnet uses a 'standardized' IP, whereas text messaging uses Short Message Service (SMS). More impor tantly however, recei ving a cell phone text message generally does not constitute Internet exchange because it is imagined as part of the already established te lephone technology, though the te lecommunication lines and network routers used in information excha nges may be the same. Although the Internet represents the latest t echnological efforts in th e ongoing development of telecommunication technologies it is still based upon the previously established technologies, and therefor e still limited by them. Though the terms are arguably still being defined, 'Internet' and 'cyberspace' represent subtly distinct ideas In popular usage, if the In ternet refers to the general exchange of information through networked co mputers, then cybers pace represents the virtual 'place' where this exchange occurs. Whereas the Internet represents the real, physical networks of users, computers, and ne twork protocols, cyberspace is an imagined zone created by this network and compute r-based interface. Brenda Brasher sees

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11 cyberspace as a fiction of public etiquette that orients peopl e in a virtual environment. An abstract idea with electronic components, cyberspace identifies th e expanse, if not the time, where those communicating by means of computers believe and act if they are (Brasher 2001). Cyberspace is not merely the place, but also refers to the activities and communications that occur within the Intern et; thus Vsquez and Marquardts definition of cyberspace as the shifting public sphere s and subcultures, th e cognitive and social digital matrix, generated by the Internet (2003: 94). When 'logged-in' to cyberspace, one imagin es that they are no longer within the physical bounds of nationality, borders and place. The user has access to a nearly limitless encyclopedia of information, from a vast array of sources, and contact with other users around the globe. This reflects th e two greatest strengths of the Internet: information and interaction The interactivity allowed by the e-mail and online chat makes exchange of ideas and information possible in new ways, through a myriad of textual, audio and video interfaces. Although the Internet has revolutionized information storage and accessibility, there are significant limitations to the Internet. Si nce the Internet is built upon previously established technologies, it can only function as prescrib ed by these technologies. Therefore, as Hjsgaard and Warburg point out the Internet by a nd large can be used either as a television set or as a tele phone. In the first case, the Internet transmits messages...from content provider(s) to conten t consumer(s). In the second case, the Internet connects people from various places (Hjsgaard and Warburg 2005: 6). However, the Internet also transcends some limitations of print and broadcast technologies by:

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12 (1) enabling many-to-many communicatio n; (2) enabling the simultaneous reception, alteration, and redistribution of cultural objects ; (3) dislocating communicative action from the posts of the nation, from the territorialized spatial relations of modernity; (4) providing instantaneous globa l contact; and (5) inserting the modern/late modern subject into an information machine apparatus that is networked. (Vsquez and Marquardt 2003: 95) The Internet can therefore transmit more information faster than other technologies, and connect more people simultaneously. The Internet is also limited by the content providers and consumers; i.e., those with the resources, training and access to comput ers and a network. Lvheim and Linderman (2005: 125) remind their reader that Susan Herring's research on gender and partic ipation in chat rooms is one of many indications that the Internet reflects, or even might reinforce, certain inadequacies in society. Although the Internet offers oppor tunities to acquire new skills and new knowledge, different Inte rnet arenas also require certain technical, social, and cultural skills that differe nt individuals may be more or less endowed with. If the Internet users represent a dispropor tionate make-up of society, than the same inadequacies of representation will likewise occur on the Internet. For example, Vinay Lal writes that in even as large a country as India, the largest democracy in the world, only a million people have Internet connections, and they are the ones who already have at their disposal fax, telephone, and other means of communication... (Lal 2003: 101). Furthermore, if we accept that one of th e iron rules of cyberspace...is that it is intrinsically Republican, or inegalitarian; its most keen enthusiasts are white, upper-class males (103), then we may indeed agree with arguments that cybe rspace represents a more ominous phase of Western colonialism, the homogenization of knowledge and, in tandem, the elimination of local knowle dge systems (101). However, such bold statements require critical assessment. Lal's st atistic of one million users is not only three years old, but is also a pessimistically lo w estimate. Figures from The Internet and

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13 Mobile Association of India (IAMAI http://iamai.in /), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU http://www.itu.int/home/ ) and the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM http://www.nasscom.org/ ) estimate that there are currently about 7-8 million Internet subscribers in India, and anywhere from 35-40 million Internet Users. The IAMAI's stated goal on their website is to have 100 million users by next year, with significant raises in female users as well (http://www.iamai.in/section.php3 ?secid=16&press_id=822&mon=2 ). Furthermore, while access to the Internet is clearly limited by one's socioeconomic position, the Internet also has significant de mocratizing potential. Without a strict governing body to censor web content and e-mail exchange, and with the help of recent initiatives by companies offering free web space to host individual web pages, those with access to the Internet can express their own vi ews, insights and expe riences regardless of authority or education. This is in part due to the anonymity of In ternet exchange, and a lack of authoritative and ed itorial review. Hjsgaard and Warburg (2005: 7) write that Cyberspace. .basically represents a 'mu ltiplication of voices'. Among other things, this multiplication of voices means that conve ntional or exclusive beliefs, practices, and organizational authorities are being confronted with alternative solutions, competing worldviews, and subor inte r-group formations. In this interactive environment of increasing pluralism, reflexivity, and multiple individual possibilities, new ways of structuring and thinking about issues such as reality, authority, identity, and commun ity are inevitably emerging. For example, though women have not always been given a forum to express their perspectives and voices within temple, liturg ical or otherwise cl erical boundaries, the Internet provides a space where women can express and investigate religiosity outside the bounds of the religious institution. Thus, while Lal is concerned about the Internet and globalization leading to the elimination of local knowledge syst ems, the Internet

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14 actually provides a forum for the expression of such epistemologies, giving voice to the many unheard peoples and communities. Furthermore, as the Internet becomes a necessity of global exchange and economy, international access to the Intern et has grown greatly (and will surely continue to do so). Worldwide, the number of Internet users is estimated to have been 16 million in 1995, 378 million in 2000, and more than 500 milli on in 2002 (Dawson and Cowan 2004: 5). Current estimates, gathered from various Ne twork Information Centers, the International Telecommunication Union and user polls, pl ace the number of Internet users over one billion (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm ). Although English is the predominant language of the Internet, this refl ects the origins of the Internet (in the US) and the global use of English as a lingua franca more than geographic usage. Computer technologies have been successfully dealing with the use of non-Roman script languages, and are now capable of handling most char acters and scripts. As of 2005, 32% of web users request pages and searches in E nglish, though other la nguages are becoming increasingly prevalent, including Chinese (1 3%), Japanese (8%), Spanish (7%), German (6%) and French (4%). However, language statistics are poten tially misleading, since many individuals outside of English-speaking nations use Englis h. In fact, statistics on Internet usage by continent have shown that 34% of Internet users are in Asia, 29% in Europe and only 23% in North America (http://www.internetworldstats.com/ stats7.htm ). Furthermore, since English, Chinese and Japa nese are the three most used languages on the Internet, and Asian users compose the majority of all Inte rnet users, Lals conc ern that the Internet is intrinsically Republican, or inegalitarian; it s most keen enthusiasts are white, upper-

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15 class males (103) seems overly pessimistic. We must keep in mind th at the Internet has only been around for approximately ten years, and the statistics of the growth in Internet usage suggest (to me) that the democratiz ing potential will come to outweigh white, upper-class dominance. This growth and democratizing potential of the Internet reflects modern social changes, but is also directly influencing society itself. As Daws on and Cowan write, If for no other reason, this phenomenal rate of growth assures the im portance of continued research into the Internet and its effect s on society (Dawson and Cowan 2004: 5). Many scholars argue that the Internet is more than a technological advancement, in line following the printing press, telegraph, telephone, radi o, television and satellite communication. Rather, they see the Internet as a new wave of civilization; a revolution from matter to information. Citing Alvin Toffler Lal argues that the Internet represents a Third Wave of civilization. He writes, If in the First Wave civilization was predominantly agricultural, and the Second Wave ushered in the age of industrial production, in the Third Wave 'the centr al resourcea single phrase broadly encompassing data, information, images, sy mbols, culture, ideology and valuesis actionable knowledge (Lal 2003: 99). This knowledge, or information, is radically altering forms of exchange and commerce, re placing older material forms in a process Michel Bauwens calls 'virtualization': Today, the natural world is being transf ormed not only by using matter and energy, but also by information, leading to a ne w explosion of productivity. In one way, virtualization is the incr eased substitution of matter by information. This substitution has profound consequences for the relations of humankind to nature, between humans and other humans, and be tween humans and machines. This new layer of information is becoming incr easingly prominent as virtualization intensifies. (1996)

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16 What are the potential impact s of this 'virtualization' ? Bauwens (1996) continues by writing that: This alteration has affected leisure time. Many find watc hing nature documentaries on television more preferable than real walks in the woods. This process has been intensified by new cyberspace media. For many, the Internet is not just a continuation of traditional mass media, but a new shift. The Internet, unlike other media, represents a new collective mental space. Hence the notion of cyberspace, a parallel 'virtual' world, co-existing in tande m with real world. Over the long term of human existence, our prehistoric ancest ors existed principally in a natural environment. Civilized humanity occupied an invented architectural environment. Our descendants may principally live in a digital environment (mentally speaking, that is), where they will spend a great d eal of time, working and playing. If this digital revolution is altering civilizati on, it will also impact our metaphysical imagination, the basic buildi ng blocks of our experience. We are in a transition from matter to information, from real life to virtual life. In fact, rl is an acronym commonly used in Internet chat and instant messenger communications to mean real life (also jokingly called 'meatspace'), as opposed to friendships and exchanges occurring only in cyberspace. Yet, Bauwens (1996) sees a transformation in our perception of the 'real': In the past, the credo of science, the i ndustrial world, and materialism was simply "if I can't touch it, it is not real." Today, it is nearly reversed to the point where it could be said "if you can touch it, it's not real." Information has become more important, in political, economic, social, and philosophical terms, than material objects. A good example of this virtual revolution is in online transactions, where the exchange of physical currency has been replaced with elec tronic exchange of funds (which can be accessed through a variety of electronic inte rfaces, including personal computers, telephones and ATM machines). The future of much economic exchange lies within cyberspace, including banking, stocks, and onlin e purchases, slowly eliminating the need for both currency and face-to-face exchanges.

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17 Religion and the Internet If indeed we are engaging a new er a of civilizationcybe rspace, and all it encompassesthen what effect will this vi rtualization have on religion? On the one hand, statistics show that religion is a signi ficant component of the information available on the World Wide Web. Hjsgaard a nd Warburg (2005: 23) write that: By the end of the 1990s there were more than 1.7 million web pages covering religion...By 2004, the number of religious web pages had grown considerably worldwide. There were then approximate ly 51 million pages on religion, 65 million web pages dealing with churches, and 83 million web pages containing the word God...Although religion is not the most popular i ssue of cyberspace the interest in this subject area among Internet users has become widespread: in 2001 28 million Americans had used the Internet for religious purposes. By 2004 the number of persons in the USA who had done things on line relating to reli gious or spiritual matters had grown to almost 82 million. Furthermore, In 1998, a survey of American teenagers by the Barna Research Group of Oxnard, California, showed that one out of six teens said that within the next five years they expected to use the Internet as a subs titute for their current religious practices (Lvheim 2004: 59). Although religion is a topic we ll represented on the Intern et, does this mean that virtual religion can replace or substitute current religious practices? While there are indeed many sites offering information about religion, is this the same as doing religion? Lorne Dawson notes that an element appears to be missing: an element Durkheim perceived to be essential to religious life. Can we do religion online, in the more demanding sense of participating in shared re ligious rites? (Daws on 2005: 15). If we are to understand religion as a social function, we must recognize that religion necessitates action and performance. For Durkheim, this action strengthened and maintained social solidarity, and thus religion is always a moral phenomenon. Whether we accept a Durkheimian approach to religion, or even consider popular usage, Dawson argues that

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18 being religious still implies being part of a group, even if the affiliation is more symbolic and subjective than real. In th e popular mind the notions of religion and community go hand-in-hand (Dawson 2004: 75 ). Therefore, can religious action be performed on the Internet? Many traditional religious churches, organizations and groups have actively engaged cyberspace, using web sites to promote thei r activities and/or beliefs. Yet, in these instances, the Internet is merely an auxiliary tool used to complement their other (real life) activities. Th e Internet may be used to contact members and parishioners, and to advert ise church information, but th e 'religious' work is still being performed in the sacralized ch urch, temple or home (as with home pujas ), and not within the confines of cyberspace. Some progress towards a 'cyber-religion' ha s developed, primarily within the online pagan movements. Bauwens (1996) points out that: There are some movements that are taking a very active role in cyberspace such as the techno-pagans. They use the Internet not only as a self -organizing tool but as a new space that has to be ritualized. For exam ple, Mark Pesce, one of the creators of the Virtual Reality Modeling Language, has developed a Zero Circle on the Internet and used a shamanic ritual to 'sacralise' it. Every three dimensional object will have to position itself against this spiritual "Axis Mundi" or "Center of the World." Similarly, Tibetan monks at the Namgyal In stitute in Ithaca, New York consecrated cyberspace on February 8, using a tantric ritual usually performed by the Dalai Lama himself. Efforts to sacralize cyberspace illustrates the imaginative possi bility for religion to exist in the virtual world paralleling the real world. However, there is strong skepticism regarding the possibility and implications of cyber-religion. Hjsgaard points out that The Internet does not generate religion, only people do...The allegedly pure cyberreligious sites are being produced and used by persons who do not live their entire lives 'on the screen' (Hjsgaard and Warburg 2005: 9). Since all people must survive and exist outside the Internet, it is difficult to imagine that cyberspace cold ever replace the

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19 old, physical borders of the material worl d. As Stephen O'Leary asks, Isn't the physicality of the place itself something that cannot be dispensed with? How could a cyber-temple ever replace the actual wa ll of the real one? (Hjsgaard and Warburg 2005: 9). On the other hand, Dawson, drawing on the concerns of Chris McGillion, suggests that if such a replacement of the real world with the vi rtual world could take place, necessary elements of religion w ould surely be lost. She writes: Striking a Durkheimian note, he [McGillion] fears that the Internet 'encourages people to opt out of the kind of fles h-and-blood relationships that are the indispensable condition of shared religious meanings'. If religion becomes detached from real places, real people, and a real sense of shared time and cultural memory, then how can there ever be a significant measure of collective conscience and collective effervescence? The move of re ligion to cyberspace may be extending disenchantment and the secu larization of the world, in ways unanticipated by its exponents. (Dawson 2005: 19) While some pagan groups have created ne w online pagan movements, without an established real life component this is much more difficult for a previously established religion to transition from sacred spaces to cyberspaces. Yet, even these cyber-pagans groups are composed of members who do exist primarily in real life. Therefore, even though a particular movement only has on line components, sure ly the individual members have real life social groups who shar e similar views and values, and partake in the material culture of paganism. For the in dividuals, cyber-relig ion is still only an auxiliary tool for the other aspects of their total spiritual life. Furthermore, the World Wide Web is only one aspect of the Inte rnet. Interactivity is also a major component of Internet exchange. Going back to a Durkhiemian perspective, a central and necessary elemen t of religion is community. Therefore, can communication of religious ideas and expe riences online constitute cyber-community?

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20 The chat rooms have become an important forum for individuals to discuss religious beliefs, ask questions to other members, and dialogue about specifics of religious practice. If this exchange cr eates a community of regular us ers, who share their insights and experiences, is this not religious action (or actionable knowledge, as Toffler put it)? Some authors are skeptical about calling su ch exchange community, since there is typically not a real life component to this co mmunity, and often this community exists in total anonymity (where users only know each other by their user name and comments). Yet, this interpretation of online communi cation neglects the si gnificance of such dialogue, not only in shaping one's own identi ty, but also in provi ding a forum for selfexpression and exploration. The dynamics of face-to-face, telephone and online communication are clearly different. Face-to-face communication allows in dividuals to communicate and read subtle expressions in the face and body, as well as the intonation of the voice. Indeed, body language and tone transmit tremendous information, sometimes even more than is verbally expressed. While Internet communica tion is still largely text-based, this is changing as Internet technology develops and changes. With the advent of web cams, video and audio online chat are possible, and in fact utilized in many business and social settings. However, this does not mean that te xt-based online chat is less complete than other forms of communication. Text-based ch at provides a new feature not present in other forms: anonymity Vsquez and Marquardt write that the asynchronous, anonymous, and text-intensive nature of computer-mediated communication allows a level of dematerialization and disembodiment hitherto unseen, gene rating identities and forms of sociability quite distinct from t hose built on face-to-face exchanges (2003: 95).

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21 What individuals may be too shy, embarrassed or insecure to expr ess in telephone or face-to-face dialogue, can safely be expressed in online text forums. These forums, then, provide a safe forum for indi viduals (particularl y young adults) to engage and reconsider spiritual ideas they may be unable or unwilling to discuss with their parents, family or clergy. Sensitive issues, such as sexuality a nd dating, can thus be expressed online in relative safety. Taxonomy of Hindu-Related Sites It is difficult to quantify the content of the World Wide Web because of the disorganized nature of the Internet. Searchi ng content is somewhat problematic; there is no one directory with all information and network addresses cataloged. Searching for web pages and documents stored on thousands of web servers located across the globe is not a simple task. Search engines work by regularly sending out automated searches following all links encountered and reporting th e content and address back to the engine, which then stores this information in an indexed database. When a user performs a search, the search engine looks through this database for relevant matches. Unfortunately, these indexes are never complete, primarily b ecause the Web is growing too fast for any current technology to comprehensibly index, and because the vast majority of all content on the web is part of the Deep Web3 Furthermore, the dynamic nature of the Internet and the expense of server storage and hos ting has meant that sites are continuously changing, moving and being dropped. 1 Web pages not accessible or indexa ble by search engines, either because they are dynamically generated, or hidden behind closed and secure networks.

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22 As of January 2006, a Google search of Hi nduism yields anywhere from 15 million to 26 million hits4. As a means of quantifying and in terpreting this ma ssive amount of data, I have divided the sites into eight types, based on content providers and consumers, with various degrees of information provided and interactivity allowed. 1. General sites 2. Academic sites 3. Personal sites 4. Sectarian sites 5. Temples sites 6. Activist sites 7. Virtual Ritual 8. Cyber-Community This classification system, t hough logical, is nonetheless arbitr ary; therefore, there is some overlap between the categor ies. Though most site s available offer l ittle interactivity at this point in time, the current trends in technology are pushing for increased Internet interactivity and mobile access; we can exp ect interactivity to continue to develop, improve and increase in use and significance. General sites typically offer encyclopedic in formation about Hinduism, with varying degrees of detail and accuracy. Th ey can range from broad, all-encompassing web sites such as About.com to online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia.com online newsgroups such as BBC.com or online archives of data an d textual storage, such as the The Internet Sacred Text Archive (http://www.sacred-texts.com/ ). Motivations for these types of sites involve many issues, in cluding advertising revenue, selling products and/or services, and earnest desire to make information available to people. Academic sites typically offer the same style of encyclopedic information about Hinduism, but are hosted on university servers, created by university professors and 2 This range in hits represents only what has been indexed. Far more information is capable of existing on the Internet, but limits of s earch capabilities make accessing the entire available content impossible.

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23 students, and/or are in tended to serve as scholarly and e ducational aids and tools. Some examples include the ELMAR (Electronic Media and Religions) Encyclopedia project at St. Martin's College, University of South Carolina's Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A Project for the Third Millennium site, Minnesota State's Hinduism site, and Exploring Religions: Hinduism sponsored by the Religious Studies Pr ogram at the Univer sity of Wyoming. The Asia Society web page provides the latest news a nd events related to all of Asia, and the American Forum For Global Education features a multimedia collection of primary and secondary source materials, narratives, literature, poetry, ma ps and video clips designed to supplement and enrich existing classroom resources. Many web sites are created by individual professors as aides fo r students and scholars. Gene Thursbys Lifaafaa site has various links related to South Asian studies, and his personal Resources to Orient Students and My Point of View as a Teacher page. Although academic sites are generally hosted on academic servers, the qua lity, detail and accuracy depend largely on the time, money and resources expe nded for the various projects. Whereas the sites listed above are primary reference tools, providing information to the public, other academic sites and Internet protocols enlist high leve ls of interactivity. By networking with other scholars and dial oging about various i ssues, scholars can utilize the insights of many pe ople, and not just their public ations. In this regard, the Internet is enhancing accuracy a nd detail. The Indology.info web site (http://indology.info/ ) provides Resources for Indological Scholarship, and consists of the following: [E-mail ]: an adjunct to INDOLOGY@LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK. [E-texts / Software ]: an archive of Indic e-texts and Indological software. [Papers ]: an archive of articles, papers, and other writings pertinent to Indological studies.

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24 [Books ]: an information service detaili ng Indological books listed by Amazon. [Links ]: a list of external websites and res ources of value to Indological research. The Religion in South Asia group provides in formation for scholars, and features the RISA-L listserve, allowing scholars to networ k and discuss issues relevant to their research and teaching (http://www.montclair.edu/risa/ ), as well as The South Asian Studies Program at Rutgers (http://southasia.rutg ers.edu/listserv.html ). Most scholarly organizations have restricted access in order to limit the information and discussions to scholarly interests, and to prevent a conf lation of practitioner/scholarly debates. Personal sites are created by individuals not ne cessarily associated with any particular sect, tradition or movement. Such sites are often pers onal expression of the web makers faith, experiences and interests. For example, A Tribute to Hinduism is a site created, maintained and paid for by Ms. Sushama Londhe (http://www.atributetohinduism.com/ ). Her motivation for creating this site, she writes, was to: provide appropriate collection of informa tion about Hinduism, as well as to attain correct appraisal of Indias rich cultural heritage. Furt hermore, it is to create awareness among Hindus and non-Hindus about the world's most ancient living tradition...A Tribute to Hinduism started out as a personal quest for my own spiritual heritage in early 1990s. The incepti on of the site began in the fall of 1997 as a small personal non-commercial web page/hobby, and it has grown over the years as I have become aware of more relevant information. I am an Indian American who came to the U.S. as a graduate student almost 30 years ago, and have settled here for good. Although I welc ome feedback from everybody, this site is NOT associated with any reli gious or political organization. (http://www.atributetohinduism.com/ ) Some companies, such as Geoc ities, have allowed for such personal Internet expressions by offering free web space for members. Both the Hindu Puja & Bhajan Home Page (http://www.geocities.co m/Athens/Acropolis/8891/ ) and the online Biographies of Saints and writings on spirituality (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8107/index.html )

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25 are expressions of two individuals own pe rsonal interests in Hinduism. In these two examples, both authors chose to remain anonym ous. Although the authors neglect to offer sources for their expressions, such personal sites provide a forum for personal expression that brings in a 'multiplicity of voices' as well as a myriad of insights, perspectives and experiences. What may have been trad itionally ignored by orthodox, patriarchal Hinduism can be fully expressed on the Internet. Sectarian sites are created by members of a part icular group or sect of Hinduism, primarily for their own use and/or to educat e the wider public about their tradition(s). Most of these sites primarily only contain information about their particular sect, though many utilize interactive features as well, including BBS's, e-mail discussion groups and chat rooms. The Shaivam Home Page announces itself as an abode on the net humbly dedicated to the worship of Lo rd Shiva, God of Hinduism (http://www.shaivam.org/ ), and offers a wide range of information rela ting to Shiva and the various Shaivam sects. Similarly, Gaudiya.com provides information regarding the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition (http://www.gaudiya.com/ ). While both of these sites offer a great deal of information, neither offer any interactivity other than a contact page. The Sri Vaishnava Home Page (http://www.ramanuja.org/ ) was created by a handful of members in May 1994, to facilitate a forum for the first public Vedanta email disc ussion group on the Internet, which included over 1,500 members at its heig ht (Varadarajan 2005). Today, the site only serves to provide users with information about the south Indian sect. For more organized groups, such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and the Bochas anwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), the Internet serves as a portal providing services to

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26 members and information for non-members. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness official website (http://www.iskcon.com/ ), working in conjunction with the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust site (http://www.krishna.com/ ), provides information (textual, audio and video) about Hare Krishna beliefs, as well as news, directory and contact information for members. Likewise the Swaminarayan official web site (http://www.swaminarayan.org/ ) has information about the hi story, beliefs and practices of the BAPS movement, as well as a newsle tter, temple directory, and other member information. Such regular newsletters have b ecome an affordable and practical way of keeping large extended groups of members in contact with ea ch other, and the organization leadership. Temple sites are created by specific temples, pr imarily used to advertise their locations, services and deitie s. Mandirs, Derasars and Gu rudwaras Around the World (http://www.mandirnet.org/temples_list/ ) lists Hindu temples (with websites and contact information) in forty three countries across si x continents. Some of the lager temples in America, with more sophisticated web site s, include the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Penn Hills, PA, (http://www.svtemple.org/temple/index.shtml ), The Hindu Temple Society of North America: Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam in Flushing, NY (http://www.nyganeshtemple.org/ ), and The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, GA (http://www.hindutempleofatlanta.org/ ). Although the primary purpose of the temple websites is to advertise their services, w ith the hopes of individuals and families attending such services in person, like the sectarian organizations, the Internet (particularly online newsletters and e-mail lis t serves) has become a primary tool for communicating with the larger Indian American community.

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27 Activist sites vary regarding the amount of info rmation and interactivity provided; some activist web sites only offer informati on, while others utilize regular newsletters, list serves, chat rooms and BBS's. What is di stinct about these gr oups of sites is the position and motivations of the web provider(s) Whereas some sites offer information in an attempt to provide an encyclopedia of collected knowledge, these sites offer limited elements of this knowledge (only those that the author(s) accept as valid) in hopes of affecting and persuading the users. Although the intended effects of the sites vary depending upon their position, one thing is clear: the activist web sites about Hinduism comprise a significant portion of such sites, particularly th rough the myriad of URL's and websites created by the Himalayan Academy and the Global Hindu Electronic Networks (GHEN). The Himalayan Academy web site (http://www.himalayanacademy.com/ ) offers information about Hinduism, various publica tions and videos, Hindu temples, and daily news about the Shaiva Siddhanta Church a nd their various temples and monasteries. Most importantly, the electroni c version of Hinduism Today (http://www.hinduismtoday.com/ ) is their latest effort in outreach, and through both the print and electronic versions, they are able to communicate with over 135,000 readers worldwide! In order to facil itate their goal of providing information about Hinduism, they have also established the Hi ndu Resources Online website (http://www.hindu.org ), which offers information about a wide range of topics and links (which gives them a higher priority on Google searches). The Hi ndu Students Council (HSC) has been another active promoter of Hindui sm on the Internet (http://www.hscnet.org/ ). Although the HSC's primary activity is in organizing student groups on campuses across North

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28 America, they have created GHEN in order to facilitate the ancien t Vedanta truths such as Vasudaiva Katumbakum (The Whole World is One Family) (http://www.hindunet.com/contact.htm ). The primary task of GHEN has been to create a series of web sites dedicated to providing information relating to various aspects of Hinduism. The three primary web sites of the GHEN project are the Hindu Universe (http://www.hindunet.org/ ), the Hindu Web (http://www.hinduweb.org/ ), and the Hindu Links web site (http://www.hindulinks.org/ ). These sites typically offer general, if not generic, views and explanations of Hinduism intended for a wide audience of Hindus. Other activist sites are more orthodox a nd fundamentalist in their information. The Vedic Friends Association provides information and a forum for discussion about various topics of Hinduism, primarily involving orthodox interp retation of issues, including vegetarianism, caste, as well as Vedic Science and culture (http://www.vedicfriends.org/ ). The Vedic Foundation extols that it has Authentic Hinduism, and is Re-Establis hing the Greatness of Hinduism (http://www.thevedicfoundation.org/ ) (I was not even aware th at Hinduism was no longer great). Other sites offer opinions beyond ev en orthodox interpretati on, crossing the bridge from orthodox to fundamentalist, if not out right militant. One such Hindutva site, HinduUnity.org, identifies itself as promoting and supporting the Ideals of the Bajrang Dal: V.H.P., and claims that Together we sh all fight to protect our culture, heritage & religion (http://www.hinduunity.org/ ). With hateful headlines such as Pakistan: Hindu Girls Kidnapped, Forced to Islam and Hindu Traitors praying to Allah , this site openly promotes dissension amongst Hinduism and mo st other world religions, though primarily Islam and Christianity. Of partic ular interest is the site's B lack List, which includes all

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29 those the site author deems to be Enemies of Hindus (http://hinduunity.or g/hitlist.html ), including a host of religious, political, cel ebrity and academic figures. Hindutva.org expresses similar views, exclaiming, Today th e enemy of the Hindus and of the world at large is terrorism. And terrorism resides in the hearts of all Muslims. Not just their leaders, but all Muslims, since all of them are bound by the Instruction Manual of Terrorism the Quran that calls for killing of all Kafirs (http://hindutva.org/ ). Both sites allow individuals to make comments on th e various articles, though these comments are clearly censored by the hosts, who make no effo rts to allow for diversity of opinions. Virtual Ritual sites allow for some modified form of online ritual performance (or assistance). These sites provide a high degr ee of interactivity and user response, and represent the future of online religion and practice, and a potential for online performance With the recent emergence of new technologies and funding, this potential is quickly becoming a reality. Both Shaadi.com and IndianMatrimonials.com allow families and individuals to search for potential spouses for their family and self; one member touts that he and his parents were able to find his sister a suitable spouse in Los Angeles, at the comfort of their home in Bangalore (http://www.shaadi.com/ introduction/ true-stories.php ). Other sites have made online astrology possible, such as with Indastro.com and Astrogyan.com. These sites offer a host of astrol ogical readings and charts, as well as providing advise on marriage dates, auspicious times and child names. There are also web sites designed to allow or assist with ritu al performance. Many commercial sites, such as SirIndia.com, sell puja materials online, in case an individual or family cannot purchase the neces sary items due to their location (https://www.sirindia.com/ps1.asp?catID=236 ). Some sites go even further, allowing

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30 individuals to commission temple puja -s online. Ekta Mandir, the Dallas/Fort Worth Hindu Temple, even allows online darshan and puja -s of the deities (http://www.dfwhindutempl e.org/online_puja.htm ), guiding the user through a digital, interactive puja. The pressing question, of c ourse, is whether this can be considered performing authentic Hindu ritual. Since both online puja services are sponsored by Hindu temples in the US and India, we can as sert that some sense of authenticity is associated with these cyber-rituals. Howe ver, both sites also encourage in-person participation, and seem merely to provide th ese online services for individuals unable to attend in person; priority is still given to the physi cal presence of the devotee. CyberCommunity sites are typically designed with dynamically interactive protocols, allowing for global networking and online discussions with other individuals. Features common to these sites include chat rooms, bulletin board systems (BBS's), blogs (web logs), e-mail newsletters, gifting, tr avel arrangements, matchmaking, as well as web hosting and e-mail accounts. Chat room s allow users to join live text-based discussions, in which messages are immediately sent and viewable by any other user in the same room. Bulletin Board Systems (BBS's) allow users to post a message, comment or question on a web page, with othe r users able to read and post responses below. Blogs are web logs that provide indi vidual users with a stru ctured, user-friendly space to post their own site, images, text and other files. Typically, other bloggers (web log users) can post comments and questions on each others blogs. E-mail list serves allow a group or individual to sent e-ma il messages to multiple individuals at once, typically requiring an online subscription to that list serve. Different hosts handle restrictions and registration differently, providing a range of limitations and benefits

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31 relating to the control of content; such variations range from high host control in some forums and high user control in others. Authority and Unity in a Global Context The first six categories of Hindu sites (G eneral, Academic, Personal, Sectarian, Temple and Activist) are primarily aimed at providing information about Hinduism. This information ranges from general Hindu overvie ws, to highly specific information about a particular temple, organization or traditi on, depending on the nature and purpose of the web site. Since so many people are now using the Internet as a reference, how Hinduism is constructed, defined and explained on these Internet sites (and by whom) will have serious impacts on Americans' understanding of Hinduism, particularly young American Hindus. Indeed, serious questions have emerge d: who has the authority to speak for a religion one billion people strong, who constr ucts this definition, who controls the information, and who verifies the accuracy? Since the Internet is decentralized, an d generally has no editorial process or authority, it has created aut horitative problems and challenge s for many religions (Barker 2005). Yet, Hinduism shares many of these same characteristics with the Internet. Vinay Lal (2003: 112) argues that More than any other religion, Hinduism is a decentered and deregulated faith, and in this it appears akin to cyberspace. It has no one prophe t or savior, nor are Hindus agreed upon the authority of a single text...Hinduism not only has multiple sources of doctrinal authority, it is polycentric [has many sa cred spaces]...one could say that Hinduism is rhizomatic, with multiple points of origin, intersection, and dispersal...[therefore] Hinduism most certain ly inhabits those ve ry properties that characterize cybernetworks...Hinduism and the Internet, one might conclude, were happily made for each other. For Lal, the significance of this is that Hi ndus easily gravitated to the Internet, and through cyberspace, Hindus have found a new awar eness of themselves as part of what

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32 they now imagine is a global religion, and not hing could be more calculated to augment Hindu pride than the perception that Hinduism is on the verge of arriving as a 'world religion' (113). With approximately one bi llion people in over one hundred and fifty nations, it remains unclear to me why Lal cont ends that Hinduism is on the verge of arriving as a 'world religion'. However, there is no doubt that Hindus, now linked through the Internet, are beco ming increasingly connected and aware of their rising status. Lal worries that such connectivity and awareness is creating an unhealthy nationalism, and that Hinduism is being re defined along Hindutva lines. In his own research of the Internet, Lal analyzed th e GHEN websites of the HSC, the various web sites created by the Himalayan Academy, site s specifically dedicated to teaching the ideals of Hindutva (HinduUnity.org Hindutva.org ), as well as the websites for political organizations, such as the Rashtriya Sway amsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajr ang Dal, the youth wing of the VHP. Yet, Lal also notes that these activist and 'par amilitary' groups, in association with GHEN and the HSC, have created the most remark able and comprehensive web sites about Hinduism. Through a series of hyperlinked web pa ges and sites, the plethora of different sites associated with Hinduism often carry links to the more militant Hindutva sites. Therefore, unsuspecting Inte rnet surfers may very well find themselves suddenly on a Hindutva web site. Although Lal is unclear if the relatio nship between American Hinduism and Internet-promoted Hindutva is causal or corollary, he unabashedly charges Hinduism in the US with a literalism that is so charac teristically an American trait, and that

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33 compared with the Hinduism of India, displ ays the most retrograde features (107). He provides the following example: To gain an inkling of what this Vedic civilization of diaspor ic Hindus looks like, one has only to consider the activities of the Saiva Siddhanta Church in the northern California town of Concord. A few years ago the pujari or priest, of this temple [before it was purchased and turned into the Shiva Murugan Temple] placed a rope about ten feet away from the de ity, and strung a sign on it that loudly proclaimed, 'Vegetarians only beyond this point.' At a slightly greater distance, another rope was strung out in the cold, denied darshan of their deity, condemned to be pariahs. (107) Lal sees this American literalism, together with the online Hindutva, as redefining Hindu history. He writes that: historical discourses are preeminently the discourses of the nation, and the Internet...is poised to become the ground on which the advocates of Hindutva will stage their revisionist histories...it is poised, alarmingly, to become a Hindutva domain, considering that there are scarce ly any websites that offer competing narratives. (122) While Lal recognizes that unifying capabilities of the Internet, particularly in unifying Indians and Americans, he contends that what is missing in American Hinduism is a recognition of the long history of hospitality, and the soft an d porous edges that gave the religion its historically amorphous and ecumenical form (Lal 113). Lal is quick to make hasty conclusions and judgments based on only part of the data, and tends to obfuscate the difference be tween Internet and Wo rld Wide Web. Yet, even more troublesome is his denial of ag ency. The nationalistic ethos of Hindutva implies a sense of victimization, that Hinduism has been weakened by Islam, Christianity, colonialism and globalization. Wh ile Lal's observations indeed carry some truth, based on my own research a nd cyber-ethnography, I contend that the orthodoxy and Hindutva are only one small portion of Hinduism in cyberspace and America ; and a relatively small portion, at that! The litera lism of the Saiva Siddhanta Church, and other

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34 activist groups such as the Vedic Friends Association, seems obvious considering they are both comprised largely of Caucasian converts to Hinduism, and the dynamics of conversion are significant when comparing re ligiosity to individua ls born within a tradition; not to mention that white Hindus must prove their authenticity to Hindu-born Indians. By sticking to lite ral interpretation and orthodox practice, such converts can assert their authenticity by virtue of rhet oric and praxis. Yet, this same dynamic would not apply to Hindus of Indian ethnicity, who are authentical ly Hindu by virtue of birth. While there are certainly elements of I ndian nationalism among Hindus in the US, this should not be surprising considering th e relatively short amount of time that most Hindu families have been in America; they are still conscious of their 'homeland' and minority status in the States. As we will see in the following chapters, these minority Hindus draw strength and support in numbers by inclusiveness, bringing together many ethnically, linguistically and religi ously different people. In fact in direct contradiction to Lal's conclusions, I would contend that one of the primary characteristics of American Hinduism is both its amorphous and ecumenical form. Moreso, American Hindus are not mis guided religiously because of western globalization and colonialism, nor are they passive victims weakened by colonialism. Rather, it seems the use of English and the educational institutions in India have prepared many Indian Hindus for life, and success, in the US. Following The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Indian migrants to America came because of their technological training, and have become major components of recent technological advances. The post1965 Indian migrants have established str ong niches in the fields of engineering, computer programming and medicine, securing highly specialized jobs at institutions

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35 such as NASA, at university research institut es and hospitals, or at large corporations such as IBM and Burroughs-Wellcome (Waghorne 1999: 104-105). As a result, this highly skilled and education population has i ndeed made tremendous economic strides in America. Priya Anand (2004: 11) reports that The average household income of the IndoAmerican community is estimated at $US 60,093 compared to the average house hold income of $US 38,885. More than 87% of Indo-Americans have completed hi gh school and 62% have some form of college education compared to just over 20% of the US population. They are found in high profile and diverse professions su ch as medicine, engineering, law, higher education, international finance, manage ment and journalism, media and music. Their educational profile, economic success a nd knowledge of English help them to assimilate into the American 'melting pot'. Furthermore, the IndoAmerican community is growing rapidly, particular in wealthy, urban states. Anand (2004: 11) writes The United States now has a 1.68 million strong Asian-Indian American community. Between the 1990 and 2000 census a phenomenal growth of 105.87% the highest among all Asian origin gr oups, was recorded. California has the largest concentration of Indo-American s followed by states like New York and New Jersey. Other states with a sizeable population of Indo-Americans are Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington. The Indians who migrated to the United States belong to the class of educat ed and professional elites such as engineers (mostly software), scientists and college teachers as well as accountants and businessmen. In fact, the overseas Indians on a whole have grown so successful that many are recognizing the economic and political poten tial that organized diasporal Indian communities present. Joel Kotkin, in his artic le Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy writes that The more than twenty million overseas Indians today represent one of the best-educated, affluent groupings in the world...The Indian may prove to be the ne xt diaspora to emerge as a great economic force (Waghorne 1999: 104-105). Indeed, this great economic force is al ready well established in America, and continually growing in size, as well as social and economic impact In fact, this is in part

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36 due to the Internet, a resource quite accessible to the Indian American Hindus considering their education and occupations Through the interac tive potential of th e Internet, Hindus in America have been able to generate a strong social presence by drawing strength in numbers. By uniting as a str ong group, Hindus in America suc cessfully pressured Warner Brothers to delete a scene from Eyes Wide Shut in which verses of the Bhagavad Gita were recited during an orgy scene; an impre ssive feat, considering the daunting power of the Hollywood studios. Other figures, such as Ra jiv Malhotra, have been able to generate group resistance against western scholarship they deem damaging by organizing groups to petition and challenge many academic schol ars, as well as major media groups they accuse of Hinduphobia (http://www.sulekha.com/blogs/co mmentdisplay.aspx? cid=4715&pageno=4 ). Concluding Remarks Although the vast majority of the World Wi de Web is primarily only informative, interactivity is a significant aspect of the In ternet, particular when considering religion on the Internet. Although Sectarian, Temple and Activist web sites are primarily informative, they also incorporate a fair degr ee of interactivity, and have made extensive use of e-mail and Internet communication. Th e final two categories of Hinduism on the Internet, Chat rooms/BBS's/Blogs and Cyber-p raxis, represent the initial attempts at performing religion online, through th e use of sophisticated technologies and imaginative applications of religious r itual and practice. Although many issues and questions are raised by the current challenges of Hindus living in America, the high degree of interactivity made possible by the Internet pr ovides a rich forum for Hindus to explore these issues with other Hindus across the globe.

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37 As Hindus in America continue to or ganize, these communities are actively engaging their new environment, and deve loping clever and effective solutions, particularly through the Internet The imaginative use of the in teractive capabi lities of the Internet by these various communities (inc luding online communities) illustrates the flexibility and adaptability of Hinduism, and suggests that Hinduism is well prepared for the transition into this new Age of Information.

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38 CHAPTER 3 THE DOMAINS OF HINDU TEMPLES IN AMERICA Assimilation, Accretion, and Adaption With migration comes new challenges, rega rdless of the circumstances of their transportation to a new land. As individual migrants settle in their new homeland, a common strategy is to form communities with other migrants from their homeland, that share a similar memory of their home land, la nguage, religion and customs. Together, the community assists the individual members in their assimilation and adaptation to their new environment, and actively develop stra tegies of assimilati ng and adapting their religious tradition(s). However, not all aspects of Hinduism can be successfully transmitted outside of India. For example, Ninian Smart (1999: 424) points out that themes such as caste, yoga, bhakti pilgrimage, temple rituals, austerity ( tapasya ), wandering holy men, instruction in the sc riptural traditions, regional variation, pundits, a strong sense of purity and impurit y, household rituals, veneration of the cow, the practice of astrology, belief in reincarnation, the importance of acquiring merit, etc. These themes, which are woven together into the complicated fabric of Hinduism in India, do not all travel e qually easily to new environments. As a result, many religious elements are dr opped during migration, while other aspects are retained and transformed. Vasudha Narayanan (2006: 359) writes that Selected elements from the more than three thousand five hundred years of religious life in India are retained, transformed, and transmitted in the diaspora. Through processes of assimilation, accret ion, and adaption, some traditions are renewed and revitalized while others are ma rginalized and discarded. Hindus in the United States strongly support temple cu lture; transform temp le buildings into community centers; frequently conflate ethnicity, culture, and religion; and overwhelmingly use the performing arts, es pecially dance and music, to transmit Indian/Hindu world views to the second generation.

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39 For the migrant Indian Hindus, one primary me thod of adaption has been to build strong communities around a temple cultu re and ritual practice. Temple Culture Narayanan observes that the most no ticeable feature of Hindu communities that settled outside of India is the tremendous time, monies, and energy expended in the building of temples (Narayanan 2006: 364). In fact, No other country outside of India has as many Hindu temples as the United Stat es (3). Although the primary function of temples is to provide the means for formal ritual worship, Hindu temples in America have become a central locus for the minor ity Hindu communities, assisting immigrants with their assimilation and adjustment in a new country and culture (Anand 2004: 14). Elaborating further, Ana nd (2004: 12) writes that: Religious and cultural identity has been a significant factor in helping the community to cope with the stresses of adjustment in a foreign land. In addition to providing a spiritual dimensi on, affiliation with a temple or a religious group has enhanced social participation and group dyna mics and has helped the immigrant to find acceptance among his peers. High pr iority is therefore given to the construction of places of worship. Re ligious centers act as community centersNationwide, a wave of Hindu temple constr uction is going on; perhaps 1,000 communities are in various stages of planning or construction. About 200 temples have already been built. Due to the high cost of construction, temp le building is difficult to achieve. Many communities started with small buildings, of ten converted churches purchased by the local community. However, by the late 1970's a nd 1980's, the first wave of ('authentic') temple construction began. Karen Pechilis Pr entiss (1998: 4) writes that several factors were necessary for this momentum: 1. a critical mass of Hindu Indians had settled in the surrounding area...2. Members of the Hindu Indian community, most of whom are employed in the professional sector, had savings to cont ribute and the ability to participate in fundraising activities for the expensive project of bu ilding a temple; and 3. there was a growing

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40 concern among parents in the community that their childre n would lose touch with traditional Hindu institutions and values. This temple culture, however, involves far mo re than ritual practice; it also develops cultural synergy and community. Nara yanan (2006: 366) explains that: In addition to being a center for indivi dual piety, temples set up by Hindus from India serve as large community halls for the local population...I n all these matters, the temples in the diaspora are different from those in India and have assumed the functions found in the community at large in the home country. Regular newsletters and updated web pages provide an outre ach function. New temples are rising up all over the American landscape, and in many cases, the community hall is being built even before the shrine. This is unders tandable in a situation where members of the Hindu tradition are trying to assert identities in the mi dst of a larger society in which they feel marginalized and so metimes disenfranchised culturally and linguistically. The community hall is a place where different Hindu groups can meet and have language, music, and dance classes and celebrate the many festivals of he religious calendar. For Pyong Gap Min, this is significant in Hinduism because Indian Hindu immigrants can maintain their ethnic traditions through religion effectively because their religious values and rituals are inseparably tied to ethnic customs (including funerals and weddings), values, holidays, food, music, and dance (Min 2000: 100). The Internet is a primary resource u tilized by American Hindu temples, who maintain a broad community through their webs ites and e-mail exchanges. However, it is difficult to perform ethnography on e-mail exchanges, since they are closed communications, only accessible by the sender and recipients. Therefore, the primary focus of this chapter is on the websites of Hindu temples in America that are built, operated and maintained by Indian American Hindus. Although the analysis of this chapter is primarily aimed at determining the use and function of the temple websites it must be placed within the c ontext of temple use and func tion. Therefore, the base of study was limited solely to those temples which have websites (see Appendix A). The websites were located primarily using other websitesmaintained by American Hindu

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41 organizationsdesigned to assist in locating Hindu temples in America (as well as other parts of the world). These sites are the Himalayan Academys Temples & Ashrams webpage, the Hindu Student Counc ils HinduLinks Universe Temples and Ashrams/U.S.A webpage, and the Council of Hindu Temples Hindu Temples in U.S. webpage. These websites, however, did not prov ide a complete list of all Hindu temple websites in America. Therefore, I supplemente d these lists with se arches performed on Google.com. Ecumenical Tendencies and Temple Names Perhaps the most obvious place to begin the analysis is with the temple names. Typically, the temples URL reflects the temp le name. However, many temples share the same names, and therefore must make slight variations when choosing a URL. Of the eighty-nine temple sites studi ed in this essay, fifty-four had ecumenical names (roughly 60%) (see Appendix B). By ecumenical I mean names that are not specific to any type of Hindu sect, region or deit y, but rather are pan-Hindu. Temple names commonly employ broad, general terms without giving any specification as to the type or regional vari ation of worship. In fact, the most popular name of the temples analyzed is simply Hi ndu Temple, despite the term being a foreign demarcation. Hinduism is term associated with British Colonialism as the British name for a multitude of religions within India, first coined around 1829 and popularized some fifty years later (Hawley 1991: 20-21). Hawley (1991: 22) writes that: The word Hindu is much older than Hindui sm, but it too is a bi t of a stranger in India itself. Though the Greeks kne w a version of the word ( hindoi ), it was apparently first used by Muslim invaders who entered Indian early in the second millennium A.D. to designate the practi ces of peoples they found living in the region of the Indus River.

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42 Nonetheless, today Hindu communities in America (and throughout the world) have adopted and implemented the term as a re ligious umbrella subsuming many Indian traditions, sects and regional variants. In doing so, the name of the Hindu temple represents the migrant community itself, whic h is comprised of a wide variety of people from different regions and religions of I ndian. Furthermore, this tendency towards ecumenical terminology is typical of all minority groups (Williams 1992: 238). Typically, the city or region is affixed to the end of the name, such as with The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago Hindu Mandir of Lake County Hindu Temple of Central Indiana or The Hindu Temple of Metropolitan Washington In these cases, the temple name even seems to imply that this pa rticular temple is the official Hindu temple of that city. Some of the Hindu temples in Michigan have chosen the name Bharatiya Temple, which extends beyond even panHindu and implies being pan-Indian. Furthermore, many temples also affix (Indian ) cultural center to their names, such as with the Indo American Cultural Center and Temple (Kalamazoo, MI) the Hindu Temple & Cultural Center of Kansas City the India Cultural Center and Temple (Memphis, TN) and the Sanatan Dharma Temple & Cultural Center (Maple Valley, WA) Such names illustrate that the temple performs many services beyond strictly temple rituals, as well as inclusiveness to all Indians and Indian Americans. Many temple names also include terms such as society, association and institution, which characterize the communal nature and mission of the temples, as well as illustrate the organization and structure of the temple, which speaks to the credibility of the temple. Therefore, the importance of the temple name is that the name functions to bring in a varied and diverse base of devotees. By emphasizing the Indian or culture in a

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43 temple name, Hindu temples have occasionally been able to include Jains and Sikhs in their activities and community. For example, the Hindu American Religious Institute (HARI) in New Cumberland, PA houses a num ber of Hindu deities, as well as a murti of Lord Mahaveer for Jain worshippers (http://www.haritemple.org/deities.htm ). The Hindu Temple Society (Allentown, PA) accommodates Hindu, Jain and Sikh worshippers with regular ritual activities and fe stivals from all three traditions (http://www.hindutemple-al lentown.org/about.htm ). As the Indian migrant community grow s, the higher population allows for specialization of temples. Vasudha Narayana n argues that a genera l rule of thumb in North America is that the smaller the ge ographic area under consid eration, the more inclusive the group. A large city may have very specific groups based on caste, community, and language lines (Narayanan 2006 : 362). For example, as the numbers of Gujarati immigrants in America has grown, specific Gujarati communities, temples and communities have developed in many cities. In fact, Lal (2003: 124) estimates, based on his own research, that: There are at least 2 million, and perhaps as many as 3 million, Gujaratis living outside India, and they almost certainly account for a greater portion of the 16 to 20 million diasporic Indians than any other community. Perhaps as many as a third of the 1.8 million Indians residing in th e United States are Gujaratis Due to the exceptionally large Gujarati population in America, many cities have established specific Gujarati ethnic comm unities. The BAPS Swaminarayan movement, which comes from Gujarat and is comprised of Gujarati immigrants, is a perfect example of such an ethnic community. Through thei r official website and newsletters, the Swaminarayan leadership and community and st ay in contact with each other, and locate other BAPS members when relocating to new areas. One difference between the BAPS

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44 website and individual temple web sites is the prominent use of Gujarati, as well as very specific information about their sects history and leadership. In metropolitan cities and regions with large Indian communities, we find nonsectarian temples which can be more specific than Hindu. In thes e cases, the temple name denotes a specific deity, deities or s ect [see Appendix C]. Many temples are named after a single deity, giving a preference or special place for that deva Temples such as the Sri Venkateswara Temple (Penn Hills, PA) Vishnu Mandir (Bronx, NY) the Maha Ganapati Temple Of Arizona (Maricopa City, AZ) the Murugan Temple of North America (Lanham, MD) and the Shiva Temple (San Marino, CA) are all named after the primary deva worshipped at that temple. These names imply that the temples are more like their Indian count erparts, in that they only h ouse one deity in the temple garbhagriha Yet, this is rarely the case. For example, the Maha Ganapati Temple Of Arizona (Maricopa City, AZ) which was built specifically to house a 1400 lb., 4 ft. tall granite Ganesha murti denoted by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami in May 1999 (http://ganapati.org/about_temple.html ), houses other murtis including Shiva, Karthik and Lakshmi (http://ganapati.org/ ). The Sri Venkateswara Temple in Bridgewater, NJ is primarily devoted to Sri Venkateswara. However, other murtis are also present, including Shiva, Ganesha, Parvati, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati (http://www.venkateswara.org/ ). Though the majority of temples named after a single deity are dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu, many temples are also named after devis, such as the Sri Lakshmi Temple (Ashland, MA) the Kali Mandir (Laguna Beach, CA) the Durga Temple (Fairfax Station, VA) and the Parashakti Temple (Pontiac, MI) Like the Shaiva and Vaishnava temples, all of these temples also employ other murtis as well. Likewise, in many of the

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45 Shirdi Sai Baba Temples (Florida Shirdi Sai, Iverness, FL Sri Shirdi Sai Baba Temple, Pittsburgh, PA Shirdi Sai Temple of Chicago, Hampshire, IL Shri Shirdi Sai Center, Brunswick, NJ ), Shirdi Sai Baba is presented with along with other Hindu deities, and many Hindu festivals and rituals are still performed. Therefore, even in naming a temple to a specific deity, the temple worship is t ypically still ecumenical and inclusive for many different Hindus. Other temples have sought a middle ground, by naming their temples after two primary deities, especially Shiva and Vishnu. Once again, however, the many Shiva Vishnu temples also house other deities, pa rticularly Ganesh, Balaji, Murugan and/or Kartikeya. Other temples, such as the Shiva Murugan Temple (Concord, CA) the Sri Sri Radhakrishna / Sri Balaji Temple (San Diego, CA) or the Shiv Shakti Peeth (Flushing, NY) pair deities with some type of relationship to one another, such as with Shiva and his son Murugan, Vaishnava deities Radhakrishna and Balaji, or the male and female components (Shiva-Shakti) in Shaiva belie fs. Other temple names, such as the Shaiva Siddhanta Church (Kauai, HI) and the Shirdi Sai Baba temples, announce that these organizations belong to a pa rticular lineage or tradition. Although it may seem pedantic to spend so much time discussing temple names, the name of the temple is important. On the one hand, temples (particularly when multiple temples are present in one city) vi e for devotee participation, membership and donation, making authenticity of the utmost importance. Names like Hindu Temple have no connection to the temple tradition in India, and therefore seem inauthentic by Indian temple standards. A certain degr ee of authenticity is granted to the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Penn Hills, PA, both by its connection to the temple in Tirupati,

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46 as well as by name. Yet, the need to be inclusive, in both temple practice and name, cannot be understated. Therefore, a few temples have tried to avoid the problem by having two names. For example, The Hindu Temple Society of North America (Flushing, New York) is also called the Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapathi Devasthanam, and the Hindu American Temple and Cultural Center (Morganville, NJ) is likewise called the Sri Krishnaji Mandir. While these dual names give the temple both the ge neral appeal and auth enticity, the downside is having a long and complicated name. This issue raises an intriguing questio n: how much does the Indian American Hindu community rely upon Indian Hindu standa rds? The majority of temples have ecumenical names, a strategy specific to the migrant Indian communities. Yet, we also see a trend in larger metropolitan areas toward s specialization of the temples (at least in name). With a larger pool of devotees at hand, temples can afford to narrow their worship and still maintain a large enough body of wo rshippers. Yet, as these communities continue to grow in America, will new temple s continue this trend of specialization? If we assume that the Indian American Hindu co mmunity is diasporal, meaning they share a memory of their common place of origin (Vertovec 1999: 12), it would logically follow that they would attempt to replicate temple st andards in India, and thus become more and more specialized. On the other hand, the Indi an American community has openly adopted the name Hindu, which is now part of the average Americans lexicon (whereas Gaudiya Vaishnava most likely is not). The future trends of temple naming, in many ways, will illustrate Indian American Hindus attempts to retain connections to their

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47 shared past (elements of diaspora), as well as their active constr uction and naming of a new, American, form of Hinduism (patterns of migration). Website Aesthetics and Technology Other than the name, the first place to begi n the analysis of temple website content is with the general look, aesth etics and technology of the site. Often, the temple websites are highly impressive, and utilize a hi gh degree of programming technology. The significance of the programming technology is that the highly sophisticated sites appear more professional, which can set one temple apart from other temples with simpler web technologies. Furthermore, more sophisticated web protocols allow for more interaction from the user. Although most sites are basic Hyper Text Markup Language (.html), many temple sites also incorporate elements of more sophisticated web pr otocols, such as Macromedia Flash and Shockwave-Flash (.swf), Hypertex t Preprocessor (.php), Active Server Pages (.asp), Extensible Markup Language (.xml), and Cascading Style Sheets (.css), as well as a host of simple animated .gifs and Java Script functions. HTML is the most basic Internet language, but also the most limite d. Essentially, HTML can only display text and images. For more dynamic interactions, as we ll as animation, other protocols must be used. CSS provides a way to organize web page textual features, such as font size, color and links, and are commonly used in association with HTML. Java Script is a protocol that allows for more dynamic features, such as roll-over images or drop-down menus, to be used within HTML pages. Animated .gifs are images which have multiple slides which play at a set rate, giving the image th e appearance of animation. Animated .gifs, CSS and Java Script are slightly more complicated than basic HTML coding, but common enough that individuals familiar with HT ML can easily incorporate them into an

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48 HTML web page. Therefore, they are the most common features on the various Hindu temple websites studied in this essay. However, many temple sites utilize more complicated web technologies for more dynamic and impressive websites. The Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple (Lanham, MD) uses Active Server Page (.asp), which allows th em more features, su ch as scrolling menus. The Hindu Temple Society of Capi tal District (Albany, NY) utilizes Extensible Markup Language (.xml), a language similar to HTML which offers better file management and display, within a .php protocol. PHP is an HTML-embedded scripting language that provides dynamic interaction and easy organi zation of the website content. Many sites, including the Shiv Shakti Peeth (Flushing, NY) have basic HTML pages with other more advanced features, such as online streaming bhajans By far the most impressive temple sites utilize elements of Macromedia Flash, or Shockwave-Flash (.swf). Macromedia Flash and Shockwave allow for animation and a high degree of dynamic interaction. Some sites, such as the Dallas/Fort Worth Hindu Temple Society (Irvin, TX) Sri Venkateswara Temple (Bridgewater, NJ) and the Hindu Temple of Arizona (Scottsdale, AZ) are HTML pages with Shockwave Flash (.swf) elements embedded within the page, giving the sites simple animation. Other sites, such as Barsana Dham (Austin, TX) are made entirely of Flash, and therefore highly sophisticated in both appearance and functiona lity. This particular site has an animated cursor, with falling flowers and mystical music as the user navigates throughout the site, giving a sense of the I ndian and religious nature of the temple and organization. Little India Even if simple protocols are used, temples can still have a similar effect by incorporating images of the temple; in fact, the majority of temple sites have an image of

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49 their building on the home page. Most of the temples have so me architectural element of Indian temples, whether the entire building it self, or simply a spire attached to a preexisting building. In all cases, these elements of Indian architecture provide a feeling of being in India. When conducting his resear ch on immigrant Hindus and temple worship, Pyong Gap Min reports that many devotees said they came to the temple because they felt like they were in Little India (Min 2000: 108). By pu tting the images on the temple sites homepage, visitors are given a virtual taste of Little India online. Yet, even more than reminiscence, the images of the templesespecially the larger, more beautiful buildingsare a testam ent to the success of the Indian American community. These buildings, which often to wer over neighboring buildings, required great finances and organization to construc t. As a symbol of the Hindu community in America, these buildings legitimate the pres ence of the Hindu community as an active and vibrant part of the American landscap e. Many temple sites even have temple history links, which document the successi ve stages of the temple building, and expansions. These histories often provid e information and/or images of their bhumi puja an elaborate ceremony to bless the ground be fore temple construction begins, which offers a sense of authenticity for the temp le. Furthermore, these histories record the struggles that particular community underwent to construct the temp le, which strengthens the feeling of accomplishment and success for that community and temple. Both the sophistication of web technologies and the construction of ornate Indian temples are possible only with access to re sources and finances. However, the Indian American community has enjoyed a high de gree of success in this country. The proliferation of software engineers provide s the Indian American Hindu community with

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50 a pool of trained programmers, capable of constructing websites, both basic and sophisticated. Furthermore, the overall financ ial success of the Indi an American Hindus provides the temples with a base of relatively affluent devotees. Th is, in turn, provides the temple with a member base that has access to the Internet. Without an affluent member base, the resource of the In ternet would surely be useless. As the temples have become the central locus of community activities, temple building and maintenance is crucial to the development and maintenance of the migrant Indian American community (Waghorne 1999: 522). However, temple building is an expensive task, potentially co sting several million dollars to construct (Anand 2004: 12). Not only must a community acquire the necessa ry funds; temple building also requires the organization and leadership to carry-out the construction and maintenance of the building. This figure of several million dolla rs is somewhat misleading, since not all temples are as ornate (and expensive) as the Sri Venkateswara Temple (Penn Hills, PA) For example, the Bharatiya Temple (Troy, MI) cost approximately $500,000 to build (http://www.bharatiya-temple.org/home/history/) with only slightly over $100,000 put down. In fact, many temples begin constructi on with a simple bu ilding, and later add additional renovations when more funds are avai lable. Furthermore, aside from the initial costs of building the temple, maintenance itse lf is costly, both fo r the physical building and grounds as well as temple priest and staff salaries. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, GA estimates that it takes approximately $90,000 per month to operate the temple (http://www.hindutempleofatlanta.org/opexpenses.html ). Funding these temples is complicated by th e fact that Hinduism has no official tithe. Both the construction and maintenan ce of Hindu temples generally relies upon the

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51 donations of the devotees. Therefore, Hindu te mples in America have to provide simple methods of accepting donations and other fo rms of income. Virtually every temple website advertises for donations on their hom epage. Many websites are even capable of accepting donations online, through a secure PayPal account or other online payment protocol. PayPal has made the process of accepting online payments simple by autogenerating the HTML code so the web designe rs can easily implement PayPal into their websites (https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_additional -payment-integration-outside ). Another common method of gene rating income for temples is to have memberships to the temple. Most temples with memberships have online forms available, and many also accept online payments for the memberships. The Birmingham Hindu Temple, AL charges $500 for an annual membership a nd $5,000 for a lifetime membership. Though they have an online form for membership, they do not accept online payments at this time. The Hindu Temple of Arizona (Scottsdale, AZ) offers a series of membership types, based on the amount of donation: Grand Benefactor : $50,000 or more Benefactor : $30,000 to $49,999 Grand Patron : $15,000 to $29,999 Patron : $5000 to 14,999 Founder : $2,000 to $4,999 Life : $1,000 to $1,999 General : $100 to $999 (http://www.hindutempleaz.org/membership.htm ) The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, IL offers three types of memberships: Annual membership are available with a donation or service fee of $200 per year, Lifetime memberships require a donation of $2,000, a nd Patron memberships are available for individuals that donate $10,000 or more (http://www.ramatemple.org/

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52 HTGC_Membership_2005.pdf ). Typically memberships allo w the individuals to vote on temple matters, with different types of members having va rying degrees of responsibilities a nd considerations. The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, IL for example, states in their membership form that The Patron Members will be considered as a separate category of members for voting and administrative purposes (http://www.ramatemple.org/HTGC_Membership_2005.pdf ). Therefore, higher financial donations are rewarded with more voting power and thus more influence within that community. Seva, Dana, and Temple Budgets Hindu temples in India typically do not emphasize communal practice for ritual worship; yet, American Hindu temples have a distinct financial need for an established patron community to fund temple buildi ng, maintenance and activities. Although donations are emphasized and important in this process, membership is more mutually beneficial in that members pr ovide regular income to the te mples, and in turn can take part in the temple leadership and functions The temple functions and activities funded by community finances testify to the success of that community. Therefore, individuals within that community can take pride in the accomplishments of the community at large. Although Hinduism has no official tithe or sanction on donations and charity, selfless giving and service are all valued w ithin the plethora of Hindu traditions. Priya Anand provides a general overview of the religi ous elements of charity and giving within the broad Hindu tradition: For Hindus dana (giving) is an important part of one's dharm a (religious duty). Dana includes selfless service or sewa to those in need. Dana is a broad term used to define almost any type of giving which is non reciprocal or one sided and which is not motivated by immediate self interes t; to share our possessions with those less fortunate and to support institutions su ch as temples, schools, and service

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53 organizationsA form of Dana is dakshina, which is given to the priest after a visit for any religious occasion. The dakshina is considered as a service charge for officiating at family functions. Another form is the bhiksha in the form of articles or food given to sanyasis or monks. Bhiksh a therefore is only given to holy men and is different from bheekha i.e. givi ng to the poor, needy and persons with disabilitiesDana in turn is linked to dharma...Each person has a dharma wherein charity is first directed towards immediat e family and is then extended to society, the world and all living beings. (2004: 9) Since the Hindu temples act as a central locus for the Indian American Hindu community, many charitable activities are organized and performed at the temples. In fact, Anand reminds the reader that in Am erica most money donated by individuals and families is given directly to the temple. In turn, the temple organizes and manages the distribution of these charitable funds (49). The Internet is an excellent resour ce to promote the various types of dana Most of the websites had a call for volunteers on the homepage. Typically these volunteer roles are to assist with various temple activities, su ch as assisting with classes. Other activities promoted on the temple websites include fund-ra isers for various relief efforts, such as natural disasters, blood drives, toys-for-t ots and soup-kitchen programs. Often these activities are performed in conjunction with non-Hindu churches and organizations (Narayanan 2006). The Sri Venkateswara Temple (Penn Hills, PA) has an online form that organizations seeking assistance can submit (http://www.svtemple.org/artman/ uploads/guidelines_for_organizations_seeking_funds.doc ). The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, IL often organizes a food drive fo r people in the Chicago area (http://www.ramatemple .org/Food_Drive_2005.htm ). Although these various activ ities have religious si gnificance in terms of dana and seva they also serve crucial prag matic functions. Since part of dana involves payment to temple priests and temples, promoting dana is a means for the temple to promote

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54 financial donations. Furthermore, the charitab le activities themselves serve to reinforce and strengthen the communal bonds. On the one hand, these activities bring together the individual devotees and families, internally strengthening and maintaining their sense of belonging to a community. On the other hand, the charitable services provided to the larger community builds relationships w ith the external community of non-Hindu Americans. This assists in legitimating th eir presence in America, and that specific region. Many other charitable fund-raisers have been orchestrated to assist India, illustrating a diasporal tendency in some of the volunteer work of Indian American Hindus. Anand writes that overseas Indians demonstrate considerable attachment to their ancestral towns and villages and ha ve contributed extens ively after national emergencies like the Kargil war (1999), the cy clone in Orissa (1999) and earthquakes in Gujarat (2001) (2004: 12). In fact, the amount of transnational f unds filtered back to India have been extraordinary. Anand writes: In 2000-2001 overall foreign contributions [from non-resident Indians] to India totaled $955 million. The main foreign donor was the United States, which gave over $315 million. It is estimated that between 1975-2000 $97 billion was received from the diaspora. In 2002, th e American India Foundation raised $7.5 million from people of Indian Heritage now living in the United States. Of the $7.5 million, one million went to the victims of the September 11th attacks with the remainder going toward re lief efforts in...Gujarat. (5) While there are many reasons for charitable wo rks given to India, such donations must surely give the Indian American Hindus a sense of accomplishment and success by financially assisting the nee dy in their nation of origin. However, we also find that regions of India that have larger populations in the US also tend to get more money. Thus, in looking at the examples of Orissa and Gujarat above, we should bear in mind

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55 that Gujarat received far mo re money that did Orissa, although both disasters were comparably devastating. However, the migr ant Gujarati communities in the US (and UK) are much larger and more organized than Orissans, which accounts for this discrepancy. Therefore, it seems that ethnic identity sti ll plays a prominent role in transnational donations to India (Lal 2003). However, some scholars are concerned that this transnational exchange of money between the US and India, coupled with ethni c identity, is fueling and funding Hindutva pogroms against Muslims in India. Ashutosh Varshey speculates that as the diasporal Gujarati communities have become fabul ously wealthyA lot of the new Gujarati wealth, at home and abroad, has gone to Hindu nationalist organizations (Lal 2003: 124). In fact, Lal even argues that the political ascension of the BJP to power in India was a direct result of US Gujarati influence and finance, though he admits that little empirical work has been done on the money trai l that is widely alleged to exist between the VHP-America and other organizations committed to Hindu rejuvenation and supremacy in the United States (125). Vija y Prashad is also concerned about the NonResident Indian financing of Hindutva organizations in India. He reports that: Between 1990 and 1992, the average annua l income of th e VHPA was $385,462. By 1993 its income had gone up to $1,057,147. An allied group of the VHPA, the India Development and Relief Fund, raised almost $2 million in the 1990s (some of it via the United Way). This money is discre etly transferred into India. (Prashad 2000: 146) Prashad admits that the few million dollars funneled to Hindutva organizations appears to be insignificant when considering the bi llions of dollars received from Non-Resident Indians. However, he argues that this m oney is enough to place Hindutva organizations within the intellectual elite, establishing thei r legitimacy and fueling a diasporal sense of nationalism (147).

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56 The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH) is an online organization based in California, which attempts to expose US fina ncial exchanges (particularly from corporate philanthropy) that fund Hi ndutva organizations (http://stopfundinghate.org/index.shtml ). Their home page encourages philanthropy, but urges people to make the responsible choice in favor of supporting secular groups with a long-standing commitment to the pluralistic ethos and democrat ic ideals of India. In their online article A Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and th e American Funding of Hindutva (http://stopfundinghate.org/sacw/index.html ), the author argues that of all the money received by the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF): Nearly 70% of the IDRF funds go to organi zations dealing with education (largely in adivasi/rural areas), hostels, 'shud dhi'/reconversion programs, and Hinduization efforts; about 8% goes for health and we lfare work; 15% goes for relief work, and only 4% towards what is normally understood in the NGO world as rural development. (http://stopfundinghate.org/ sacw/part4.html#4_2 ) What is particularly disturbing about this Hindutva funding is that the money is often obtained using deceiving fund-raising tactic s. Priya Ananda reports that many major corporationsincluding Cisco, Sun, Oracl e, Hewlett Packard, AT&T and MBNA donated funds to the India Development and Relief Fund under the pretext that it was for development & relief work I India, unaware of the organizations ideology (Anand 2004: 44). However, while it is important to bri ng attention to tran snational funding of Hindutva organizations, Priya Anand emphasizes that it is nonetheless important to stress the positive role of religion in promoting social development and reform in civil society (2004: 5). Though Hi ndutva organizations have succ essfully raised funds for their causes, this still only reflects a relatively small portion of the bill ions of dollars sent to India by the diapora; $5 million from 1994 to 2000 (5). Furthermore, the education

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57 programs are not all part of a Hindutva cause or attempts at Hindui zation. The Chinmaya Mission, though dedicated to teaching the w isdom of Vedanta, nonetheless offers nonVedic educational scholarships, and work s with many humanitarian organizations, including Mother Theresas Mission (25). The Chinmaya Mission West (CMW) has 26 centers in the US, most of which are involve d with local community projects, including soup kitchens, feed the homeless programs and clothing donations to the poor. The Chinmaya Mission even raised $150,000 for rura l development in Himachal Pradesh, and runs a child sponsor program for impoverished children in Andhra Pradesh (26). The All India Movement for Seva (AIM), establis hed by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and his followers, promotes various educational, environmental, healthcare and womens empowerment programs (38-39). Similar progr ams are directed by BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, ISKCON, Ramakrishna Mission, Sat hya Sai Baba Organization, Sankaracharya and the Veda Vyasa Foundation. Therefore, f unds generated by Hi ndutva organizations, such as the VHP, are only one small part of the overall fund-raising groups and initiatives. In fact, though the VHP claims it has links to various religious groups such as Chinmaya Mission, Ramakrishna Mission and the Sankaracharya, it must be clearly stated that none of latter laid claims to such a relationship [my emphasis] (47). Furthermore, the individual Hindu temples in America and the various BAPS Swaminarayan mandirs receive much more in donations from their congregations than do the various religious movements and Hindutva organizations (Anand 2004: 48). Furthermore, the funds received by the local te mples are not generally sent to India, but rather applied to bettering and serving their local community. Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President of the Hindu Society of North Amer ica (Flushing, NY) says that they undertake

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58 local social initiatives to preserve Hindu culture by focu sing on their local community, and not social causes in India (48). Therefore, while they successfully raised funds for the Gujarat Earthquake and Orissa cyclone, they li kewise raised funds for the victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and continually perform many charitable activities within Queens. The Internet provides a forum for these loca l temples to advertise their charitable programs, and even collect donations online. Promotion and Advertisement In terms of religious activities (i.e. ritu al worship and celebration), the World Wide Web primarily serves as a tool to promote th e activities and worship. Most of the temple sites tell which murtis are housed in the temple, and often display images of them as well. Some sites even have cyberpujas or online darshans of the deities. For example, the Florida Shirdi Sai (Iverness, FL) temple has a Flash introduction which begins with an image of Shirdi Sai Baba, and culminates with a virtual arati of the deity. The Kali Mandir (Laguna Beach, CA) has a virtual darshan of Kali on their homepage, which offers a brief Sanskrit prayer to the devi and a close-up image of the murti Likewise, most temples use the Internet to promote types and times of regular ritual services, such as pujas aratis and/or bhajans By offering information about their services, devotees can know if their own deity and ritual pr actice is performed at that particular temple, and when they are perfor med. Furthermore, most of the temples also offer information about additional rituals, including the various samskaras and pujas Typically the website also offers informati on about the pricing for these rituals (which are different when performed at ones home or at the temple), as well as the materials needed. Some temples even sell these materials, though I did not encounter any sites which sold these materials online.

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59 In similar fashion, most temple websites offer information about various festivals and special events, usually with in a year-long calendar of events Like the ritual and deity worship, virtually all Hindu temples in Am erica celebrate many major festivals from various regions and sects of Hinduism. Furthe rmore, other significant days are often celebrated, such as Gandhis birthday, New Years Day and Indian Independence Day. Occasionally sites will even offer pictures from certain festivals and events, as a way to promote participation. Most temples and community centers have classes for adults and children, and promote these classes on their websites. A lthough the specific in formation about class times are not always available online, the types of classes offered at the temple are usually listed on the website. Common types of classes include various languages (most commonly for Sanskrit and Hindi, but also En glish, Tamil, and other regional languages of India), meditation, yoga, sacred texts (par ticular discussions on the Bhagavad Gita), dance, music, balavihar youth groups and camps and even SAT prep courses. Many sites even offer forms to sign up for the classes online. Often the balavihar and youth groups or camps ar e listed separately on the homepage, which infers a certain sense of pr iority for these youth-based programs. This tendency reflects the need for the Indian American communities to bridge the generational gaps between Indian born pare nts (and grandparents), and their American born children (and grandchildren). Such progr ams provide a religious education to the children, as well as Hindu peers. By bringing their children together with other Indian American adolescent peers, these classes also f unction to preserve the future of the Indian American Hindu community.

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60 All of the temple websites need some basic, common features, such as contact information, temple location and directi ons. Typically, the websites have contact information for the temple priests, temple staff, Board Members and Trustees, and the webmaster. Most sites also have background in formation about the temple priests, as a means of authenticating their ritual worship. Another common feature of most of the websites is a news link, often in the form of a .pdf newsletter. Typical ly the websites offer a means to regularly receive the newsletter, such as by email list-serves. Thes e newsletters often have information about temple expansions, classes, festivals and events. Although it is convenient to have all news information available online, it is not generally assumed that members constantly check the website for updates. Therefore, it is necessary to keep all members of the community informed about the various activities, and email newsletters provide a simple and effective method of communication. Some sites have information about ren ting out halls at the temple and/or community center. Many of these temples and community centers even rent out space to the larger surrounding communit y. This provides the temple with additional funds, and forges new relationships with the surrounding non-Hindu community. By providing information and forms for these rentals, th e temples can better advertise this space. Some temple sites even have a FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) link, which offer information and answer questions about Hinduism and Hindu Deities. Surprisingly, however, this is not entirely common. Most si tes offer very little information, and assume the viewer is knowledgeable about Hinduism For example, many sites will utilize

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61 Sanskrit terms without defining the terms, th erefore assuming their intended viewer is already familiar with the rituals and elemen ts of Hindu worship. Hindu temple web sites in America a ssist the temples in developing and maintaining community by promoting their servi ces and activities. Thus, the Internet is primarily an advertising resource, with the pr imary religious work s till being done at the physical temple itself. However, with mo re sophisticated Internet protocols and technologies, these sites ar e capable of serving even greater functions. The more sophisticated temple sites provide online res ources, such as accepting donation payments, allowing individuals to sign-up for classes, ha ll rentals, and other activities online. The use of newsletters and e-mail exchanges allows the temple to stay in contact with their suburban devotees, who may be separated by su bstantial distance through the city, or even nation on a whole; indeed, most of my personal Hindu friends (who are primarily south Indian) made the trip to the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Penn Hills for specific festivals. Newsletters (and the temple we b site) allowed them to keep up-to-date on temple functions and festivals. Furthermore, th ese sites also illustrate the success of the temple, and surrounding Indian American co mmunity, by displaying temple information, history and images. With beau tiful temples and websites, the Indian American Hindus have proven their success in this country, and the strength of their community and religion; a strength establis hed through ecumenical inclus ivity, and not Hindutva or Vedic orthodoxy. While the temple space and community becomes a primary place for many American Hindu adults and families to wo rk out solutions to their new challenges, these solutions are developed on the parents a nd temple leaderships terms. As we will see in the next chapter, the Hindu Students Council (HSC) has emerged to allow a forum

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62 for the young American Hindus to build groups of peers, and work out their issues and conflicts on their own terms.

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63 CHAPTER 4 VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM: HI NDU STUDENTS COUNCIL ACTIVITIES ONLINE Ethnic Preservation and Generational Conflict One of functions of Hindu temples in Amer ica is to assist new immigrants with their assimilation to the American landscape and culture, as well as collectively develop strategies for adapting Hinduism to this ne w environment. Both processes develop and maintain strong local communities, built ar ound the temple space and maintained through cyberspace. However, the primary impetus fo r temple building and participation in the US was the emergence of second and third generation Indian American Hindus. Renee and Ajit Bhatia (1996: 252), in their article Hindu Communities in Atlanta, argue that: A significant factor contributing to the growth of religious institutions and organizations is the strong desire among first-generati on Hindus to carry forward a viable Indian identity and instill cultural and religious values among their children, who are growing up in American culture. Pyong Gap Min reports that the majority of Hi ndus he interviewed cited educating their children as the primary reason for their participation in th e Hindu temple. He quotes two Hindu interviewees who stated: We are from India. Helping our children to learn about their root is the main reason for going to temple. Have them know about Hindu gods and goddesses. Another informantput it this way: I thi nk the main reasons are for my own peace of mind and my childrens development. We want our kids to know as much as possible about their religi on and culture. (2000: 112) These attempts to preserve their he ritage are, in fact, attempts to instill their heritage onto their children.

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64 One of the key challenges of any migrant community arises with the emergence of second and third generations, who do not have any (or much) first-hand knowledge of the nation of origin. Raymond Bra dy Williams, who has written extensively on the topic of Indian Hindu migration to America, points out that: two national identities are involved in the development of any immigrant group: the nation of origin and the nation of reside nceTension between the two identities is often experienced as a generational gap be tween Indian parents and their American children. (1992: 237) This tension between the generations create s significant conflicts, requiring mediation and resolution. Williams continues by arguing that one of the key strategies to overcoming these generational tensions lies wi thin the use of religious organizations, which he sees as a primary forum in which this dynamic is expressed (1991: 251). Therefore, participation in religious activ ities is among the most important factors of ethnic preservation. Pyong Gap Min, in hi s work on Korean Christian and Indian Hindu immigrants, presents a wi dely supported view that the re is a relationship between participation in an ethnic congregation and the preservati on of ethnicity (2000: 99). In fact, Min insists religious participation c onsistently makes a greater contribution to ethnic identification than any of the family or individual ch aracteristics examined, except recency of arrival (99-100) For the second and third gene rations of Hindus, therefore, participation in religious activ ities is crucial for the pres ervation of their Hindu identity. However, participation in religious rituals (such as temple worship) is difficult for second and third generation Hindus who have been raised as Americans, and do not understand the various rituals and samskaras (which are quite foreign to Americans). Many Hindu students articulate a discomfort with the ritualistic aspe cts of their religion which they feel that they could not and we re not asked to unde rstand (Waghorne 1999:

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65 123). How, then, can the Indian Ameri can Hindu communities built around the temple facilitate interest and participation from their children? The use of performing arts (primarily mu sic and dance) becomes a primary method for religious and cultural preservation a nd transmission. Unlike the complicated and foreign temple rituals (which are often perfor med in Sanskrit), Indian dance and music is more exciting, and provides a venue where th e children can actively participate. Most importantly, we should not assume that this participation in music and dance merely generates cultural transmission. As Narayana n points out, classical music and dance have a broad religious base in India (2006: 366). Furthermore, participation in language and religion cl asses; frequent religious discour ses; study circles for adults; and summer camps further augment this preserva tion and transmission of Hinduism to the American born generations (366). Yet, summer camps, temple and domestic worship and religious education are still on the parents terms; the children are instru cted by adults and othe r authority figures. The challenge of this generational gap is signif icant. It is not merely an issue of teaching Hinduism to their children and generating intere st in Indian culture, history and religion. It is also about instilling Indi an values to their children; i.e. the same values held by the parents. Bhatia and Bhatia write: Indian parents recognize th e difficulties associated w ith teaching Hindu traditions and values to their children, who become steeped in American culture from their earliest years. Parents recognize this cultural change as an inevitable yet undesirable part of rearing children in the United States. (1996: 252) Although Indian American Hindus have exhib ited progressive attitudes and religious openness in many regards, it is extremely diff icult for parents to watch their children develop interests and values which run c ontrary to their ow n. Although the various

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66 classes and temple events can successfully generate interest and participation in Hinduism, the reality remains that their children are Americans, whose primary influences come from non-Indian Amer ican peers and American popular culture. Therefore, even if the parents can successfully transmit cultural and religious elements to their children, their Americanness cannot be removed simply by adding Hinduism. Differences between the two cultures generate conflicts between th e two generations. For example, Bhatia and Bh atia (252) write that: first-generation Hindus lived in a soci ety that regarding dating and marrying outside the tradition as taboo. Conversely, for secondand third-generation Indian Americans, freedom to choose whom to da te and marry is an integral part of courtship in this country, much to th e chagrin of their parents...While some children acquiesce to their parents' wishes many find ways of getting around these restrictions, even if it mean s creating domestic friction. Indeed, the migrant parents of ten assert tremendous pressure on their children, attempting to persuade their decisions regarding ke y issues, including dating, marriage, use of English (in religious worship), education a nd career choice. Since the majority of religious education and participation occur in domestic and temple spaces, where the terms are set by parents and priests, there is a distinct need for a forum where the youth can explore these conflicts and issues on their own terms The university, which typically provides the first steps towards independen ce and adulthood, is a primary forum where this dialogue can be faci litated and explored. Hindu Students Council (HSC) The Hindu Students Council (HSC) is a student organizati on with over fifty chapters across universities in North Amer ica. Their mission and goal is to provide education about Hinduism for students, and to provide a social group and support system of other Indian American Hindu peers. Thei r work at the university level is crucial

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67 because such a high proportion of Indian Am ericans are college educated, which means that there is a greater chance that their children will be as well. During the formative years of college, the HSC presents young Amer ican Hindus with a forum to learn about the foreign rituals and cultu re of their heritage (and pa rents), while having a group of peers who also share the same tensions. It is important to analyze the various activities and functions of the HSC chapters in order to better understand issu es of migration and generational tensions within the Indian Am erican Hindu community, as well as patterns for future developments of Hinduism in America. Furthermore, it is necessary to anal yze the resources utilized by the HSC organization and affiliate chapters, in their outr each attempts. I assert that the Internet is one of the primary resources used by the vari ous HSC groups. The focus of this essay is on the various chapter websites at universities across America (see Appendix D), as well as the official website of the Hindu Students Council Although the analysis of this piece is primarily aimed at determining the HSCs use of the Internet, it must be addressed within the context of the broader generational issues. It is important to note that the HSC is not the only student organization that functions to assist Indian American Hindu students. The Indian Students Association (ISA) also has many chapters throughout No rth American universities. Although their emphasis is directly on broader Indian elements and not specifically Hinduism, in reality both organizations participate in very simila r events. This is not unexpected considering the overlap between religion and culture in I ndian religions. Further along down the road, an examination of the various ISA websites would be needed to complete this study. However, due to limitations of time and the sc ope of this project, I have had to relegate

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68 my observation and analysis to one group, and chose the HSC over the ISA because of their explicit religious emphasis, and because of thei r strong presence on the Internet as a result of the GHEN network. The primary methodology utilized in this study was in-depth observations of the various HSC chapter websites, as well as th e HSC official website. When observing the sites, I focused on two general aspects of th e site: 1) website content and information provided, and 2) website aesth etics, use of images and symbols, and the Internet protocols used (such as .html, .php, flash). Th erefore, it was necessary to view both the web page and the page source5. I further supplemented this observation with an email survey (see Appendix E), which I sent to the HSC officers and ge neral chapter email addresses (see Appendix F). I intentionally pu t HSC research on the subject line of the email so that the members would know it was re levant to their membership in the HSC. Unfortunately, the responses were few and fa r between. While the information I obtained from these emails was highly beneficial, it is now clear to me that email surveys are not a strong method for conducting research. With the plethora of spam and other junk emails and viruses, it is likel y that the recipients deleted the emails without reading them. Hindu Students Council on the World Wide Web I will begin my analysis of the Hindu Students Council web sites by giving an overview of the official HSC website (http://www.hscnet.org/ ), because all HSC chapters are registered units of th e HSC (a non-profit 501(c)3 organization)6. The HSCs mission statement is crucial to this st udy because the goals and objectives of the 1 The source refers to the code, or language, used to create the web page. In most browsers, the source can be located by going to View>Source. The source is important because it contains information about the various protocols and features used in the site, which may not be visible from the web page itself. 2 Email correspondence with the General Secretary of the HSC, Nikunj Trivedi.

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69 HSC organization are the foundation for each ch apter. However, the emphasis of this study is not on the official HSC website, bu t rather on the indi vidual campus chapter websites, which are used by the HSC memb ers and other student participants. The official HSC website offers more informati on regarding the procedures of the HSC in general, as well as informati on about starting a chapter. For this reason, the majority of their content is not applicable to this study. The HSC About Us page defines the Hi ndu Students Council as an international forum that provides opportunities to l earn about Hindu herita ge through various activities, events and projects (http://www.hscnet.org/aboutus.php ). These activities, events and projects are listed on the page as: Campus Study Groups Classes and Symposia Seminars, Lectures & Workshops Celebration of Festivals Conferences and Camps Leadership Workshops Sport & Travel Activities Publication & Distribution of Literature Various Projects Collaboration with other campus and community organizations However, it is important to note that while al l of these various activ ities are practiced by various HSC chapters, most individual chapters themselves only participate in some these activities. The site continues by asking Why A Hindu Students Council? (http://www.hscnet.org/aboutus.php ). The subsequent answer states that: One out of every six persons born on this earth is Hindu. Mark Twain said, "In religion and culture India is the only m illionaire." And yet, so many of us know very little about this great culture and heritage! HSC represents the first and only North American and international attemp t by students and young professionals like yourself to explore, discover & experience the immense treasures of the time-tested knowledge and wisdom of the great Hindu culture.

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70 Therefore, one primary objective of the HSC is to learn and expl ore the teachings of Hinduism. Yet, it is significant to note that this is phrased as t he great Hindu culture. On the one hand, this reflects the HSCs re lationship to the VHPA, and the VHPAs use of Hindutva ideology, which attempts to lump all Indian cultures and traditions together as a unified great culture. Yet, it also illust rates the cultural and religious inclusivity found within many American Hi ndu communities and temples. If education and information were the sole goals of the HSC, the organization could exist entirely online. However, the most crucial element of the organization (and subsequent chapters) is the social element offered by the group and their events (which are largely based on performing arts, music, dance and film); the community of students created and maintained by the organization. The About Us site continues by stating that: As Hindu students, we often feel isolated and lost within ourselves because of our upbringing in a dual culture Hindu and Jude o-Christian. We try to reconcile our own sorrows and imperfections as human beings in a variety of self-defeating ways. And we usually go through this conf using internal struggle alone. It is precisely to assist you with this spiritual, emotional and identity needs that the HSC was born. Let us help you and help us to help others. Therefore, above all else, the HSC website exclaims that the organization is designed to educate students abou t the Hindu culture, in a social setting designed to provide a community of fellow Hindu student peers. This goal is likewise the object ive of the various chapters. In fact, most chapters home pages have borrowed the official HSC sites mission statement, either reproducing it in whole or slightly modifying the text. Almost a third of the sites quote the passage One out of every six persons born on this earth is Hindu. Mark Tw ain said, In religion and culture India is the only millionaire. However, other than the About Us or

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71 Mission Statement pages and the official HSC image (see Appendix G), most chapter websites draw very little from the official si te, in terms of both content and aesthetics. Most individual chapter sites offer the basi c information about that particular HSC chapter on their homepage. Typically this invo lves some variation of the HSC official mission statement, as well as the origins of that chapter. Often this includes the individuals that started the chapter, as well as dates and motivations for its creation. For example, the first thing on the homepage of the Boston University HSC site states: The Hindu Students Council at Boston University started in 1995 by some very enthusiastic students...HSC at BU organized a plethora of activi ties in 1995-96 with the leadership of the its dedicated coordinators. (http://people.bu.edu/buhsc/ ) One common trend in the homepage statem ents is an emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness. For example, the University of Virginias HSC chapter explicitly states that their primary goal is is to provi de a forum for both the Hindu and non-Hindu students at the University of Virginia to observe and practice th e Hindu religion and the Hindu philosophies (http://www.student.virginia.edu/~hindu/ ). Most sites have the general contact information on the homepage, though many utilize some form of a contact us link. Almo st every chapter site has a link to a page about the chapter officers, with their names, contact information, and occasionally images and other biographical information. This is significant because it highlights the actual people involved in the HSC, and not simply the activities and information itself. This implies an emphasis on social activity and group participation. Some of the sites offer general informa tion about Hinduism, in a variety of ways. The University of Pittsburgh HSC has two links which outline a basic history and general beliefs of Hinduism (http://www.pitt.edu/AFShome/s/o/sorc/public/html/hindu/ index_hindu_history.html http://www.pitt.edu/AFShome/ s/o/sorc/public/html/hindu/

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72 index_hindu_religion.html ), based on information borrowed from the BBCs religion website. Boston University HSC has a prayer book online, with a basic overview of Hinduism, as well as trans literated and translated mantras slokas and bhajans (http://people.bu.edu/buhs c/downloads/prayer.pdf ). By providing information online, the various HSC chapters can use the web as a resource to develop th eir goal of education about Hinduism. However, the primary method of education, as well as the function of social community, is not performed online. Since the HSC is an activity-based organi zation, the majority of the site content regards their various functions, activities and events. These events are never online events. Therefore, the website simply functi ons as an advertising resource. Most HSC chapter sites have a link to an Events or Activities page, which lists the activities and dates. Many sites utilize a calendar feature, which provides a simple and organized layout of their activities. Other sites simply list the activities on their homepa ge, such as with the University of Michigan HSC (http://www.umich.edu/~hindu/ ). The University of Virginia HSC site has inco rporated a ticker script7 into their html code, allowing their events window to scroll through various events at a set speed. While many of the events are explicitly religious and ritualistic, many other events are social activities involving a blending of various elements of American and Indian popular cultures. Common religious activities in volve regular pujas bhajans discussions and yoga or meditation sessions, as well as occa sional lectures, special guests and temple trips. Many chapters have regular events on various days. For example, the Boston University HSC has a monthly puja Tuesday night discussions and a Sunday morning prayer (http://people.bu.edu/buhsc ). Their Tuesday night di scussions are designed to 3 ProHTML Ticker script, Dynamic Drive (www.dynamicdrive.com)

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73 address all issues rele vant to the students, not merely religious issues. Sample questions they list on the site include: What does Hindu religion imply to you? Do you practice your faith? What does this mean, how do you practice? How have you been able to adapt it into your life? What do I say when people ask me about my religion/faith? How do I explain things? What are the most common misconcep tions people have about Hindus? What are the most common questions you are asked? What is difficult for you? Among the major topics raised throughout the various chapter discus sions are issues of dating, racism, and conflicts with parents. The University of Florida HSC site has a writeup on their recent Discussion on Faith meeting (see Appendix H). What is striking about this discussion on faith is the preval ence of dating and love; in fact, no ideology was even discussed! Instead, the students di scussed their own difficulties with dating and American values, in direct contrast to the vi ews of the parents. This, in my opinion, is the greatest strength and function of the HSC. The Internet promotion of these activities allows for various Hindu students to also share their own personal struggles, discuss strategies for dealing with these conflicts, as well as encouraging participation in the HSCs religious activities; this, in turn, deve lops and maintains their student community. Diwali and Holi celebrations are especia lly popular with the HSC chapters, though a plethora of other festival s are also observed. However, based on the few questionnaire responses and frequency of occurrence on the we bsites, it appears that these two festivals have the greatest turnout. Other popular religious ac tivities include garbha and bhangra dancing. These festivals and activities have great appeal because they are joyously celebrated, and fun social activi ties. Most importantly, they are religious activities that

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74 allow the students (particularly female student s) to actively participate in the transmission and retention of Hinduism in America. The performing arts have a long-established tradition of religious meaning and function in Hinduism, a nd are, in fact, a primary method for cultural preservation and religious education in Amer ica (Narayanan 2006: 366). Other activities have relatively little relig ious orientation, but nonetheless serve to provide social interact ion with other Indian American st udents. Such activities include watching movies (both Hollywood and Bollyw ood films), playing sports and leisure activities (which range from bowling to play ing Hindu Jeopardy), as well as dinners and small feasts (with various Indian and Amer ican foods). Many s ites incorporate online photo albums, displaying images of their va rious events. These online albums document the events, and provide an easily retrieva ble memory of the event for those that participated. Most importantly, these imag es (which always look fun) encourage participation from other students in future activities. One of the stated goals on the HSC offi cial website was to provide service ( seva ) to the community. However, this is not repres ented on most of the various HSC chapter sites. Georgia Tech Universitys chapter works with Raksha, a local Georgia-based nonprofit support and referral network, wh ich their site describes as a: non-profit organization which addresses so cial issues within our South Asian community such as family violence and divorce, as well as issues concerning children, senior citizens and new immigrants. Raksha strives to be a source of support for all South Asians who may need a helping hand. (http://www.prism.gatech.edu/~dsadmhsc/ ) Founded in 1995, Rakshas official homepage describe their various services as: Raksha's general direct services include crisis intervention, information and referrals, interpretation and translation, legal and gene ral advocacy, individual and family counseling with children and adults encompassing a variet y of issues facing

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75 the South Asian community. Rakshas community outreach programs increase awareness around issues such as immigration, the myth of the model minority, family violence, child sexual abuse, hate crimes, stalking, LGBT issues access to health care and workforce readiness within the S outh Asian community. Raksha strives to promote cultural sensitivity a nd provides technical assistance on the unique needs of South Asians to la w enforcement agencies, social service agencies and health car e providers, among others. (http://www.raksha.org/ raksha/services.html ) Other chapters simply organize occasiona l community service act ivities on their own, which are likewise promoted on their website (such as the University of South Carolina HSC site). In fact, the majority of se rvice related promotion on th e chapter websites involves student services. The George Mason University HSC site and the University of South Carolina HSC site have online classifieds, where students can post items for sale, rooms for rent and job postings. The Penn State HSC site has information about Hindi classes available at the university. Some s ites include news features for their members and various participants. For example, both chapters at University of Florida and University of Illinois Urbana Champaign have online newsletters; other HSC sites, such as the University of Washington and University of California, Irvine have mailing lists to keep their participants regularly informed. Website Aesthetics and Technology The second aspect of my observation i nvolves the general lo ok, aesthetics and symbolism utilized on the HSC sites. In f act, when observing the various sites, many recurring images, symbols, themes and tropes continuously emerged. The om ( aum ) symbol adorns nearly every HSC site, though the symbol is much less common in India. More popular religious symbols in India, such as the Shri and swastika have no presence on the HSC sites. This is likely due to the fact that the om is commonly known to non-

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76 Hindus in America, and is an increasingly marketed symbol in American pop culture, whereas the Shri is virtually unknown by non-Indian Americans. Furthermore, the swastika carries the stigma of N azi Germany, which discourages its use in the west. Images of deities and religious figures are also commonly used. Ganesh appears on nearly half of the HSC websites, as o pposed to Krishna, Shiva and the goddess who appear on only a few sites. There was not a single Venkateswara located on any site; this was a surprise, considering the popularity of this particular form of Vishnu in both south India and America. Images of Vivekananda appear on the websites of Stanford University and the University of Washington Many of the sites incorporat e a Devanagari-style Englis h font (see Appendix I), which gives the initial impression that the langu age is Sanskrit or Hi ndi. While this font gives the site a somewhat Indian look, it does so at the risk of being kitsch. Some sites begin with traditional Hindu greetings, such as namaste and svaagatam (Emory University Duke University and University of California, Berkeley ). Although these greetings are increasingly less common in I ndia, they are finding rejuvenated use in America. There are also a number of common phrases, scriptures and trope s inculcated into the websites. Not surprisingly, the HSC slogan, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The entire creation is one family), is frequently quoted on the individual chap ter sites. While the term Hindu itself is generic by naturethe etymology is based on geography, and not ideology and practicethe highly popular use of Sanatana Dharma ('eternal duty or religion', an ecumenical term popularized dur ing pre-Independence India) reflects their inclusivity, as well as possible influence from the VHPA and other Hindu groups active

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77 in America (including the plethora of Veda nta movements and philosophies). Many sites include quotes from popular text s such as the Bhagavad Gita and Rig Veda, including the Gayatri Mantra. For example, the Penn State HSC site has four quotes on their homepage: Knowledge Wisdom and righteous knowledge are the key to true success Unity The entire creation is one family Progress Let everyone be happy, healthy and blessed Dharma Truth is one, sages ca ll it by different names The University of Pittsburg HSC site has two quotes from the Bhagavad Gita and Rig Veda: God is seated in the he arts of all ~ Bhagavad Gita There is no religion greater than truth and a truthful person knows no fear ~ Rig Veda Furthermore, their link for information about Hinduism is called Hindu Culture. Barkha Gurbani, the HSC President at John H opkins University, wrote an article for the campus ministrys newsletter called Being Hindu, Being in College in which she argues that: Many people are misled to think that Hindui sm is all about rituals. True Hinduism is a philosophy that everyone can follow and benefit from whether they call themselves Hindu or not. It is a faith base d on the fulfillment of duty to self, family, friends and mankind without any ex pectation of a reward. (2002) Vasudha Narayanan discusses some of these same ecumenical outlooks in American Hinduism, temples, and among the young urba n professional Hindu (2006: 173). She writes that it is often said that: Hinduism is not a religi on, it is a philosophy, a way of life. This is usually followed with Hinduism is the oldest re ligion in the world. These sentences are probably most commonly heard in this count ry. Some of my American friends who

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78 teach religion here have told me how many of their second-generation Hindu students spout these lines at them. The Vis itors Guide to the Penn Hills temple tells us that Hinduism might be better desc ribed as religious culture rather than a religion. (173) Another common trope she outlines is that H induism is a tolerant religionSentences like Truth is one, Paths are many are voiced ev en as India spins into crises expressed by communal rioting and separatist violence (173). However, these tropes reinforce the inclusive, ecumenical nature of American Hinduism, and it should not be surprising that this element is likewise found among the youth. While the website symbolism, imagery a nd language use are crucial to their representation of Hinduism, the we bsite structure and code are likewise important in their presentation of this representation. The offici al HSC website uses PHP, which gives their content more organization, and an overall pr ofessional appearance. However, since the individual chapters are res ponsible for creating, hosting and maintaining their own sites, using only the basic university resources av ailable to them, most are simple HTML, though there is a wide range of technological sophistication. Some chapter sites, such as Cornell University George Mason University The University of Illinois Chicago Johns Hopkins University and The University of South Florida are HTML pages with Shockwave Flash (.swf) elements embedded with in the page, giving the sites simple (but effective) animation. Other sites, such as University of Miami and Purdue University are made entirely of Flash, and therefore highl y sophisticated in both appearance and functionality. Interactivity and Community Other sophisticated elements of web de sign include chat rooms and discussion boards. However, since these require speci fic server-side setup and management, many

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79 chapters are not able to u tilize these functions because the university servers do not support them. However, technological support is only one reason for a lack of these features. The University of Florida chapter features a discussion board (http://grove.ufl.edu/%7Ehsc/cgi-bin/board/YaBB.cgi ), yet there is only one post (a man looking for a tabla teacher). This is most likely due to that fact that the various sites of the HSC's GHEN network include chat rooms features; therefore the individual chapters do not need their own. However, other chapters have utilized these features with more popular support and usage, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago (http://www.pliner.net/appmb/board .aspx?id=7621&key=C21A53F760F4440F ). Other university chapters in California had extensiv e usage of their message boards, but had to shut them down due to a plethora of racist and anti-Muslim postings (http://www.rediff.com/us/2001/jul/10us6.htm http://www.rediff.com/us/2001/jun/22usspec.htm ). Such anti-Muslim statements can be in terpreted in a number of ways. Racist postings on discussion boards, drawing on highl y politicized Muslim-Hindu conflicts, can be the views of a few, extreme individuals. So much attention is given to these conflicts in the news and media that we should not e xpect these statements to be absent in American Hinduism. While the seriousness of th ese racist remarks necessitates attention, making concrete conclusions due to the existe nce of some racist pos tings is incongruent with the overall picture, and certainly not one representative of a ll Indian Americans or Hindus. However, many scholars have made bol d conclusions regarding American Hinduism, and the various student groups, bala vihar's and summer camps facilitated by

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80 the HSC, Chinmaya Mission and FHA (Feder ation of Hindu Americans). These summer camps often teach general Hindu viewpoints, representative of ecumenical Hindu adaptions. Some scholars worry, however, that this pan-Indian education denies local traditions and languages, and can indirectly pr ovide the receptive so il in which the seeds of the [Hindutva] movement can be sown (Kurien 1998: 64). Vijay Prashad, in his criticism of the HSC and 'Yankee Hindutva' takes this even further (Prashad 2000). His primary critiques of the HSC are that (1) the HSC is a Hindutva organization governed by the VHPA (VHP in America); (2 ) that Hindutva groups conflate culture and religion as a means of promoting the views of the 'elite' cultu re; (3) that the individual chapters are run exclusively by young men; and (4) that th e various camps and summer programs are Hindutva training grounds (Prashad 2000) Prashad (2000: 148) writes that Rather than join what shoul d be a collective battle to reconstruct society along the lines of compassion and fellowship, Ya nkee Hindutva asks desi children to withdraw into Hindu enclaves to learn the ways they are great than others. At its summer camps, the VHPA trains youths in a syndicated Hindu dharma. There is nothing wrong with learning shlokas, liter ature, Hindi, bhajans...There is, however, everything wrong with learning them as if they are the heritage solely of Hindus and not part of a complex shared history that includes those who are not Hindus". He continues by asking "How do they decide or make a choice [regarding their religious stance] when they have not been given a story filled with different versions of the past?" (148). It seems that just as Vinay Lal fails to give agency to American Hindus, Vijay Prashad fails to give agency to th e American Hindu youth. Young adults, though certainty impressionable, are not ignorant mindless sponges eagerly absorbing any and all rhetoric thrown their way. They can, a nd do, actively think for themselves, like all adolescents and young adults. While it is unden iable that the HSC is an organization overseen by the VHPA, each chapter is indivi dually operated by its members and student

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81 leaders, who come from a variety of bac kgrounds. Likewise, his cr itic of patriarchal domination in the HSC is not supported by my re search and discussions with participants in the University of Florida chapter of the HSC. Many chapters, including the University of Florida and John Hopkins University, ar e run by female leadership, and largely comprised of female participants. The HS C is a dynamic forum for the young adults to work out issues on their own terms and not the terms set-up by their parents, priests, or HSC and VHPA national leaders. Clearly there are distinct patterns of inclusivity and ecumenicism in American Hinduism, yet both Lal and Prashad view this pan-Indian ecumenicism as Brahminical Elitism (Prashad's alternate term for Hindut va). They do not address the necessity and function of this inclusivity due to issues of migration and minority status in America. Furthermore, inclusiveness does not equate to the denial of diversit y; it simply builds on the common denominators required to bri ng a diverse group toge ther as one strong, united community, with all their differences expressed openly (such as by including many different deities in a temple, offering pujas and prayers in different languages, including Shirdi Sai Baba and Swaminarayan images and pujas in non-sectarian temples, etc.). Part of Lal and Prashad's error lies in their sole emphasis on belief and philosophy, often obfuscating the differences between Veda ntic ideologies and Hindutva histories, not to mention the exclusion of performing arts from their analyses. The HSC activities and various student camps and bala vihar programs do incorporate lectures and discussions on Hindu belief. These lectures ar e typically inclusive by nature, emphasizing general, if not generic, beliefs and ideologi cal viewpoints; viewpoints necessary to unite

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82 Hindus from various backgrounds and family practices. Narayanan describes this dialectic nature of American Hinduism as Diglossic Hinduism, a complex overlap of generic and specific beliefs and practices (Narayanan 2000: 761). Like diglossic languages, such as Tamil, which incorporate both formal and colloquial strands, American Hinduism allows formal brahmini cal viewpoints to be discussed along with each members unique, specific traditions and fam ily practice; it is this complex weave of traditions that Raymond Brady Williams desc ribes as Ecumenical Hinduism in the Sacred Threads of Several Textures. Ev en Kurien recognizes that the second generation is simultaneously becoming 'Indianized in the colleges and universities, where there are many pan-Indian organizations. At home, however, the community with which they identify is the subcultural one, since mo st family-levelinteraction is within the regional group (Kurien 1998: 46). A students education comes from multiple sources; therefore, conclusions cannot be draw n from simply analyzing one aspect. Kurien continues by arguing, however, that th is Great Tradition had little impact for the majority of Hindus, until the recent airing of the Hindu epics and the rise of modern Hindutva (Kurien 1998: 56). However, this process is by no means new to contemporary Hinduism or the American front. M.N. Srinivas described this complexity in Indian history as Sanskritization, a process: by which a lower caste attempts to raise its status and to rise to a higher position in the caste hierarchy. Sanskritization may take place through the adoption of vegetarianism, of teet otalism, of the worship of 'Sanskritic deities', or by engaging the service of Brahmins for ritual purposes Sanskritization can apply to ritual and custom, to ideas and beliefs, or to the pantheon (Staal 1963: 261). However, as many scholars have pointed out, this distinction requires some qualification. Staal's critique of this overly simplistic explanation is that the little traditions have, in fact, greatly influenced the Sanskritic, Br ahminical ideologies, beliefs and practices.

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83 There has been a long, ongoing interplay and exchange between various groups, traditions and castes in India, and this dynami c has been central to the development of Hinduism (Staal 1963). Similarly, this same in terplay between the g reat tradition and local traditions is continuing today in India, as well as in America. Furthermore, we cannot focus our analysis solely to Hindu ideologies, for Hinduism incorporates many rituals, festivals, and embodied practices. This is evident in the many local dances and festivals sponsored by the HSC, and engaged by the various HSC participants (many of whom are not members of the organization). When analyzing the various chapter websites of the HSC, photos and descriptions of the events typically include activities relating to da ncing and music, as well as feasts; all of which have an establ ished religious base. Even the popularity of Bollywood films, which draw heavily on the mu sical and dance traditions from India, reflects the student interest in the performing arts. In he r discussion of the arbitrary distinctions between re ligion and culture (particularly in the academic study of religion), Narayanan addresses the tendency to empha size Vedic, Brahminical ideologies as religious. She continues by pointi ng out that None of this was wrong; it was just that the epic stories, the variations of the storie s, the varieties of devotional activity, the celebrations of festivals, a nd the fuss about food seem far more important than doctrine and philosophy in the practice of the Hi ndu traditions (Narayanan 2000: 762). She continues by stating that: All over India religion is conveyed and transmitted through narrative and performance, both onstage and through mass media...It is quite st range that despite all these contributions to the understa nding of the Hindu cultural tradition, the focus in portrayals of Hinduism as a re ligion is still on the Veda and not on performing arts. (Narayanan 2000: 775)

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84 When scholars deny the signifi cance of performing arts ( both Indian and American alike), and place sole emphasis on ideology, it is easy to misconstrue American Hinduism as doctrinal and ideological. Yet, as Nara yanan makes clear, performing arts are not classical, static, arts (775). They are dynamic, religious expressions, which can be used to communicate any social, polit ical or religious issue(s). The interpretive dimension of the narratives and performances allows each individual to express the art differently, and for different reasons. The performers of music and dance, the transmitters of the religious traditions, speak for Hinduism. We should listen to them (776). By denying agency and voice to American Hindus and st udents, critics of American Hindutva have failed to listen to the transmitte rs of the religious tradition. Concluding Remarks While much can be learned from observati on, it is only one part of the research process. Officers, members and participants of the HSC need to be interviewed and asked about their own usage of the Internet. However, as stated previousl y, the response to my email questionnaires was poor. While the information provided from the few responses was insightful, they were simply too fe w to establish any broad generalizations. Therefore, there is a need to pursue other me thods of interviewing for future development of this research, particularly in-person interviews with local chapter officers and telephone interviews with other chapter officers. Nonetheless, some insightful information was obtained through the e-mail questionnaire responses. Based on this small sample, it appears that well over half the membership is comprised of students born or ra ised in America, with a relatively small number of international student s. This would suggest that the HSC primarily functions to assist students with generati onal issues and problems deali ng with dual cultures (second

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85 and third generations), and not so much with issues of migration a nd assimilation (firstgeneration immigrants or foreign students). Fu rthermore, the responses indicated that the vast majority of participan ts are Hindu, with some Jain and Sikh participants. One respondent wrote, we have had some chris tians occasionally come to a meeting, though the individual did not specify if these Christian particip ants were Indian American. Aside of pragmatic issues of participation and proce dure, I also asked the HSC members about their own experiences in the HSC. One respondent wrote that: Through HSC, I have learned what being a Hindu means to me. It really bridged the gap between my cultures, and allowed me to appreciate the beauty of both cultures. I made my parents, my grandpa rents and my family more enthusiastic about HSC and Hinduism as well. (personal email correspondence) What is interesting about this response is that she cites her invol vement in the HSC as important in bridging both th e cultural and generational gaps in her life. Much of the discussion of this essay has involved the id ea that the HSC develops and maintains student communities of Indian American Hindus Yet, in this response, the individual also discusses how her involvement has brought her closer to her family, who is surely excited by her participation in Hindu activities. The key question this raises for me is whether or not (and in what capacities) the HSC participants continue their involvement in an Indian American community following graduation. The HSC websites function in two basic ways, based on the two outlying goals of the HSC. The first goal of the HSC is to pr ovide religious information and education to the students on campus, though primarily aime d at second and third generation Indian American Hindus. This education is conducted during their various group activities, as well as from peer interaction. Although the Internet promotes the activities, it is rarely used to offer information directly by the HS C chapters. There, in this endeavor the

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86 Internet is solely a resource used by the HSC to promote and advertise the activities. The second basic goal of the HSC is to provide a social network of peers, and a student community of Hindus. While this goal is lik ewise achieved by the gr oup activities, the Internet provides the tools to network, gi ves the young students a voi ce to express their own understanding of Hinduism, and a forum to show pictures of their work, activities and festival celebrations. This work can then be seen by their families, and give the different generations a bridge to discuss their religion, and br ing together the parents and children, grand-parents and grand-children.

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87 CHAPTER 5 VIRTUAL REALITIES: VIRTUAL RI TUAL AND CYBERCOMMUNITY A Satguru's Cybercall So far, we have seen the Internet as a tool to promote id eas (informative) and activities at Hindu temples and HSC chapters, but we have yet to see much substantial online performance of Hinduism. In this chapte r, I will explore aspects of the Internet which utilize higher levels of interactivity, a nd the reality of virtual Hindu performance. While information about Hinduism does not really const itute religious performance, online discussion and ritual do. Again, the prev alence of informative sites over interactive sites represents the origins and previous Internet technologies more than lack of imagination. In 1995, the year typically cr edited as the birth of the Internet, the Himalayan Academy's Satguru Sivaya Subr amuniyaswami offered this consideration regarding the potential for Hinduism in cyberspace: I've been meditating on what this all m eans for Sanatana Dharma and can see a time when Hindus are all connected on the Inte rnet. An ashram in Fiji will be able to download explanations for samskaras. A yoga society in Orissa will be able to locate graphical information about chakra s for a public slide show. A pilgrim will call up a home page with a ll the sacred sites, temples, tirthas and ashrams his family can visit on his way back to Bharat, complete with maps, train schedules and cost of A/C rooms. I see more. A pa nchangam we all use together, listing the holy days and festivals. Our own Timelin e is already on the Net. It stirred historians to write us many letters, and discuss the new way India's history is being understood. Even now you can get it, and s earch for when Ramakrishna was born, when the Vedas were composed, when South Indian Chola kings set sail for Indonesia. I see interactive courses. A teacher in S outh Africa could download the lessons for her students, lessons rich in photos, maps Vedic verses, illustrations and sounds, all the things that interest childre n. How about having the Encyclopedia of Hinduism online, which our dear friends Muniji and Dr. Rao are working to

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88 assemble through scholars throughout the wo rld? How about a library of dharma graphics which anyone could log onto, find th at perfect piece of art for illustrating a brochure, download it and never leave their desk? Say your daughter just had a new child a nd you want a special name. What to do? Let's put all the Hindu names on the net-we have over 20,000-so anyone can search, find the meaning, learn the right pronunciation and then make a choice. Need a good time to start a business, sign an important contract or leave on a trip? Just call up the WWW home page on astrol ogy for a computer analysis of the auspicious moment. (http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1995/5/1995-505.shtml ) Although the Satguru sees the pote ntial of the Internet as a pr imary reference tool, he also foresaw the networking potential to connect all global Hindus, and the need for various Hindu services to be availabl e through the Information Superhighway. However, online communication and practice is significantly di fferent than traditional in-person forms, and brings in new challenges. Therefore, in order for religious performance and interaction to exist online, these challenges must be addressed, and solutions must be adopted. Embodiment and Authenticity Although this chapter cannot comprehensibly account for every relevant web site, understanding the types of on line services and the unique challenges present in online religious performance is more important for the scope of this analysis. By online services I am referring to any type of Internet service that facilitates interactive user participation and administrator response for the purposes of religious practice; such services range from receiving astrological readings and religious advice via the World Wide Web or email to commissioning and performing temple pujas online. The primary challenge to virtual ritual performance rega rds the questions of embodiment, authenticity and authority. As Brenda Brasher points out, t o interact via a computer monitor with an online Hindu temple is a profoundly different re ligious experience than participating in a

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89 physical temple building (Brasher 2001: 4). Among the primary differences of in-person participation and online practice are the lack of sensory input and expe rience, as well as a lack of social effervescence. The Internet, as Brasher argues, is a fantasy universe that stimulates the imagination but ignores the re st of the body, [it] is a non-environment that sucks attention away from immediate surround ings in which most traditional religious life occurs (Dawson 2005: 19). During my first visit to a Hindu temple in the Detroit area, the most immediate aspect that struck me was the sensory experi ence, far more than the ideas and beliefs I encountered. Every sense was engaged: I immediately smelled the sweet aroma of incense upon entering the temple; I heard the beautiful, rhythmic praying of the primary pujari and the ringing of the bell as each devotee approached the murtis ; I felt the cold bell as I rang it, the dry kumkum powder my friends adorned on my forehead, and felt the cool floor upon my bare fee t; I saw beautifully adorned murtis, so lifelike it felt as if they were indeed watching me; and I tasted the sweet prasadam (in the form of a Granny Smith apple) following the priests prayer and blessings. I watched and heard the young children playing, sneaking peeks at the white stranger in their temple, occasionally flashing brief, shy smiles in my direction. I was greeted with open arms, welcomed by the various families and temple priests, and honored as a guest in their spiritual abode. Yet, how can this experience be transfe rred to the world of cyberspace? The simple answer is that it cannot. Howeve r, just because the experience of virtual religious practice is different from in-person participation, we should not assume that this experience is inauthentic and less religious. Stephen O'Leary, a scholar active in the subfield of religion and cybe rspace, shares many of these same concerns. He asks:

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90 What will happen to our spiritual senses when the next step is taken, i.e. When rituals are performed purely in the realm of the virtual? We may lose the smell of the flowers or the smoke in the ritual fire offering, but will the ritual necessarily be an less efficacious for its practitioners if the flowers are cyber-flowers and the flames are cyber-flames? And if the fu ll sensory experience of the ritual is diminished by its reduction to the text sound and imagery now possible on the web...what in turn may be gained by worki ng within these limitations, and what are the possibilities for transce nding them? (O'Leary 2005: 43). What strikes me about O'Leary's statement is that he addresses the question of how to deal with the limitations of the Internet, and looks forward for ways that these limitations can be managed and overcome. Similarly, Brenda Brasher explores the lim itations of online religion, as well as the benefits, in Give Me That Online Religion She analyzes the web site Digital Avatar [no longer in existence] which offered an online darshan of Lord Shiva, as well as audio/video sounds and images of Shaiva prayers and images. In considering online practice, she writes: To contrast Digital Avatar with [a] temple, in the former the journey to the site is gone. There is no wait to get into the temple. There is no interaction with other pilgrims en route. The temple itself is gone. The heavy smell of flower and fruit offerings has vanished. In sum, in the tr ansition from temple to screen, a radical alteration of the sense stimulation integral to Hindu worship has silently taken place. Consequently, the religious expe rience itself has been altered. The numinous, or holy, experience that cybers pace makes possible by way of Digital Avatar is almost entirely an affair of th e mind. This stands in huge contrast to the immersion of mind and body in the numinous of an actual visit to the Kali temple. Still, the Kali temple itself imposes limits. Only a select number of people beyond those who live in the immediate vicinity can readily visit the temple. Given its smallish size, a mere fifty or so can enter the temple at any one time. At the temple, novice worshippers may gaze without comprehension upon the iconography meant to summon the gods' presence. None of th ese limits apply to Digital Avatar. Its hyperlinked visual elements enable visito rs who see an unfamiliar image or sound to learn all about it in th eir own language. Whereas a thousand may travel to the temple of Kali in one month, that many a nd more can visit Digital Avatar in one day. (Brasher 2001: 4-5).

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91 So, the online performance of ritual allows individuals to transcend obstacles of space and time. Yet, considering the lack of sensory embodiment in virtual rituals, can these rituals be considered auth entic? Lorne Dawson, drawing on a Durkhiemian perspective, challenges the authenticity of online religious participation, arguing that: The 'reality' of religious experience resides wi th the reality of society as the actual, if unrecognized, object of worship...In the absence of embodied social effervescence online, cyber-religion may prove little more than an intellectual chimera. It may be 'inauthentic' for everyone (2005: 29). Although it seems impossible, at le ast with the current technologies we have available, to completely transfer the real life experience to the domain of cyberspace, I am hesitant to make any judgments about Hindu authenticity ba sed solely on these sc holarly challenges (even if they are legitimate issues). Consider the example of performing an online puja While it is possible to conduct a puja online, does this constitute auth entic Hindu practice? Can one have darshan with an online image? Can a digital image be considered a murti when it cannot be bathed and sanctified? Most importantly (at least for the various bhakti traditions), in seeing the digital image, will that sight generate God' s grace and salvation? Ramanuja, the pivotal south Indian Vaishnava saint, saw darshan as more than merely a reverential viewing of the deity. For him (and indeed the millions of worshippers influenced by his teachings), darshan in its highest form was an internal experience, shaped by the viewing and the individual's many life experiences. The extern al sight of the deity creates internal devotion, which in turn generates God's favor blessing and salvation. Therefore, can we assume that online darshan is authentic so long as it in spires the devotee's love and devotion to god? No, for the simple reason that such logic is merely intellectual speculation; I am not a Hindu, and do not represent Hindu authority.

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92 However, the practice an d various notions of darshan seem particularly receptive to authenticity in cyberspace. There are many types of darshan including sight of the deity, tirthas (sacred crossings), dhams (sacred abodes) pithas (the seas of the divine), sacred geographic places, and even sacred figures, such as gurus sants sadhus and sannyasins (Eck 1998: 4-5). Many aniconic repres entations of the divine can also constitute darshan including various stones, clay fo rmations, trees and other natural objects (33-36). In the modern world, darshan has even transferred to television, through filmed shows and animated cartoons; one temple complex even offers darshan of mechanized, moving statues of the deities (43-44). Most importantly, even photographs of a murti can be used for home pujas ; in light of the great va riation in the practice of darshan having sight of an electronic image seem s to fit within the parameters of the sacred act of seeing, and being s een by God. Nonetheless, online darshan will only be authentic when practicing Hindus accept it as authentic, for their own reasons and justifications. Finding answers to such questions is simple; finding authoritative answers, however, is a different matter. Hinduism, in its broad inclusive sense, does not have a single founder, authoritative scripture, central sacred space or unified set of practices. Where do such Hindus go for questions of author ity? Individual sects, particularly those that are well organized and inst itutionalized, will ha ve specific leaders, scriptures and customs which they can go to with such questions. Family traditions often carry more weight than orthodox instructions, and authorita tive prescriptions ar e not always followed by the practitioners anyways (consider the hi gh whiskey consumption in Pakistan despite Islamic prohibitions against drinking alcohol). However, ritual authenticity is important

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93 for many devotees. Therefore, as Hinduism spr eads to new geographic regions, as well as cyberspace, there is a need for the author itative allowance of religious change. In Transmission and Transformation of Rituals Dr. K.K.A. Venkatachari outlines the basic sources of authority relevant to mo st Hindus. He writes that According to the scriptures, three authorities are ranked in order: (1) Sruti or the Vedas, (2) the eighteen Smritis of the rishis ...and (3) acara or custom. Custom is accepted as authority only when it does not contradict either Sruti or Smriti (1992: 178-9). However, he points out that there is still a great deal of flexibility within this author itative system. For example, he writes that The eighteen Smritis belong to different periods, and we find that the later authors sometimes reject the authority and teachings of earlier texts...The 11th century Tamil grammarian, Pavanantimuni, author of Nannul argued that ther e is nothing wrong in rejecting the old practices and accepti ng new ones to meet the needs of the time (179). As he argues, this process is by no means new to American Hinduism: Historical analysis shows th at Hindu rituals have been adapted throughout history to meet the needs of people in new contex ts. Times of rapid social change provide impetus for adaption of rituals because su ch adaptation preserves the vitality of ritual in new social settings and functions to preserve the tradition at the time it is being transformed. Such change is not a modern phenomenon, but has been present in Hinduism for centuries, and it provides a justification for some of the changes that are taking place as Hinduism is bei ng transported to America by immigrants. (178) This statement makes clear that not only can Hinduism adapt to new conditions, but also that it can do so with authenticity by preser ving the vitality of ritual in new social settings. In specifically addressing the adap tion of Hinduism in Amer ica, he argues that these adaptions must be met with confidence. He writes: It is not possible for people living in Nort h America to observe festivals as long as nine or ten days or to con tinue all of the prescribed life-cycle rituals, but it is consistent with the history o Hinduism in India for festivals and rituals to be adapted to local circumstance. Just as regional languages have become part of

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94 many rituals in India, so English is an acceptable medium for many of the mantras and explanatory elements of ritual in this country. New rituals and festivals will be created and adapted to the American calenda r, just as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day have become times of major Hindu gatherings. The ability of Hinduism to adapt to constant and even dr amatic social change is a reason for its survival and success in such a diverse count ry as India. Now it is spreading with immigrants around the world; and ca n have similar success. (189) As Hinduism progresses into the new, uncharted domains of cyberspace, such flexibility and allowance for adaption will be crucial for online Hindu practice, and the continued success of Hinduism. Furthermore, we must r ecognize that there are no single answers to these dilemmas of authenticity; what will be a cceptable to one individual, family or group may not be authentic to others. Even if a virtua l ritual is accepted as authentic, this does not mean that people will use thes e services, or give them pref erence to real life practice. However, by exploring the various cyber-service s available, and the techniques that these web sites utilize for authenticity, new light will be shed on this issue. Virtual Ritual It is difficult to systematically index a nd analyze all of the va rious web sites which offer online services, not only due to basic limita tions of search engines, but also because there are a tremendous amount of differen t types of relevant services. Online performance of pujas receiving virtual darshan of a deity, various services to assist with the many samskaras (life-cycle rituals), hearing streaming bhajans and shlokas and receiving astrological readi ngs online are all obvious examples; less obvious examples include online marriage servic es, the use of webcams to see a husbands face at the conclusion of Karva Chauth, dynamic pages whic h give current planetary alignments and eclipse times, and gifting services, not to mention countless others I have not even considered, and thus were excluded from my analysis.

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95 Online puja services can function in a variety of ways: there are commercial sites that supply puja materials for home worship, other sites allow an individual to commission a temple puja online (to be performed by the te mple priests), and some sites allow an individual to actually perform the puja online, and receive virtual darshan SirIndia.com's Puja Store sells various puja materials, in case an individual or family cannot purchase the necessary items due to their location (https://www.sirindia.com/ ps.asp ). Items they offer include religious home decorations, murtis yantras bells, incense stands and holders, malas ('rosary' beads), religious coins (for offerings) and sweets. This site did not offer other common puja items, such as sacred powders ( kumkum vibhuti sandalwood paste, bhasma etc.), sacred threads, organic materials such as grasses and Ganga water, ghee (clarified butter) or camphor oil for the aarati agarbatti (incense), chandan ( kumkum plate), lotas (water vessels) or deepaks (oil lamps). However, all of these items can be purchased from other online sources, such as the Maha Lakshmi Shop (http://www.babajiashram.org/mls/ ), GangesIndia.com (http://www.gangesindia .com/browse/puja_items ), Vishal International (http://statues.highpointdesigns.com/ ), Machiami Trading Company's Pema Kilaya Store (http://pemakilaya.yellowpipe.com/ ), and countless others. Some sites offer puja supplies specifically geared for one particular Hindu tradition. For example, the Himalayan Academy's Mini Mela Giftshop sells murtis and images of Shiva, Ganesh, Murugan, as well as vibhuti and incense. Devshoppe.com sells many murtis and yantras of various deities and traditions but the only other sacred items available are vibhuti rudraksha beads and malas and parad items (items made of

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96 mercury, a substance representative of Lord Shiva's potency), particularly parad Shivlingas showing the Shaiva preference (http://www.devshoppe.com/ ). Moving beyond simply offering puja items for domestic ritual use, some sites allow individuals to commission temple pujas online. For example, Kaalighat allows a person to commission pujas for a variety of different deities at a number of different temples. They explain that: The matter of distance, shortage of time or the over engagement with a very busy schedule becomes a big factor for this inability. However, now through our online puja shop and services you can easily offe r puja directly from your home and get "Prasad", "Pushpa", Sindoor etc. directly at your home. You can offer your puja at Holy Temples in India through us. Distance or time will not be a matter. (http://www.geocities.com/kaalighat/ ) Following the online set-up and payment, indivi duals are sent e-mail confirmations of the ceremony (which is performed by the temple priests), and physically mailed Holy 'prasad' (Dry), Holy Sindoor (Dry), Holy 'Pushpa' (Dry) and a Photograph of Deity (http://www.geocities.com/kaalighat/Puja.htm ). Other sites offering similar services include HinduPurohit.com (http://www.hindupurohit.com/ ), Pariharam.com (http://www.pariharam.com/ ), Astroshastra.com (http://www.astroshastra.com/ ), and Subhakariam.com (http://www.subhakariam.com/ ), and Sarnam.com (http://www.sarnam.com/ ). Often these sites attempt to be all inclusive, offering puja requests, selling puja materials, and providi ng various other services, such as mantra emails, prayers for health, astrology, matchm aking, gifting, and requests for various shraddhas pujas homams (havans) yagnas paarayanams and pariharas While many of these web sites are not directly affiliated with any one temple, more and more temples are creating their own web sites, allo wing devotees to directly commission pujas from them. For example, the Shri Mahalakshmi Pr asana Temple, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra,

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97 has a website that allows for Mahalakshm i pujas, and has links to many other Hindu temples in India offering similar services (http://www.shreekarveernivasini.com/ ). Ekta Mandir, the Dallas/Fort Worth Hindu Temple, even allows online darshan and pujas of the deities (http://www.dfwhindutempl e.org/online_puja.htm ). By clicking on any of the online images of the murtis the users is giving a cl ose-up image of the deity, a short Sanskrit prayer and English explanation of the divine figure, and guided through an interactive animated puja to 'awaken' the deva or devi for darshan This process uses Shockwave Flash technology, and allows the user to ring the bell, light the agarbatti apply tilak wave the aarati around the image, and adorn the image with flowers, all electronically. Similarly, th e online Rudra Centre allows for an interactive online puja of Lord Shiva Ganesha or Mahalaxmi and provides audio bhajans mantras shlokas hymns and chalisas (http://www.rudraksha-ratna.com/ ). The Alachua Hare Krishna website has a live webcam set up and posts a schedule of their activities (http://www.krishna.com/alachua/index.php ). In doing so, any member who is sick or otherwise unable to attend the services can log on, see the deities and listen to the devotees' kirtans The pressing question, of course, is whet her this can be considered performing authentic Hindu ritual. Since many of these online puja services are sponsored by Hindu temples in the US and India, we can assert th at some sense of authenticity is associated with these cyberpujas In fact, having darshan via a monitor is not entirely new; discussions of telepuja arose following the airing of the Mahabharat and Ramayan in India, and many temples in America have vi deo monitors in the community centers in order for devotees to watch the ritual performance (Waghorne 1999: 125). Surely a

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98 television screen and computer monitor are eq uivalent technologies At the same time, most of these sites still encourage in-pers on participation, and seem merely to provide these online services for indivi duals unable to attend in person ; priority is still given to the physical presence of the devotee. Other rituals of particular significance in the Hindu traditions include the many samskaras (life-cycle rituals). However, these ar e much more difficult to perform online since the sacred samskaras are primarily embodied rituals. How do you shave your child's hair online? Such sites can only provide reference. For example, the Kasi Narasimha ganapatigal web site provides information about the 'proper' Vedic performance of various samskaras (http://www.ganapatigal.com/ ). Since the site is not affiliated with a particular temple, the web site author identifies himself, his background and his education to establish his credentia ls and authority. The site was written by Brahma Sri Narasihma Ganapatigal, who h ails from a family of Dekshithar & Ganapatogal, born...to Brahma Sri Ariyur Subrahmanya ganapatigal. As the site expresses, This service is useful for the people who are staying away from their own places where proper guidance is not available. Although death rituals are generally performed by the family, His Holiness Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram started the An atha Pretha Kainkarya Trust in Chennai, Tamilnadu as a charitable organization to pe rform sacred last rites for orphaned children whose bodies have died; the name...means servi ce to orphaned dead, the service being to guide these souls into a birt h in a fine Hindu family in their next life. The group's leadership decided the make their web pa ge as a means of generating support and

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99 donations for their philanthropic cau se and service, as well as to facilitate communication when a young orphaned child dies (http://www.dharmaa.org/html/firstpage.htm ). Likewise, although marriage is clearly a samskara best left for real life performance, Internet matchmaking services have become a popular, useful means of finding suitable partners. Two of the more popular matrimonial sites, Shaadi.com (http://www.shaadi.com/ ) and IndianMatrimonials.com (http://www.indianmatrimonials.com/ ) allow families and individuals to search for potential spouses for their family and self; one member touts that he and his parents were able to find his sister a suita ble spouse in Los Angeles, at the comfort of their home in Bangalore (http://www.shaadi.com/introduction/true-stories.php ). The popular Internet 'portal' Rediff.com also offers their own matchmaker service (http://matchmaker.rediff.com/ ). What is unique to thes e Indian-specific matchmaking services is that they typically list religion as well as speci fic caste and ethnic background, such as Khatri, Agarwal, or Vellalar, for example. Although festivals have no real Internet a pplication, certain elements of festival practices are augmented by Internet serv ices, particularly the act of gifting. DiwaliMela.com allows individuals to orde r Diwali gifts for others, and have them shipped anywhere in the world (http://www.diwalimela.com/ ). Likewise, VirtualRakhi.com allows siblings to share gifts purchased on this web site, even if separated by distance (http://www.virtualrakhi.com/ ). Through this site, sisters can purchase and send the rakhi (holy thread) to their brother, who in turn can order return gifts for his sister. Another festival, Karva Chauth, requires that the wives see the moon and their husbands face before breaking thei r daylong fast. Yet, what if the husband is

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100 away on business, so the wife is unable to see his face? With the advent of webcams, some women in this position are now using th e Internet so that they can see face and break their fast (Khetan 2005). Many web sites offer downloadable and/or streaming audio f iles of different bhajans, shlokas chalisas, kirtans and mantras The HSC's Hindunet.com web site has a Bhajan Kirtan page, with a massive index of accessible audio pr ayers and corresponding text files (http://www.bhajans.org/ ). Bhajanawali.com, based out of Toronto, has a large audio collection available for downloading, as well as a weekly streaming web cast (http://www.bhajanawali.com/home/index.php ). The Geeta Temple in Elmhurst, New York, established in 1979 by Swami Jagdishwa ranand, has a web site which offers many audio prayers, as well as lect ures by their leading swamis (http://www.geetatemple.net/ ). The Sri Vaishnava Cyber Satsangh offers different stotras bhajans and audio tributes to Ramanuja (http://www.srivaishnavam.com/index.html ). There are a plethora of sites that have made online astrology possible, offering a host of astrological readings and charts, as well as providing advise on marriage dates, auspicious times, child names and information about the panchangam (the Hindu astrological calendar). Indastro.com, Astr ogyan.com, and Kamalkapoor.com are all sites specifically dedicated to pr oviding astrological informa tion and readings. However, various other service-oriented sites also offer astrologica l readings, including the many Himalayan Academy and HSC sites. Similarly, other sites utilize dynamic web features, providing current information a bout planetary alignments an d eclipse times for various ritual applications (http://www.heb.gov.sg/planetmovements.html ).

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101 Based on the preponderance of authorita tive support for performance on virtual ritualsincluding temples, sw amis, gurus, and sectarian or ganizationsit seems that there is sufficient reason to conclude that onlin e participation is seen as authentic, or at least acceptable in lieu of in-per son participation. However, this still does not ensure that a substantial number of devotees will use th ese online services. With the growth of web sites dedicated to the performance of virtual rituals, however, it appears that the web hosts and service providers anticipate use to increase; otherwise, the valuable time, money and energy expended in building these sites on secure networks was entirely in vein. So, if virtual rituals are primarily auxiliar y tools to complement real life practice, can any substantial religious performance exist in cyberspace, or will it prove to be little more than an intellectual chimera, to us e the words of Dawson (2005: 29)? I contend that while the virtual ritual s represent the beginnings of online Hindu performance, cybercommunities that exist and operate in cyberspace do constitute religious action, by building and maintaining community, and e ngaging issues of belief and practice. CyberCommunities In her discussion of Hindu communities in America, Vasudha Naryanan reminds her reader that these suburban groups are only one aspect of Hindu communities: There are also many cyber communities based on sectarian affiliation; listserves are dedicated to particular traditions where men and women want to just discuss the sacred textsSanskrit and vernacularof their tradition or matters relevant to living a religious life in the American continent. These cyber communities bring together people from all over the world in virtual forums to discuss matters of mutual interest. (2006: 363) In fact, discussion and exchange via the Internet is present in many types of web sites. In chapter one, during my discussion of the taxono my of Hindu sites, I separated categories

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102 of general, academic, sectarian, temple and activist sites from chat rooms, BBS's and online services. Although this di stinction is arbitrary, it is nonetheless significant. As we will see, most features of cybercommunity (chat rooms, BBS's and blogs) are, in fact, most often elements of the general, acad emic, sectarian, temple and activist sites. However, their function is different from the informative aspects of these web sites, and in my opinion, require a separate analysis. The connection between the interactive co mmunication protocols and types of web sites hosting these chat rooms, BBS's and blogs is nonetheless significant because the host site narrows the body of pa rticipants down to specific forums. Access to the forums and discussions typically require regist ration, which may or may not be limited depending upon the goals and desires of the serv ice provider. In either case, all Internet chat and discussion has rules of etiquette, usually expressly stated in the terms of agreement, as well as just generally 'understood'. Nonetheless, since most of these services allow the user to remain anony mous, comments and discussions can, and do, become heated, rude, and sometimes blatantly offensive. This is one of the dynamics of Internet exchange, and the primary reason that many sites restrict re gistration. Just like other forms of Internet religiousity, there are limitations and benefits; Internet discussion groups, listserves, chat rooms, BBS's a nd blogs network many Hindus from around the world, allow a space for individual expressi on and opinion, and create new dynamics of communication due to anonymity. These new dynamics are creating distinct problems, and generating varied solutions. Some groups are open forums, meaning an individual can sign-up and participate sole ly by registering with a username and e-mail address. These types of unrestricted access and anonymity allow all people to participate, but also

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103 tend to invite problematic posti ngs and allow individuals to post inaccurate and offensive messages without accountability. Other forums have restricted access, wher e an individual must register with their real name and contact information, whic h removes anonymity. While this typically lessens the more 'extreme' postings, it also limits the types of exchanges by users who would prefer to not to be identified. For example, if a Hindu is dealing with difficult issues of sexuality, such as inter-racial dating, marriage, or homosexuality, anonymity is significant. Other online discus sion forums require the individual users to send their post to the system administrator, who in turn posts the material online. This ensures a higher 'quality' of posts, as they have been filte red, but also means that the information is controlled by the Internet host. This lim its the variety of opinions and expressions, though it should be stated that this in of itself, is not a nega tive or positive element; it is merely a restricted form of communication. General sites are the broadest and most inclusive of the cybercommunity forums, because they are without any particular aff iliation to a tradition. Yahoo has a series of Hinduism related chat rooms within thei r Religion & Beliefs>Hinduism section (http://chat.yahoo.com/ ), which exclaims that it is An open forum to discuss the deeper meanings of Hinduism. However, during my time spent observing the chat topics I noticed that very little re ligious discussion ever took place. Discussions I witnessed typically were comprised of on-line friends socializing with each other about various aspects of American and Indian media and popul ar culture. It seems the broader the scope of the chat rooms and discussion boards, the broader the range of di scussion topics and

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104 Other sites offer chat room features sp ecifically intended for Hindu audiences. The Hindu Gateway Boards is a small forum, wh ich includes topics such as women, teens, and love (http://www.hindugateway.com/cgi-b in/webx/?13@-hin@.ee6b837 ). The HinduChatZone is a general discussion forum, open to all particip ants, and currently features over 250 registered members and over 600 posted threads on a variety of topics (http://www.hinduchatzone.com/ ). Both of these communication forums are unrestricted, in that users need only to provide a userna me (of their choice) and e-mail address, and otherwise are entirely anony mous. However, HinduChatZone has divided the discussion topics into six categories: General Discussion Zone, Hindui sm Section, Chit Chat, Hindu History, Polls, and Heavy Politics and Debate. While some sites shy away from heated topics, the HinduChatZone's inclusion of the final category, Heavy Politics and Debate, is a clever concept. Many peopl e enjoy vigorous debate, and the HinduChatZone recognizes this demand. Yet, others are uncomfortable w ith the tone and confr ontational nature of such debates. Therefore, their goal of this la st section is to divert some of the heavy political threads away from the General Chat section, so that peopl e who are into it can debate it, yet the General Chat area doesn't become dominated by it. General forum rules still apply (http://www.hinduchatzone.com/ ). The AmbaHouse.com is a non-sectarian s piritual site that provides various information on Saints (Meera, Kabir, Tirumoolar, Tukaram, AkkaMahadevi and Sant Narsi), Thirukkural, Jataka stor ies and sections for Home Study Courses and Dharma for the Young. In their discussion forum, THE LIGHT DIVINE: A Forum for expressing your thoughts towards a Global Religious Refo rmation, the host utilizes restricted posting to control th e quality and content of the postings

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105 (http://www.ambahouse.org/forums.html ). Users must e-mail their message to the website provider (who is anonymous), and the host posts the messages. Instructions for messages include: 1. No comments be made on anyone else's thoughts. 2. The language used in the email be free of abusive words. 3. You are welcome to comment on any religion. When messages are posted, the hos t assures that only your in itials and country will be posted so as to honour your identity. This meas ure allows the host to control the content, though interesting and important discussions still occur. One user laments that: Modern Hindu families want all rituals to be rushed through. It has become more like a status thing. What are we priests w ho are trained in particular sampradayas and do know the value of perfor ming rituals thoroughly, to do? Another user expresses his concerns rega rding the wasting of ritual materials: Why are we wasting so much milk, honey, curds etc in the form of abhishekams when there are people who are hungry and thirsty. If annam is brahman then why are we deliberately wasting it in the form of rituals that are downright useless today ? Either just symbolically do this with just the minimum on a miniature utsava murthi or be sure to collect the abhish ekam in a reasonable condition and have the congregation distribute it among the poor. Similiarly each week a special day should be assigned when clothes and jewe llery placed on the murthis be either given to the poor who cannot afford dowri es or auction the items and give the proceeds to the deserving!! By not allowing users to comment on othe r postings, discussion and interaction is limited. However, this also ensures that inse nsitive, personal attacks do not occur, while still providing a forum for the discussi on of significant questions and problems. TakingITGlobal is a free forum designed to allow young adults to collaborate in a global setting. Their homepage explains that: TakingITGlobal.org is an online community that connects youth to find inspiration, access information, get involved, and take action in their local and global communities. It is now the world's most popular online community for young people interested in making a difference, with hundreds of thousands of unique visitors each month.

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106 TIG's highly interactive website provides a platform for expression, connection to opportunities, and support for action. Join now and connect with thousands of other young people around the world! (http://www.takingitglobal.org/ ) Their list of features themes include : Cultural Diversity & Equity, Education, Employment, Environment, Health & Wellne ss, ICTs & Digital O pportunities, Media, Peace & Conflict, Poverty & Globalization a nd Social Justice & Human Rights. Users can create their own personal blogs, wher e they can post discussions, images and personal expressions, and a di scussion forum where questions can be asked and answered by other users. Such a forum allows young adults to explore relevant issues with other members from around the globe, and gives a vo ice for users to express themselves and their insights. For example, one user, a young female from Kerala now studying in Mumbai, has posted various questions about uni versity assignments and projects, as well as express her own views and experien ces. On her blog homepage, she writes: Interacting with people from all walks of life and coping with a brand new place and time after every two or three year s has also endowed me with wonderful experiences which helped me develop an interest in writing. Recently, I was given a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent Mumbai Univ ersity at the First South Asian Summer University organized by FE S (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung) a German NGO, held at International Youth Centre Chanakyapuri, New Delhi from 21st May to 8th June. There, I got to interact with like minded acad emics from all over South Asia and Afghanistan through various workshops on topics like Youth and Politics, Multi-cultural so ciety, Rationalism and Fundamentalism, Local Self government, Social Development etc. But a more personal and fruitful interaction took place outside the official program where all the students openly shared their experiences and views. We also got a chance to participate in the first annual convention of SAARCYOUTH summ oned for 6th to 8th June in New Delhi. The title of the convention was: South Asia in 2015 An Agenda of Mutual Beneficiary Change. All participants were asked to adopt the role of their respective national chapters of SAARCYOUT H. At the conventi on I presented the recommendations of the Travel and Co mmunication committee. The entire event provided us, the youth of South Asia and Af ghanistan a healthy platform to discuss the future of our region and essay a new chapter on regional cooperation on civil society. The experience has also helped us form a forum on the web called SAAYF (South Asian Active Youth Forum) wher e we exchange our views on various socio-political, economic and cultural i ssues. Being an active citizen of a developing nation, I am aware of the treme ndous task lying ahead the youth of this

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107 country, which is to build a concrete and stable future on the solid foundation that the older generation has laid. (http://profiles.takingitglobal.org/anuriandima84 ) Sadly, I could not find any websites or foru ms of the SAAYF (South Asian Active Youth Forum) which she describes. Since the post was so new, it is possible that the project has not yet been developed. NavyaShastra is an online commun ity, operating through two hyperlinked protocols: their website, (http://www.shastras.org/ ) which discusses their goals and various projects, news and articles, as we ll as through a yahoo chat group designed to facilitate Discussion of sh astric and social change (http://groups.yahoo.com /group/NavyaShastra ). The discussion group utilizes a high degree of user restriction: both membership and individual postings are screened by the NavyaShatra host(s). However, some postings are made available to the public on their website (http://www.shastras.org/yahoogroup.html ). Discussion topics listed on their website are broken into five ba sic categories, with selected entries posted in each: Who is a Hindu, Shastric Reform: Caste, S aints and Sages, Karma, the Law of Causality, and Balinese Hinduism. The disc ussions allow users to post questions and opinions, and lets other users respond to a nd critique these messages. The discussions posted on their website reflect a wide-range of opinions and views about caste, education, social and economic classes, and access to Hindu literature and doctrine for women and lower class Hindus. Many sectarian web sites also offer form s of interactive communication, intended for use by the group's members. Some sites accomplish this by offering informative sites with little intera ctivity, such as with the Srivaishnavam Cyber-satsangh (http://www.srivaishnavam.com/index.html ). Another Srivaishnava web site,

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108 Ramanuja.org, attempted to unite global Sr ivaishnavas and provide a forum for open dialogue and healthy discussion of relevant issues. The highly popul ar Bhakti Discussion Group quickly amassed many participants (http://www.ramanuja.org/ sv/bhakti/archives/ index.html ). In fact, the e-mail discussion group grew so large, that the site hosts lost control of the discussion content and qualit y, and ultimately were forced to shut down. Its very popularity, the we b site author writes, ensure d its demise. Varadarajan continues by stating that: The Bhakti List is presently on hiatus a nd is not open for general discussion. This change was made in May, 2003, after a progr essive degeneration in the quality of discussion in the List...In the meantime, please enjoy the Archives particularly those of the early years wh ere discussion was open-mi nded, cordial, and engaging. (http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/ bhakti/archives/suspended.html ) In light of this development, it is understandable why so many discussion groups are now restricting access to the foru ms. Accuracy is also a significant issue with online discussion groups, so many such groups pref ace that the information only reflects the opinions of the users, and not of the web s ponsor. For example, Varadarajan writes, I myself know of many erroneous statements th at are present in th e archives, and many others represent just viewpoints, other th an which there may be many alternatives. Sometimes the most authoritatively written ar ticles are the ones whic h are most erroneous or most empty in spirit (http://www.ramanuja.or g/sv/bhakti/archives/ index.html#CAUTION ). Other groups have established web site s drawn along ethnic lines. The Tamil Forum Hub provides a forum for Tamils to network and socialize, about a host of religious, social, cultural a nd popular topics. Discussion posted on their Hub portal range from technical religious questions, to discussions of Tamil films and songs (http://www.mayyam.com/hub/portal.php ). Their Netfriends: Interact Page allows users

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109 to post queries and comments. The site re lies upon the honor system, and reminds the users that We like to keep this page a clea n place for fun. Do not make personal attacks. Keep your politeness level high. Thanks! (http://www.forumhub.com/netfriends/chat/ ). However, user posts range from legitimate que stions about lifestyle and religious issues to rude and crass comments. Again, it seem s selective membership is necessary for forums to remain serious and polite. The honor system does not work well when mixed with anonymity. Many of the activist sites also incorp orate various networked communication protocols. The electronic version of Hinduism Today (http://www.hinduismtoday.com/ ) is their latest effort in outreach, and thr ough both the print and electronic versions they are able to communicate with over 135,000 read ers worldwide! The motivations for this newsletter, as listed on their website, are: To foster Hindu solidarity as a "unity in diversity" among all sects and lineages; To inform and inspire Hindus worldwid e and people interested in Hinduism; To dispel myths, illusions and misinformation about Hinduism; To protect, preserve and promote th e sacred Vedas and the Hindu religion, especially the Nandinatha Sampradaya; To nurture a truly spiritu al Hindu renaissance. To publish a resource for Hindu leaders and educators who promote Sanatana Dharma. These newsletters keep subscribers up-todate on developing news and issues, and provides the Himalayan Academy with a consiste nt user base, even if the subscribers are not members of the Shaiva Siddhanta traditi on. This is achieved by incorporating all relevant news about global Hinduism, and not merely news relating to their tradition. Articles often announce new temple devel opments throughout the world, as well as inspiring stories from Hindu communities, givi ng subscribers a sense of accomplishment and pride as Hinduism continues to successfu lly develop throughout the world. They also

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110 archive all past editions, allowing prior ar ticles to be searched and accessed. Although this inactivity is primarily unilateral, they can avoid problems inherent to open forums and discussions, and maintain a friendly atmosphere. The HSC's Hindu Universe site has a BBS forum where users can post comments and questions, and other users can respond (http://www.hindunet.com/forum/ ). Users typically have to create and account and login to post comments, making it possible to track the number of partic ipants. The Hindu Universe BBS, for example, has 23, 594 users, and thousands of existing posts. The web providers have divided the posts into various categories, and the user s are restricted to posting wi thin these sections. Although topics such as India and Pakistan, Hindutva, Rela tionship between Hindus and Moslems and Hindu Christian Relations ar e highly popular categorie s, there is a good mix of opinions in these discussions. For example, one users posted a plea to stop Christians and Jews from tr ying to convert Hindus, and ac costs those ignorant [Hindu] people [that] believe these pink people and follow them (http://www.hindunet.com/forum/showfl at.php?Cat=&Number=54072&page=0&view=c ollapsed&sb=5&o=&fpart=1 ). The following respondent repl ies Pink people? Glad you decided to keep race out of your incoherent rhetoric..., whic h in turn is followed up by a challenge of the user's racial constructi on of Christianity, re minding readers of the existence of Indian Christians before the Br itish arrived (as in Ke rala). Another user remarks, why are u so threaten ed?? there is no compulsion in religion....if they want to be hindu they will be hindu...if they want to be christian they will be christians. These exchanges, which most likely are mostly comprised of young adults based on language and word choice (i.e. chill out, homie), a llow concerned and confused young adults to

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111 ask difficult questions, and e ngage in difficult debates. Showing no lack of opinions, these active BBS users often utilize great insi ght and intelligence in their critiques and discussions of racism and reli gion in a global environment. Rediff India Abroad has become a signifi cant 'portal' for global Hindus to stay connected and network ideas and informati on. Unlike other sites designed to promote interactive communication and community, how ever, Rediff makes this possible through more 'closed' networking, by hosting web sp ace and providing e-mail accounts, and not through public forums and blogs. Their primar y web services include news regarding Hindus throughout the globe (available as fre quent e-mail newsletter s and via the web), as well as travel, classifieds, matc hmaking and various other services (http://ia.rediff.com/index.html ). As e-mail remains the dominant Internet usage in India, the importance of providing fr ee e-mail cannot be understated (http://www.iamai.in/ section.php3?secid=16&press_id=822&mon=2 ). Sulekha.com, whose goal is Connecting I ndians Worldwide, features both blogs and discussion groups, allowing individuals to interact with varying degrees of involvement. Those looking for simple discu ssion can use the BBS, and those wanting to post more regular 'articles' can register fo r blog space. The success and popularity of this particular site is somewhat daunting; they have over 250 thousand individu al blogs, and over one million posted discussions on the BBS The tremendous amount of information is searchable, if the user wants to find sp ecific discussions, but is otherwise virtually impossible to research and index in its entire ty. Rather than create the discussion groups, forcing the users to follow their structure, Sulekha.com allows the users themselves to create discussion topics, giving more diversity to the forum and allowing the BBS to be

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112 user-driven. With over 250 thousand users, and the freedom to post topics and discussions of their choosing, the beautiful part of this exchan ge is that a wide range of opinions and views are offered, and those in disagreement can post comments on other blogs and discussion threads. No generalizati ons can truly be made regarding the views and opinions of Sulekha.com users. However, the dialogue needs, and has, structured terms of use, and understood rules of etique tte. Sulekha makes clear in their Terms & Conditions that users cannot: Upload or post or otherwise make availabl e any Content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamato ry, vulgar, obscene, libelous, promotes violence, is invasive of another's priv acy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable; impersonate a ny person or entit y, including, but not limited to, a Sulekha official, forum leader guide or host, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity; (http://www.sulekha.com/COLLATERAL/tc.htm ) While most people follow these rules and engage in healthy forms of dialogue, exceptions do occur. Sulekha organizes discussion and blog t opics by popularity, with the Indology section listed as one of the most active thre ads. In these sections, individuals (of many different ethnicities, nationalities and religi ons) discuss, often vehemently, issues of South Asian scholarship and education. Rajiv Malhotra, an active contributor to this category and a frequent write r on his own Sulekha blog (http://www.sulekha.com/blogs/ blogdisplay.aspx?contribu tor=Rajiv%20Malhotra ), has generated a tremendous amount of response and concern regard ing the representation of Hindui sm in America, as well as his fears of what he terms Hinduphobia. On the one hand, such dialogs are a healthy process and beginning for Hindu self-representation; in a nation where Hindus are a distinct minority, both self-representation as well as accurate representation are crucial for Hindus in America. Challenging inaccur acies in schoolbooks and college textbooks

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113 on Hinduism is significant, and concerns over Eurocentrism must be addressed. This is a significant problem, though certainly not one that is unknown or unconcerned to academia. The problem is that there are count less interpretations of the myriad of Hindu traditions and movements, from both pract itioners and scholars. Generating one representation of Hinduism, which satisfies all Hindus and scholars, is simply not possible. However, the Internet is no w becoming a primary forum for this ongoing discussion to occur. The Internet is also used by Hindu gr oups with more political and social orientation. Friends of South Asia (FOSA) is an online group whose primary stated purpose is in working toward s a peaceful, prosperous, and hate-free South Asia (http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/ ). Their web site provide s news and information about issues relevant to South Asia, expr essing their desire to generate peace and harmony and fight intolerance. They also as k for individuals to contribute by providing information, links, and news. The Vedic Friends Association (VFA) has a website where their specific views and interpretations of Dharma and Vedic beliefs and can expressed. Aside from the news and information provided, the web also has a section on VFA Campai gns and Interests: The Vedic Friends Association considers partic ular issues that affect the future and well-being of a better unde rstanding of Vedic Culture Hinduism, or SanatanaDharma. Below are particular campaigns that we have star ted, or stands that we take on specific issues. Our letters can be used by anyone who feels the same, and please share with us any cont acts or emails that you find so that other members of the VFA can send the letter to them as we ll. This will create more awareness and influence for the cause or issue. (http://www.vedicfriends.org/vfa_campaigns.htm ) The listed 'campaigns' include 'Defending the Dharma', 'The VFA Position Paper on Casteism', 'Campaign Against Misrepresentat ion and Bias in the Media', 'The Campaign

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114 Against the Exclusive Attitude Regarding W ho Can be a Hindu', 'Vegetarianism', and a 'Questionnaire for Developing Tools for Pres erving the Hindu Dharma and Identity'. The Vedic Foundation is a group which is fi ghting to redefine Hindu history, belief and doctrine along orthodox Vedic lines. Incl uded in their links are discussions of Authentic Hinduism, script ures, and Indian history (http://www.thevedicfoundation.org/ ). This version of Indian history, however, includes highly exaggerated ancient dates, typical of Hindutva revisions, and describes the introduction of Islam as a process of military invasion. Aside from providing information about their views and interpretation of Hindu history on the web, the group also promotes activities and in-pers on discussion groups (http://www.thevedicfoundation.org/ educational_programs/index.html ), lectures, news and cont act information. Although the site offer no information about the member s and leaders of this group, the contact information is listed as The Vedic F oundation, 402 Barsana Road, Austin, Texas, inferring a connection with the Barsana Dham temple complex in Texas, though I could not confirm this (http://www.thevedicfoundatio n.org/contact_us/index.html ). Other groups, such as the Hindu Americ an Foundation, have undertaken similar campaigns, as well as responding to various issues within the contemporary American religious environment (http://www.hinduamericanfoundation.org/ ). One recent and significant issue of debate which the HAF par ticipated in was over the representation of Hinduism in school textbooks in California. This heated debate involved the California school board, many historians and academic scholars, as well as various Hindu organizations. While there are many issues at pl ay in this debate, critics of the proposed changes have criticized the pr oponents as part of a Hindu Right

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115 (http://www.flonnet.co m/fl2301/stories/20060127000807700.htm ), though this is an overly simplistic explanation. This debate is larger than issues of Hindutva ideology and nationalism; it is also about the significance and need for mi nority recognition and selfrepresentation. Criticisms of Hindutva and the Hindu Right fail to reflect many other aspects and goals of these organizations, and their diverse individual members. For example, the Hindu American Foundation has been outspoken on other issues, not necessarily directly relating to Hindus and South Asians in America. On their homepage, they have an article posted expresses their shock and concern regarding the recent rash of Baptist Church burnings in Alabama. They write: After September 11th, 2001, several Hindu temples across North America and the United Kingdom have been targets of vanda lism, firebombing and arson attacks. In recently released statistics, the FBI re ported that in 2004 alone, there were 1,197 hate crime incidents that were religiously motivated. Having faced similar att acks in the past, Hindu Amer icans empathize with the congregations affected by th ese heinous crimes, said Pawan Deshpande, member of the Executive Council of the Hindu Am erican Foundation (HAF). Because places of worship are central to many communities, we hope that law enforcement will be able to expeditiously apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators. (http://www.hinduamericanfoundation.org/ ) Similarly, the HAF also has posted an arti cle on their web site regarding the recent controversy over the Dutch cartoons depicti ng the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. In response, the HAF writes: "Though as Americans we are committed to freedom of speech and expression, cartoonists and their editors demonstrated a monumental lapse in judgment at best, and outright bigotry at worst," said Mi hir Meghani, Presid ent of the Hindu American Foundation. "As a Hindu, having expe rienced painful depictions of my faith in this country, I can re late to the protes ts by the Muslim world, but violence is simply not an acceptable solution." HAF has previously engaged several media outlets in the United States and Europe for inflammatory and vulgar depictions of Hindu symbols and sacred beliefs. Recent accounts in the American press depi cted Hindus as cannibals, believers in

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116 "capricious gods" and adherents of mythical religious texts. (http://www.hinduamericanfoundation.org/ ) Aseem Shukla, a member of the HAF Boar d of Directors, a dded, "In the age of globalization, it is especially important that mainstream media, rather than being the cause of undue provocation, works with relig ious minorities to promote tolerance and mutual understanding of cultural sensitivitie s". This message of mutual understanding and cultural sensitivity is important for ma ny minority communities in the US, and not part of a fundamentalist ideology. Concluding Remarks India and the United States represent two of the largest democracies in the world, and challenges inherent to any democratic sy stem also apply to the Internet. The history of humanity has shown us no shortage of opini ons, only a lack of voice. The Internet now gives a voice to these opinions One of the primary challenges of a democratic system is that a balance must be main tained between free speech and sensibilities; between rights and responsibilities. The Intern et will surely continue to develop various forums and strategies for dealing with these dynamics. The issues being discussed in these forums are crucial to the adaption of Hinduism in America. Concerns over the academic study of Hinduism, and the representation of Hindu beliefs and Indian histor y in textbooks have both posit ive and negative effects. One the one hand, such debates can potentiall y bring academic inaccuracies to light, and have the potential to increas e the accuracy of Hindu studies in the academy. The issue of self-representation, however, is somewhat comp licated. While it is crucial that Hindus and Indian Americans take part in the acad emic constructions and representations of Hinduism, there are also distinct methodologi es between the secula r, academic study of

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117 religion and the accounts of Hindu believers and practitione rs, though this dynamic is not specific to Hinduism; consider the many petitio ns and legal battles to teach Christian creation views in public schools. Like the In ternet, democracy and secularization present both benefits and limitations, which are conti nually being addressed and worked out, in America and in cyberspace.

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118 CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION The flexibility and diversity of Hinduism in conjunction with its de-centered authority and de-regulated ritual practice, assi sts the Hindu traditions in their migration to cyberspace. However, it should be noted that flexibility and diversity are not dynamics specific to Hinduism. All religions exhibit gr eat adaptability, and it is impossible (and irrelevant) to quality if and how Hinduism is more or less ad aptable. Furthermore, not all elements of Hindu belief and practice can be easily adapted to the realm of cyberspace, just as not all elements can be tran sferred to the American landscape. Since the Internet can store and broadcast text, audio and image files, Hindu sacred texts, images, symbols and sounds can be tran smitted to cyberspace wi th relative ease. As such, the proliferation of electronic texts, bhajans mantras and sacred images is not surprising. Furthermore, darshan of the deity is within the technological capabilities of the Internet, and the variation in darshan practices and lack of cen tralized authority seem to indicate that darshan can likewise be successfully tr ansferred to the Internet. However, many other elements of Hindu wo rship can not be so easily transmitted to the domain of cyberspace. We are beginning to see pujas offered via the Internet, though significant elements of the ritual are lost when performed online, including the sensory experience and consumption of prasad Consecrating a digital image is a new challenge to Hinduism, but the ot her limitations of Internet puja could easily be overcome by devotees placing the incense and offerings in front of their computer

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119 monitor, just as many Hindus did with thei r television sets during the airing of the Mahabharata Although the performing arts cannot necessarily be performed in cyberspace, they can be aired and experienced on the Intern et, just as they can on television. Hindu festivals are times for communal gatheri ng and feasting, which likewise cannot be performed on the Internet. However, indivi duals can witness str eaming video of large gatherings and celebrations if they are unable to attend. Samskaras necessitate that the individuals, family members and priests ga ther together; howeve r, through Internet communication and webcams, it is now possible for grandparents living in India to watch their grandsons chaula (ceremony where the childs hair is shaved), their granddaughters namakarana (name giving ceremony) or their daughters simanta rituals (rituals performed during pregnancy). It is onl y a matter of time before sacred temples and tirthas offer cyber-tours, and online pilgrimage is made possible for those unable to be present in person. Although it seems that real life practices will not be replaced by the Internet (at least in the near future), the Internet allows m odified forms of Hindi practice for those unable to attend by bri dging gaps of distance and time. We must keep in mind that the Internet is still a new development, barely ten years old. This technological advancement is part of a larger social revolution, whereby our society is transitioning away from mate rial goods and placing greater value on information (such as with electronic banking replacing material currency). As such, we should not be obtuse in our considerations of future applications and significance of the Internet. The Internet is not merely a reflecti on of certain aspects of society; it has also shaped society. The Internet is, in many wa ys, developing a culture of its own. Short

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120 movies and animate clips grow popular thr ough the Internet with high circulation. The Internet is changing langua ge, by introducing many abbreviated terms and emoticons. Common Internet chat acronymssuch as lo l (laugh-out-loud), btw (by the way), ntm (nothing much)are now being regularly used in real life conversation, and emoticons have been developed to nuance more emotion in text discussions. The latest wave of computer games are called MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games), which have virtual worlds hosted on servers that individual users connect to and interact with other players in the digita l environment. Many lasting friendships are developed through these services, even if the in dividuals have never met in rl (real life). We are only beginning to see the potential implications of cyberspace. As Stephen O'Leary writes, we can predict that [the available resources of] online religion will [expand beyond text to include] iconography, imag e, music, and sound if not taste and smell...Surely computer rituals will be de vised which exploit the new technologies to maximum symbolic effect (2005: 39). Since the Internet is so new, it has not yet had a dramatic impact on Hinduism and other mainstream religions, though New Relig ious Movements have flourished in cyberspace. Nonetheless, the Internets interactive potentials and forms of communication are connecting Hindu commun ities, families and individuals in new ways, and the Internet has become a si gnificant aspect of globalization and transnationalism. Connected vi a the Internet, Hindus are in creasingly becoming aware of their global status and influe nce. With a new forum for discussion and expression of opinions, and this rising global consciousness, new challenges are emerging to traditional gender roles, issues of polluti on/purity, authority, and xenophobia.

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121 While it is clear that the Internet, in onl y its first decade, is altering and shaping Hinduism, it is difficult to assess how Hinduism has had an impact on the Internet. The Indian prevalence in the IT industry, both in the US and India, means that Hindus will continue to be active developers of the Internet and telecomm unication technologies. However, this does not mean that Hinduism will necessarily shape the Internet. On a broad scale, some basic pan-Indian notions of ultimate reality have had an impact on the popular understanding of cyberspace. William Gibsons notions of cyberspace and the matrix were the basis of the hugely popular Matrix film trilogy, though th e film directors also drew heavily upon Hindu philosophical idea as well. There are obvious connections between Hinduism and the film, such as char acter names including Kamala (lotus), Sati, Karma, and Rama-Kandra (Ramachandra), a nd the use of a Sanskrit chanting remixed with a techno beat during the credits. Howe ver, the film also draws upon general notions of illusion ( maya ) versus reality ( brahman ), based upon a cyclical notion of time, and a series of recurring saviors ( avataras ). However, considerations of potential applic ations and implications of Hinduism in cyberspace remain largely speculative without substant ial ethnography. Although this thesis provides a solid introduction and overv iew of the key issues and uses of the Internet for American Hindus, far too much was le ft out of the scope of analysis for it to be a comprehensive project. More cyber-et hnography needs to be conducted, particularly in the various Hindu chat rooms and BBS s, and individual Hindus need to be interviewed about their use of the Internet. We will not know how the Internet shapes the identity of young American Hindus until they are interviewed and asked about their use of the Internet, and online rituals are pointless unless i ndividual Hindu devotees use

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122 them. Furthermore, the discussion on Hindu temples in America will not be complete until it includes the various ISKCON, BAPS Sw aminarayan, Shirdi Sai Baba and other temples in America, and the various gur u-based religious movements have been completely ignored in this thesis. The chap ter on the HSC will remain incomplete until a discussion of the Indian Stude nts Association (ISA) is incl uded and student leaders and participants of both organi zations are interviewed. Lastly, concerns that America and c yberspace are becoming Hindutva domains reflects a concern that Hindutva ideals are consolidating Hinduism into one uniform system, in turn denying the diverse ethnicities and religions central to Indian history. As Hinduism has expanded through the globe, n ecessary changes and adaptions have brought this issue into even greater significance. I, however would counter such views by pointing out that Hinduism has also become increasingly diverse as Hindu communities have settled in new lands, and developed new strategies of adaption and divergent practices. As Hinduism now spreads to cyberspace, and increasing numbers of Hindus gain access to the Internet, I anticipate th is diversification to continue. Therefore, globalization does not only create homogenizatio n; rather, as Jan Nederveen Pieterse makes clear, globalization is also pl ural (2004: 60). Pieterse writes: What globalization means in structural terms, then, is the increase in the available modes of organization: transnational, international, macroregional, national, microregional, municipal, local. This ladder of administrativ e levels is being crisscrossed by functional networks of corporations, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, as well as pr ofessionals and computer users. (6566). For Pieterse, there is not one mode of globalization and struct ure; therefore, the increase in global density will result in an increase of plur alization and hybridity, in what he calls a global mlange (71). We have seen this as Hinduism transmitted to new geographic

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123 regions, developing unique blends and strategi c adaptions to the new settings; likewise, we should expect to see this diversification as Hinduism transfers to the domain of cyberspace, while simultaneously witnessi ng many aspects of global unification and homogenization.

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124 APPENDIX A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL TEMPLE WEBSITES USED IN STUDY 1. Birmingham Hindu Temple, AL 2. Maha Ganapati Temple Of Arizona, Maricopa City, AZ 3. Hindu Temple of Arizona, Scottsdale, AZ 4. Radha Krishna Temple, Bakersfield CA 5. Shiva Murugan Temple, Concord, CA 6. Fremont Hindu Temple, Fremont, CA 7. Kali Mandir, Laguna Beach, CA 8. Shiva Vishnu Temple, Livermore, CA 9. Shree Lakshmi Narayan Temple, Sacramento, CA 10. Shiva Vishnu Temple of San Diego, CA 11. Sri Sri Radhakrishna / Sri Balaji Temple, San Diego, CA 12. Shiva Temple, San Marino, CA (satyam foundation) 13. Hindu Temple of Colorado, Littleton, CO 14. Connecticut Valley Hindu Te mple Society, Middletown, CT 15. Rajdhani Mandir, Washington D.C. 16. Hindu Temple Association, Hockessin, DE 17. Hindu Society of Central Florida, Casselberry, FL 18. Hindu Society Of North East Florida, Jacksonville, FL 19. Florida Shirdi Sai, Iverness, FL 20. Miami Hindu Temple, Miami, FL 21. Shiva Vishnu Temple of South Florida, Southwest Ranches, FL 22. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, GA 23. Greater Atlanta Vedic Temple, GA 24. Hindu Temple Society Augusta (HTSA), GA 25. Shaiva Siddhanta Church, Kauai, HI 26. Kauai's Hindu Monastery 27. Iraivan Temple 28. Saiva Siddhanta Church 29. Kauai's Hindu Monastery Web Site 30. Hindu Temple & Cultur al Center, Madrid, IA 31. The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, IL 32. Hindu Mandir of Lake County, Grayslake, IL 33. Shirdi Sai Temple of Chicago, Hampshire, IL 34. Hindu Temple of Central Indiana, Indianapolis, IN (under construction) 35. Hindu Temple of Greater Wichita, KS 36. Hindu Temple of Kentucky, Louisville, KY 37. Sri Lakshmi Temple, Ashland, MA 38. The Hindu Temple of Metropo litan Washington, Adelphi, MD 39. Murugan Temple of North America, Lanham, MD

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125 40. Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple, Lanham, MD 41. Sri Mangal Mandir, Silver Springs MD 42. The Hindu Temple Of Canton, MI 43. Paschima Kashi Sri Viswanatha Temple Flint, MI 44. Bharatiya Temple of Lansing Haslett, MI 45. Indo American Cultural Center and Temple, Kalamazoo, MI 46. Parashakti Temple, Pontiac, MI (currently down) 47. The Bharatiya Temple Troy, MI 48. Hindu Temple & Cultural Ce nter of Kansis City, MO 49. The Temple of St.Louis, MO 50. Sri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple, Cary, NC 51. Welcome to the Hindu Society, Morrisville, NC 52. Hindu Temple Limited, Omaha, NE 53. Sri Venkateswara Temple: Bridgewater, NJ 54. Shri Shirdi Sai Center, Brunswick, NJ 55. Hindu Community Center of Garfield & Kearny, NJ 56. Ved Mandir, Milltown NJ 57. Sri Krishnaji Mandir, Morganville, NJ Hindu American Temple and Cultural Center 58. Hindu Temple Society, Albuquerque, NM 59. Sri Neem Karoli Baba Temple Taos, NM 60. Hindu Temple Society of Capital District, Albany, NY 61. Vishnu Mandir, Bronx, NY 62. Shiv Shakti Peeth, Flushing, NY 63. The Hindu temple Society of North America, Flushing, New York Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapathi Devasthanam 64. Bharatiya Mandir, Middletown, NY 65. Sri Ranganatha Temple, Pomona, NY 66. Hindu Temple of Dayton Beavercreek, OH 67. Hindu Temple of Gr eater Cincinnati, OH 68. Shiva Vishnu Hindu Temple (Greater Cleveland) Parma, OH 69. Bharatiya Hindu Temple, Powell OH 70. The Hindu Temple of Greater Tulsa, OK 71. Hindu Temple Society (Allentown, PA) 72. Hindu American Religious Institute (HARI) New Cumberland, PA 73. Sri Venkateswara Temple, Pittsburgh Penn Hills, PA 74. Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation Stroudsburg, PA 75. Hindu Temple and Cultural Centre of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 76. Hindu Community Center of Knoxville, Lenoir City, TN 77. Ganesha Temple of Nashville, TN 78. India Cultural Center and Temple, Memphis, TN 79. Barsana Dham (Austin) TX 80. Austin Hindu Temple Austin, TX 81. North Texas Hindu Mandir Dallas, TX 82. Hindu Temple of San Antonio, Helotes, TX 83. D/FW Hindu Temple Society, (D allas / Fort Worth), Irvin, TX

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126 84. Hindu Society of Brazos Valley, Navasota, TX 85. Sri Meenakshi Devastha nam, Pearland, TX USA 86. Hindu Temple of Central Texas, Temple, TX (Austin) 87. Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah, Jordan, UT 88. Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads, Chesapeake, VA 89. Durga Temple, Fairfax Station, VA 90. Hindu Center of Virginia, Glen Allen, VA 91. Hindu Temple and Cultural Ce nter, Bothell WA (Seattle) 92. Sanatan Dharma Temple & Cultural Center, Maple Valley WA (Seattle) 93. Hindu Temple Of Wisconsin, Pewaukee, WI

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127 APPENDIX B TEMPLES WITH GENERAL, ECUMENICAL NAMES 1. Birmingham Hindu Temple, AL 2. Hindu Temple of Arizona, Scottsdale, AZ 3. Fremont Hindu Temple, Fremont, CA 4. Hindu Temple of Colorado, Littleton, CO 5. Connecticut Valley Hindu Te mple Society, Middletown, CT 6. Hindu Temple Association, Hockessin, DE 7. Hindu Society of Central Florida, Casselberry, FL 8. Hindu Society Of North East Florida, Jacksonville, FL 9. Miami Hindu Temple, Miami, FL 10. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, GA 11. Greater Atlanta Vedic Temple, GA 12. Hindu Temple Society Augusta (HTSA), GA 13. Hindu Temple & Cultur al Center, Madrid, IA 14. The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, IL 15. Hindu Mandir of Lake County, Grayslake, IL 16. Hindu Temple of Central Indiana, Indianapolis, IN (under construction) 17. Hindu Temple of Greater Wichita, KS 18. Hindu Temple of Kentucky, Louisville, KY 19. The Hindu Temple of Metropo litan Washington, Adelphi, MD 20. The Hindu Temple Of Canton, MI 21. Bharatiya Temple of Lansing Haslett, MI 22. Indo American Cultural Center and Temple, Kalamazoo, MI 23. The Bharatiya Temple Troy, MI 24. Hindu Temple & Cultural Ce nter of Kansis City, MO 25. The Temple of St.Louis, MO 26. The Hindu Society, Morrisville, NC 27. Hindu Temple Limited, Omaha, NE 28. Hindu Community Center of Garfield & Kearny, NJ 29. Ved Mandir, Milltown NJ 30. Sri Krishnaji Mandir, Morganville, NJ Hindu American Temple and Cultural Center 31. Hindu Temple Society, Albuquerque, NM 32. Hindu Temple Society of Capital District, Albany, NY 33. The Hindu temple Society of North America, Flushing, New York Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapathi Devasthanam 34. Bharatiya Mandir, Middletown, NY 35. Hindu Temple of Dayton Beavercreek, OH 36. Hindu Temple of Gr eater Cincinnati, OH 37. Bharatiya Hindu Temple, Powell OH

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128 38. The Hindu Temple of Greater Tulsa, OK 39. Hindu Temple Society (Allentown, PA) 40. Hindu American Religious Institute (HARI) New Cumberland, PA 41. Hindu Temple and Cultural Centre of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 42. Hindu Community Center of Knoxville, Lenoir City, TN 43. India Cultural Center and Temple, Memphis, TN 44. Austin Hindu Temple Austin, TX 45. North Texas Hindu Mandir Dallas, TX 46. Hindu Temple of San Antonio, Helotes, TX 47. D/FW Hindu Temple Society, (D allas / Fort Worth), Irvin, TX 48. Hindu Society of Brazos Valley, Navasota, TX 49. Hindu Temple of Central Texas, Temple, TX (Austin) 50. Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads, Chesapeake, VA 51. Hindu Center of Virginia, Glen Allen, VA 52. Hindu Temple and Cultural Ce nter, Bothell WA (Seattle) 53. Sanatan Dharma Temple & Cultural Center, Maple Valley WA (Seattle) 54. Hindu Temple Of Wisconsin, Pewaukee, WI

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129 APPENDIX C TEMPLES WITH DEITY OR LINEAGE SPECIFIC NAMES 1. Maha Ganapati Temple Of Arizona, Maricopa City, AZ 2. Radha Krishna Temple, Bakersfield CA 3. Shiva Murugan Temple, Concord, CA 4. Kali Mandir, Laguna Beach, CA 5. Shiva Vishnu Temple, Livermore, CA 6. Shree Lakshmi Narayan Temple, Sacramento, CA 7. Shiva Vishnu Temple of San Diego, CA 8. Sri Sri Radhakrishna / Sri Balaji Temple, San Diego, CA 9. Shiva Temple, San Marino, CA (satyam foundation) 10. Rajdhani Mandir, Washington D.C. 11. Florida Shirdi Sai, Iverness, FL 12. Shiva Vishnu Temple of South Florida, Southwest Ranches, FL 13. Shaiva Siddhanta Church, Kauai, HI a. Kauai's Hindu Monastery b. Iraivan Temple c. Saiva Siddhanta Church d. Kauai's Hindu Monastery Web Site 14. Shirdi Sai Temple of Chicago, Hampshire, IL 15. Sri Lakshmi Temple, Ashland, MA 16. Murugan Temple of North America, Lanham, MD 17. Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple, Lanham, MD 18. Sri Mangal Mandir, Silver Springs MD 19. Paschima Kashi Sri Viswanatha Temple Flint, MI 20. Parashakti Temple, Pontiac, MI 21. Sri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple, Cary, NC 22. Sri Venkateswara Temple: Bridgewater, NJ 23. Shri Shirdi Sai Center, Brunswick, NJ 24. Sri Krishnaji Mandir, Morganville, NJ Hindu American Temple and Cultural Center 25. Sri Neem Karoli Baba Temple Taos, NM 26. Vishnu Mandir, Bronx, NY 27. Shiv Shakti Peeth, Flushing, NY 28. Sri Ranganatha Temple, Pomona, NY 29. Shiva Vishnu Hindu Temple (Greater Cleveland) Parma, OH 30. Sri Venkateswara Temple, Pittsburgh Penn Hills, PA 31. Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation Stroudsburg, PA 32. Ganesha Temple of Nashville, TN 33. Barsana Dham (Austin) TX 34. Sri Meenakshi Devastha nam, Pearland, TX USA

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130 35. Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah, Jordan, UT 36. Durga Temple, Fairfax Station, VA

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131 APPENDIX D LIST OF HSC CHAPTERS OBSERVED 1. University of Alabama AL 2. California State University, Sacramento CA 3. Stanford University CA 4. University of California, Berkeley CA 5. University of California, Irvine CA 6. University of California, San Diego CA 7. University of Florida, Gainesville FL 8. University of Miami FL 9. University of South Florida FL 10. Emory University GA 11. Georgia Tech GA 12. Drake University IA 13. University of Iowa IA 14. Illinois Institute of Technology IL 15. University of Illinois Chicago IL 16. University of Illinois Urbana Champaign IL 17. Purdue University IN 18. Boston University MA 19. MIT MA 20. Johns Hopkins University MD 21. University of Maryland Baltimore County MD 22. University of Maryland College Park MD 23. University of Michigan Ann Arbor MI 24. University of Minnesota Twin Cities MN 25. Duke University NC 26. North Carolina State University NC 27. Cornell University NY 28. New York University NY 29. Syracuse University NY 30. University of Oklahoma OK 31. Penn State University PA 32. University of Pennsylvania PA 33. University of Pittsburg PA 34. University of South Carolina SC 35. Texas A&M, College Station TX 36. University of Texas, Austin TX 37. George Mason University VA 38. University of Virginia VA 39. Virginia Commonwealth University VA

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132 40. Virginia Tech VA 41. University of Washington WA 42. University of Wisconsin, Madison WI

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133 APPENDIX E EMAIL QUESTIONNAIRE Does your chapter use the In ternet to promote activities ? If so, which types of activities do you promote? Does your chapter use the Inte rnet to provide information about Hinduism in general? If so, where does this information come from? Do you use any Hindu scholars, pandits pujaris or other religious figures? Does your chapter use the Intern et to provide information a bout places of worship? If so, are these places on campus, at nearby te mples, or at other places of worship? Does your site employ any chat room or disc ussion board features? If so, what is the intended role of the chat room and/or discussion board featur es? What types of general issues are discussed in these threads? Of the Indian and Indo-American student pa rticipants, approximately what percentage are American-born (or raised in the US), and what percentage are international students? Of the Indian and Indo-American student pa rticipants, approximately what percentage are Hindu? Do you have partic ipation from other South Asian religions (such as Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, or Buddhism)? What is your own citizenship? Where we re you born? What languages do you speak? What religion do you consider yourself? I have intentionally left my last questi on somewhat open-ended please answer the following questions however you see fit. Personally, how has your own participation in the HSC helped you in: 55. Developing knowledge about your religion (including beliefs, practices, history, etc.); 56. Bridging the gap between the In dian and American cultures; 57. Bridging the generational gap between you and your parents, grandparents and extended family;

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134 APPENDIX F HSC CHAPTERS EMAILED THE QUESTIONNAIRE Boston University California State University Sacramento Cornell University Duke University Emory University Johns Hopkins University North Carolina State University Purdue University Syracuse University Texas A&M University University of Alabama University of Florida University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign University of Iowa University of Michigan University of Minnesota University of Oklahoma University of Pittsburgh University of South Carolina University of Texas, Austin University of Washington

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135 APPENDIX G HSC LOGO

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136 APPENDIX G DISCUSSION ON FAITH Living in the diverse societ y of college epitomizes a life filled with excitement, confusion, stress, and the need to explore. Although many have already developed their personalities by the time one reaches college, learning to live with an open mind to the cultures one is exposed to in this vast e nvironment incites many to question his or her practices in life. Growing up in a dogmatic Indian household where the parents instruct their child partially on the way of life and then living independently in the real world where one is forced to reevaluate his or her choices and ideals augments the hardships of an already confused Indian-American. On e of the many controversial topics among college students is the idea of interracial a nd interfaith relationships. This was the topic for the first discussion held on October 5th, 2004. Many students who attended gave their opinions based on personal experiences and astute observations. Few of the questions raised discussed the problems an interracial couple would face with their pare nts, their future children, and even the society. When an Indian chooses to date or marry someone belong ing to another culture, he or she is forced by his or her parents to either end the rela tionship or to choose them over the partner. Threats of possible disownment and ostracism by the family restricts an Indian-American to follow traditions that he or she may not even know about or approve. Since many parents living in America fear losing their I ndian identity by assim ilating too much into the Western culture, they prevent their chil dren from experiencing pure independence in terms of choosing mates. Although asking one to preserve culture by following rituals and observing certain rules may not be asking much, it has a high possibility of backfiring. One may reason that being born I ndian does not require practicing Indian. Some even argued that living in multi-cultural America, it is essentially hard to restrain from dating or being with someone non-Indian. If we were in India, however, it would be easier to maintain traditions by mingling with those of the same mind-set. The institution of marriage is a culmin ation of happiness, togetherness, and problems. Regardless of the couples race or faith, everyone initially experiences difficulty adjusting and growing with the spouse. Differences in faith or culture adds to the problems by forcing the c ouple and their children to deve lop equal respect for all the faiths or cultures involved. Sometimes, one parent may unconsciously instill the child with values of his or her own culture and fait h, thus causing the child to pick one parents way of life over the other. This display of fa voritism affects the childs relationship with the other parent thereby weakening familial bond s and also predisposing the child to have identity crisis. On the contrary, some parent s decide to abandon their faith completely and even this choice affects the children. Ap tly stated by Nicole Varma, who grew up in an interfaith household, it is better to ha ve a religion than fors aking them all. Another strata of parents choose to c onvert after marriage and just follow the spouses faith. Although this decision may br ing some harmony to the marriage while raising the children, it still a ll depends on the persons unders tanding of oneself and each

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137 other. Many students agree in stating unanimously, spiritual ity is an individual journey no matter what religion one belongs to. Towards the end of the discussion, we conc luded that being in an interfaith or interracial relationship may or may not work depending on the people involved and their willingness to mature together. May it be an arranged or love marriage, a true Indian couple or a blend of Indian and Western cultures, a true Hindu household or a mix of multi faiths, a relationship is bound to last only if sacrifices and compromises are made to mold the two lives into one filled with harmony and unbiased understanding. Thus, as stated by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, love does not consist of gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction. (http://grove.ufl.edu/~hsc/H SC_Newsletter/hsc_articles /disc1_interfaith_race.wps.doc )

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138 APPENDIX I DEVANAGARI-STYLED FONT

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139 LIST OF REFERENCES Anand, Priya. 2004. Hindu Diaspora and Religio us Philanthropy in the United States. Paper presented at the 6th International Society for Third Sector Research, July 2004, in Toronto, Canada. http://www.jhu.edu/~istr/conferences/t oronto/workingpapers/anand.priya.pdf (accessed November, 2005) Barker, Eileen. 2005. Crossing the boundary: ne w challenges to religious authority and control as a consequence of access to the Internet. In Religion and cyberspace Edited by Morten Hjsgaard and Margit Warburg. London and New York: Routledge. Bauwens, Michel. 1996. Spirituality and Technology: Exploring the Relationship. First Monday, vol.1 no.5 (November 4), http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue5/ bauwens/index.html (accessed January 2006) Bhatia, Renee and Ajit Bhatia. 1996 Hindu Communities in Atlanta. In Religions of Atlanta: Religious Di versity in the Centennial Olympic City Edited by Gary Laderman. Atlanta: Scholars Press. Brasher, Brenda. 2001. Give me that Online Religion. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Dawson, Lorne. 2004. Religion and the Quest for Virtual Community. In Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. Edited by Lorne Dawson and Douglas Cowan. London and New York: Routledge. ----2005. The mediation of religious experience in cyberspace. In Religion and cyberspace Edited by Morten Hjsgaard and Margit Warburg. London and New York: Routledge. Dawson, Lorne and Douglas Cowan. 2004. Introduction to Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet, edited by Lorne Dawson and Douglas Cowan. London and New York: Routledge. Eck, Diana. 1998. Dar an: Seeing the Divine Image in India NY: Columbia University Press. Gurbani, Barkha. 2002. Bei ng Hindu, Being in College. Johns Hopkins University Campus Ministries Newsletter vol. II, Fall 2002, Issue 1, http://www.jhu.edu/~chaplai n/news/vol2/iss1/6.shtml (accessed November 2005)

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140 Hawley, John Stratton. 1991. Naming Hinduism. The Wilson Quarterly Vol. 15, 3 (Summer): 20-34. Helland, Christopher. 2004. Popul ar Religion and the World Wide Web: A Match Made in (Cyber) Heaven. In Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. Edited by Lorne Dawson and Douglas Cowan. London and New York: Routledge. Hjsgaard, Morten. 2005. Cyber-religion: on the cutting edge between the virtual and the real. In Religion and cyberspace Edited by Morten Hjsgaard and Margit Warburg. London and New York: Routledge. Hjsgaard, Morten and Margit Warburg. 2005. Introduction: waves of research. In Religion and cyberspace Edited by Morten Hjsgaard and Margit Warburg. London and New York: Routledge. Khan, Tasmia. 2005. The Evolution of Identity in the Ganapati Temple. Hinduism Here http://www.barnard.columbia.edu/reli gion/hinduismhere/khan-article.html (accessed November 2005) Khetan, Rajni. 2005. Indore women go tech-savvy on Karva Chauth. NewKerala [Online]. http://www.newkerala.com/news.php?action=fullnews&id=38732 (accessed January 2006) Kurien, Prema. 1998. Becoming American by Becoming Hindu: Indian Americans Take Their Place at the Mult icultural Table. In Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration Edited by R. Stephen Warner and Judith G. Wittner. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Lal, Vijay. 2003. North American Hindus, th e Sense of History, and the Politics of Internet Diasporism. In AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace Edited by Rachel Lee and SauLing Cynthia Wong. London and New York: Routledge. Larsen, Elena. 2004. Cyberfaith: How Am ericans Pursue Religion Online. In Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. Edited by Lorne Dawson and Douglas Cowan. London and New York: Routledge. Lvheim, Mia. 2004. Young People, Religious Identity, and the Internet. In Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. Edited by Lorne Dawson and Douglas Cowan. London and New York: Routledge. Lvheim, Mia and Alf Linderman. 2005. Construc ting religious ident ity on the Internet. In Religion and cyberspace Edited by Morten Hjsg aard and Margit Warburg. London and New York: Routledge. Min, Pyong Gap. 2000. 'Immigrants Religion an d Ethnicity: A Comparison of Korean Christian and Indian Hindu Immigrants. Bulletin of the Roya l Institute for InterFaith Studies 2, 1 (Spring).

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141 Miniwatts Marketing Group. 2006. Internet Usage Statistics: The Big Picture. Internet World Stats. http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm (accessed January 2006) Narayanan, Vasudha. 2000. Diglossic Hi nduism: Liberation and Lentils. Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 68, No. 4: 761-779. ----Forthcoming 2006. May You Live a Thousand Autumns: An Introduction to Hindu Traditions Oxford: Oxford University Press. Nederveen Pieterse, Jan. 2004. Globalization and Culture: Global Mlange. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. O'Leary, Stephen. 2005. Utopian and dystopian po ssibilities of networked religion in the new millennium. In Religion and cyberspace Edited by Morten Hjsgaard and Margit Warburg. London and New York: Routledge. Pechilis Prentiss, Karen. 1996. The Pattern of Hinduism and Hindu Temple Building in the U.S. The Pluralism Project. http://www.pluralism.org/research/articles/ pp_hinduism_article.php (accessed November 2005) Prashad, Vijay. 2000. The Karma of Brown Folk Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Savarkar, V.D. 2003. Hindutva New Delhi: Hindi Sahitya Sadan. Smart, Ninian. 1999. The importance of diasporas. In Migration, Diasporas and Transnationalism Edited by Steven Vertovec an d Robin Cohen. Aldershot, UK: Edward Elgar. Staal, J.F. 1963. Sanskrit and Sanskritization. Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 22, No. 3: 261-275. Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya. 1995. Publisher's Desk. Hinduism Today May, 1995. http://www.hinduismtoday.com/a rchives/1995/5/1995-5-05.shtml (accessed February 2006) University of California Regents. 2001. Ec hoes of Freedom: South Asian Pioneers in California, 1899-1965. The Library, University of California, Berkeley CSAS Publications. http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/SSEAL/echoes/chapter13/ chapter13.html (accessed January 2006) Varghese, Linta. 2003. Will the Real Indian Woman Log-On? Diaspora, Gender, and Comportment. In AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity Nationalism, and Cyberspace Edited by Rachel Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. London and New York: Routledge. Vsquez, Manuel A. and Marie Marquardt. 2003. Globalizing the Sacred: religion across the Americas New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

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142 Venkatachari, K.K.A. 1992. Transmission and Transformation of Rituals. In A Sacred Thread: Modern Transmission of Hi ndu Traditions in India and Abroad. Chambersberg, PA: Anima Press. Vertovec, Steven. 1999. Religion and Diaspora. In New Approaches to the Study of Religion. Edited by Peter Antes, Armin W. Geer tz and Randi Warne. Berlin & NY: Verlag de Gruyter. Waghorne, Joanne Punzo. 1999. The Hindu Gods in a Split-level World: The Sri SivaVishnu Temple in Suburban Washington, D.C. In Gods of the City. Edited by Robert Orsi. Bloomington: I ndiana University Press. Williams, Raymond Brady. 1992. Sacred Th reads of Several Textures. In A Sacred Thread: Modern Transmission of Hi ndu Traditions in India and Abroad. Chambersberg, PA: Anima Press.

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143 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Mr. Ackroyd holds a BA in Religious St udies from Oakland University, in the Detroit metropolitan area. As an undergraduate, Mr. Ackroyd was able to work firsthand with many religious communities, includi ng local Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and Baha'i, at their respective place s of worship. From his time spent with the diasporal South Indian community, he devel oped his primary interest in contemporary Hindu practices and migration, with a part icular emphasis on temple functions and worship. His research interests include the va rious roles of Hindu temples, the use of technology and the Internet by Hindu commun ities around the globe, the sacralization of foreign soil, and the process of localiza tion as devotional Hin du groups extend beyond South Asia. Mr. Ackroyd is writing this thesis as part of his require ments for the Masters of Arts in Religion at the Un iversity of Florida, where he has been studying since 2004. ackroyd@ufl.edu


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HINDUISM IN CYBERSPACE


By

BRADLEY STERLING ACKROYD
















A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL
FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2006

































Copyright 2006

by

Bradley Sterling Ackroyd















ACKNOWLEDMENTS

This thesis is dedicated to my older brother, Norm, whose lifelong love for

computers and science fiction novels was the genesis of my own interest in cyberspace

and technology. His technical advice and assistance with this thesis was invaluable.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

A C K N O W L E D M E N T S .................................................................................................... iii

ABSTRACT ............... ................... ......... .............. vi

CHAPTER

1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ............................................................................. .............. ...

2 CYBERSPACE AND SACRED SPACE....................... ...............9

Definition and Significance of the Internet.............................................. .......... 9
R religion and the Internet ........................... .................. .................. ............... 17
Taxonomy of Hindu-Related Sites................................................. ............... 21
Authority and Unity in a Global Context............................................................. 31
Concluding Rem arks .................. ............................. ...... .. .. ........ .... 36

3 THE DOMAINS OF HINDU TEMPLES IN AMERICA .......................................38

A ssim ilation, A ccretion, and A daption ............................................... ..................38
T em p le C u ltu re .................................................................. .. 3 9
Ecumenical Tendencies and Temple Names................................. ............... 41
W ebsite Aesthetics and Technology ............................................. ............... 47
Little India ................................................ 48
Seva, D ana, and Tem ple Budgets ........................................ ........................ 52
Promotion and Advertisement..................... ....... ........................... 58

4 VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM: HINDU STUDENTS COUNCIL
A C T IV IT IE S O N L IN E ..................................................................... ...................63

Ethnic Preservation and Generational Conflict............................................63
H indu Students Council (H SC) ............................................. ........ .. ... .......... 66
Hindu Students Council on the World Wide Web ................................................68
W ebsite A esthetics and Technology ............................................. ............... 75
Interactivity and Com m unity ............................................................................78
Concluding Rem arks .................. ............................. ...... .. .. ........ .... 84















5 VIRTUAL REALITIES: VIRTUAL RITUAL AND CYBERCOMMUNITY .........87

A S atgu ru 's C y b ercall ........................... ............. .. .. .................. .. .................... 87
Em bodim ent and A authenticity ........................................... ........... ............... 88
V irtu al R itu al ................................................................9 4
CyberCommunities....... ............................ .............................. .101
Concluding Remarks .................................. ................ ....................116

6 C O N C L U SIO N ......... .................................................................... ......... .. ... 118

APPENDIX

A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL TEMPLE WEBSITES USED IN STUDY................. 124

B TEMPLES WITH GENERAL, ECUMENICAL NAMES .....................................127

C TEMPLES WITH DEITY OR LINEAGE SPECIFIC NAMES.............................129

D LIST OF HSC CHAPTERS OBSERVED ............................................................131

E EM A IL Q U E STIO N N A IR E ......................................................... .....................133

F HSC CHAPTERS EMAILED THE QUESTIONNAIRE ........................................134

G H S C L O G O ..............................................................................................................13 5

H DISCU SSION ON FAITH ........................................................ ............... 136

I DEVANAGARI-STYLED FONT.................................................. 138

LIST OF REFEREN CES .................................................................. ............... 139

B IO G R A PH ICA L SK ETCH ............ .................................................... .....................143















v















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

HINDUISM IN CYBERSPACE

By

Bradley Sterling Ackroyd

May 2006

Chair: Vasudha Narayanan
Major Department: Religion

Much like a Venn diagram-with Hinduism, America, and the Internet as the three

circles-this thesis explores the relationship and intersection of American Hinduism in

cyberspace. The focus is on how the Internet is used by Hindus in America, though this

question must be explored in the larger context of Hindu migration and adaption to

America. The Internet is a primary tool used by Hindu communities to maintain broad

suburban networks and communities, particularly built around the temples and

community centers. Therefore, the Internet is shaping Hindu communities in America by

allowing massive, simultaneous communication among large groups of practitioners and

extended families. However, the Internet also reflects adaptations and transformations

that Hindus developed in becoming part of the American melting pot.

As Hindus migrated to America and assimilated into American culture, certain

elements of their religious practice have inevitably been dropped, while other aspects are

transformed and retained. American Hinduism tends to be ecumenical, simultaneously

representing many various Hindu traditions, in an inclusive effort to bring many









immigrant minority Indians together as a unified group. Such unity provides a support

network and social community, and is fundamental to the process of migration.

However, some skeptics are concerned that this ecumenical tendency is creating a

generic, Brahminical ideology that breeds Hindutva ideals and revisionist histories. While

Hinduvta elements have indeed seeped into the American cultural and religious bricolage,

and found a new home in cyberspace, my study indicates that the orthodoxy and

Hindutva are only one portion of Hinduism in cyberspace and America; and a relatively

small portion, at that. To the contrary, the Internet provides of multiplication of voices,

allowing many diverse individuals to express their beliefs and experiences. As the

Internet continues to increase in usage and significance, it will continue to generate and

reflect the diversity of Hinduism, and the many global variations in practice and belief.















CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

Much like a Venn diagram-with Hinduism, America, and the Internet as the three

circles-this thesis explores the relationship and intersection of American Hinduism in

cyberspace. The focus is on how the Internet is used by Hindus in America, though this

question must be explored in the larger context of Hindu migration and adaption1. The

Internet is a primary tool used by American Hindu communities to maintain broad

suburban networks and communities (particularly those built around temples and

community centers). Therefore, the Internet is shaping Hindu communities in America by

allowing massive, simultaneous communication among large groups of practitioners and

extended families. However, the Internet also reflects adaptations and transformations

Hindus have developed in becoming part of the American melting pot. During Hindu

assimilation2 into American culture, certain elements of their religious practice have

inevitably been dropped, while other aspects are retained and transformed. American

Hinduism tends to be ecumenical, simultaneously representing various Hindu traditions,

in an inclusive effort to bring minority Indians together as a unified group. Such unity

provides a support network and social community, and is fundamental to the process of

migration. For this reason, many scholars, including Raymond Brady Williams, refer to

the American form of Hinduism as 'Ecumenical Hinduism'.



SI have, rather unreflectively, used the terms adaption and adaptation as synonymous words referring to the
general process of retaining and modifying Indian cultural elements in America.
2 1 have used the term assimilation to mean the gradual process that migrant non-resident Indians adopt
American customs and attitudes.









The seeds for ecumenical, inclusive attitudes and shared sacred worship are not a

uniquely American dimension of Hinduism, with India having a long history of religious

diversity and inclusivity. Indian Muslims, Sikhs and varieties of Hindus have shared

sacred places of worship in India, and this seems to have prepared many Indians for

inclusive shared worship in the American melting pot.

However, some skeptics are concerned that this ecumenical tendency is creating a

generic, Sanskritized ideology that (in some contexts) breeds Hindutva ideals and

revisionist histories. While Hindutva elements have indeed seeped into the American

cultural and religious bricolage, and found a new home in cyberspace, my study indicates

that orthodoxy and Hindutva are only one portion of American Hinduism in cyberspace;

and a relatively small portion, at that. American (Ecumenical) Hinduism does not

represent a homogenization of history and ideals built along anti-Muslim ideology, but

rather a hybridized transformation built around general commonalities. The Internet

supplements this diversity by providing a multiplication of voices, allowing many

individuals to express their beliefs and experiences, and offers a forum to discuss their

challenges and solutions. As the Internet continues to increase in usage and significance,

it will likewise continue to generate and reflect the diversity and flexibility of Hinduism,

and the many global and individual variations in practice and belief.

Chapter 1 analyzes central issues involved with religion in cyberspace, and

attempts to answer key questions regarding the possibility for performing religion online.

I then outline the various types of websites relating to Hinduism, focusing on the various

degrees of information and interaction provided and allowed by the Internet. The

dynamics of Internet communication are different from other forms of communication,









and cyberspace presents distinct limitations as well as new benefits. How Hinduism is

constructed online, and who controls this information, is a central concern of this chapter.

Chapter 2 explores the various websites for Hindu temples in America, analyzing

the function of the Internet and what can be learned about Hinduism in America from the

World Wide Web. The Internet actually reflects the ecumenical nature of American

Hinduism, and the various strategies and technologies of assimilation. Temple activities

and services are promoted through their web sites, and list-serves function as a tool for

outreach and networking. Furthermore, the Internet provides an efficient means for

generating temple membership, funds, volunteer service and community support

programs.

Chapter 3 analyzes the websites of the various chapters of the Hindu Students

Council (HSC), and explores the same ecumenical dynamics. Differences in culture and

values between the first-generation migrant parents and their American-born children

create distinct challenges that are worked out in the home, temple community and within

the children' social group of peers. The HSC presents a forum for these American-born

Hindus to discuss these difficulties on their own terms, and build a student community

for support. Though the HSC is officially part of the Vishva Hindu Parishad in America

(VHPA), each chapter is individually managed and operated by students from each

campus, with little oversight from the national HSC office or the VHPA. Furthermore,

emphasis on the performing arts, social engagements and discussions about interracial

dating show us that these are not young Hindutvavadins, but rather young adults working

out difficult issues relating to minority status, generational conflicts with their parents

and elders, and challenges of being Hindu in a Christian majority nation.









Chapter 4 addresses the current applications and potential for the online

performance of Hinduism. Online services-such as online astrology and marriage

matchmaking services-and virtual rituals-such as streaming bhajans, digital darshan

and cyber-pujas-present a beginning to online religion performance, though they still

primarily serve as supplemental practices. However, the interactive nature of cyberspace

and Internet communication have created various online cybercommunities, which

generate significant dialogue and discussion. Although these communities may not

replace real life social networks, they do constitute a form of online religious

performance so long as they create and maintain social solidarity and religious identity.

Concerns regarding Hindutva presence in America and on cyberspace should be

taken with a grain of salt, and distinctions between generic Hindu beliefs and Hindutva

ideology must be established. The emphasis on broad, general Hindu beliefs does not

mean that American Hinduism and the HSC are Hindutvan, because Hindutva (or

'Hinduness') is a political retelling of Indian history, and not a religious ideology. In his

seminal Hindutva text, Veer Savarkar (2003: 4) explains that

When we attempt to investigate into the essential significance of Hindutva we do
not primarily-and certainly not mainly-concern ourselves with any particular
theocratic or religious dogma or creed...Hindutva embraces all the departments of
thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.

Lal (2003: 108) further explains that Hindutva operates by

Drawing upon the writings of Veer Savarkar, Madhav Sadashiv, and other Hindu
ideologies who defined India as the eternal land of the Hindus and insisted that the
'blood of Hindus' streamed through everyone born in the motherland
(janmabhoomi), the advocates of a renewed Hindu militancy have endeavored to
turn India-to deploy Islamic terminology-into the land of the "pure and the
faithful".

However, Savarkar (2003: 91-92) is clear that not everyone born in the fatherland is

Hindu, and not everyone accepting Hindu beliefs is Hindutvan because









we Hindus are bound together not only by the tie of the love we bear to a common
fatherland and by the common blood that courses through our veins and keeps our
hearts throbbing and our affections warm, but also by the tie of the common
homage we pay to our great civilization...We are one because we are a nation a
race and own a common Sanskriti (civilization).

Savarkar builds this definition of the Hindu race along an anti-Muslim platform, with an

inclusive attitude towards all indigenous Indian religions, including Buddhism, Jainism,

Sikhism, and the many variations of 'Hinduism'.

Revisionist history of Hindutva is problematic, for a number of key reasons. First,

the factual accounts of Hindutvan history are highly erroneous, and built solely around

sensationalized accounts in north Indian history and language. South Indian history and

dynasties (as well as linguistic, cultural and religious variations) are completely omitted

from Savarkar's unified history. Second, Savarkar includes religious communities that

sought to identify themselves outside the Hindu fold (such as Sikhism, Jainism and

Buddhism), denying their unique history and identity. Lastly, Savarkar's emphasis on

religious traditions indigenous to India fails to account for the reasons that Islam and

Christianity became established in the Indian subcontinent, and the various methods by

which these 'foreign' traditions were localized and adapted. Islam is a South Asian

tradition, representing a substantial percentage of the population and primary contributor

to the Indian history and culture, despite Muslim origins in Arabia.

The process of globalization itself is challenging such nationalistic politics and

identities as local traditions spread beyond their geographic boundaries and develop new

variations; Hinduism is no longer a South Asian religious tradition, despite its origins in

India. Cyberspace, which exists outside of geographic boundaries, is now furthering this

process by illuminating the many global variations of Hinduism, and by providing

religious information and ritual practices in the domain of cyberspace. Therefore, the









Internet brings two dynamics to the table: first, it allows for religious discussion and

practice outside the basic geographic boundaries of traditional religious performance; and

second, it is providing a voice and forum to express the many global variations of Hindu

belief and practice.

Although global Hinduism still is largely wedded to individuals and communities

of South Asian ethnic origins, many of the American Hindu communities are twice-

immigrated, having moved to the US from parts of the Carribean, Africa and Europe.

Furthermore, many Hindu religious groups are drawing in American converts; some

groups, such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and the

Shaiva Siddhanta Church, are quite conscious of a connection to the geographic borders

of India, and are active in their global outreach and connection to Hindus (and Hare

Krishnas) around the world. Other groups, including the myriad of American gurus and

religious movements (Transcendental Meditation, Deepak Chopra's Center, Siddha

Yoga, etc.), draw on all-inclusive tropes to bring in Caucasian American participants, and

do not emphasize the Indian origins of their practice and tradition. Unfortunately, due to

the scope and time-restrictions of this thesis, these groups were not included in this

analysis.

Despite broad parallels of inclusivity in Hindutva history and American Hinduism,

the similarity ends there. Savarkar places great significance on the varna system, though

caste importance is often dropped outside of India, especially in America. Furthermore,

American Hinduism draws on many sources of south Indian ethnicity and religion,

including south Indian sects (such as the Shaiva Siddhanta Church), deities (especially

Venkateswara and Murugan), and performing arts (such as Carnatic music and









Bharatnatyam dance). Furthermore, ecumenical tendencies are not the same as

homogenization or unification; Hindus in America do not share the same deities, but

rather include many deities together in shared spaces, including temples spaces and

cyberspace.

Many of the dynamics of Hinduism in America are a product of the particular

group of Hindus that immigrated to America. Statistically speaking, American Hindus are

among the wealthiest individual groups in the US. Although the statistics show a high

medium income and education for American Hindus, we must not make any overarching

generalizations about individuals. Many Indians in America are working class, and not

part of the elite occupations, such as medicine, business, engineering, finance or

computer programming. Nonetheless, with a prevalence in the IT industry and a high

level of education in general, American Hindus have access to the Internet, and are

among the most active developers of Internet sites and technologies.

While this thesis explores the distinct challenges to performing religion online,

many American Hindus are receptive to technological revolutions because of their urban

environments, socio-economic status, education and occupations. Therefore, though

many scholars are concerned that online religious performance will never be considered

authentic, such technophobic skepticism seems ungrounded. In only the first 10 years of

the Internet's existence, Hinduism has flourished in cyberspace. Furthermore, I anticipate

this trend to continue to develop globally, particularly as India becomes more globally

dominant in the IT industry.

Although education and socio-economic status are significant factors, the rapid

migration of Hinduism to cyberspace also reflects the great significance of sight and









sound given in Hindu ritual performance. Therefore, although Internet technology is

currently limited to text, images, and sounds, Hindus can still have sight (darshan) of a

sacred deity, guru, temple, or tirtha (sacred site) online, and even listen to sacred

bhajans, shlokas, and mantras. Virtually every American Hindu temple now has a web

site and actively use e-mail listserves for outreach, and many sites now offer various

online Hindu services. Soon Hindus will be able to witness the performance of religious

song and dance online, take virtual pilgrimages of sacred sites and temples, see the

blessed site of their guru, or witness a family member's samskara (life-cycle ritual)

through a web cam. While it is difficult to ascertain the religious significance of the

Internet because it is so new, it is clear that religious ideology and praxis are rapidly

migrating to cyberspace. Just as Hinduism has transformed as it has migrated to new

geographic spaces, so too can we expect new transformations as Hinduism migrates to

cyberspace.



my lack of training in the field of globalization has resulted in a somewhat careless

use of globalization terminology through the essay. Rather unreflectively, I have used the

terms assimilation, adaption and adaptation as somewhat synonymous terms, when in

actuality the concepts are used to refer to distinctly different processes. For example, I

have used assimilation and adaption to refer to two separate but related functions: the

process of retaining Indian cultural elements while living in the US, and the process of

incorporating American cultural elements into their lives. The ambiguity of this

terminology ultimately reflects my inexperience in the subset of globalization and

religion, and reflects my need for future training in this field.














CHAPTER 2
CYBERSPACE AND SACRED SPACE

Definition and Significance of the Internet

The Internet, though grammatically written as a proper noun, is not one single

'place' or communication protocol. In popular usage, the Internet typically refers to e-mail

and the World Wide Web, which actually account for the vast majority of Internet usage.

Technically, the Internet refers to the overall exchange of information between individual

computers and servers, using a variety of telecommunication networks (copper telephone

lines, coaxial cable lines, fiber optic connections, wireless frequencies, etc.), transmitting

data in 'packets' using an IP address (Internet Protocol). For example, when one computer

sends an e-mail, this message is broken into a series of small packets, encoded with a

recipient address (IP) and the packets are relayed through a series of other computers

(servers) and network lines, eventually finding its way to the correct mail server, where

the packets are reassembled into the original e-mail message.

It is important to note that the Internet and World Wide Web are not synonymous.

The Internet refers to the entire collection of networked computers and servers

communicating through various telecommunication systems. The World Wide Web is

only one aspect of the Internet, and consists of a series of web documents, stored and

networked on web servers, and made accessible using hyperlinks and URL's. Although

the World Wide Web and e-mail comprise the majority of all Internet usage, many other

Internet protocols are used, including newsgroups, FTP and file sharing, Instant









Messaging, Gopher, session access, as well as real-time services such as Internet radio,

streaming video and other live web casts.

The use of the term 'Internet' can be somewhat arbitrary, particularly when

conflated with other prefixes, such as Cyberr', 'virtual', and 'e-/electronic' (such as in e-

commerce, or e-mail). Not all electronic transmission of data is considered part of the

Internet. For example, with recent advancements in cellular phones and personal digital

assistants (PDA's), communication between computer-based messaging and e-mail is

accessible through interfaces other than a computer. Yet, this is not considered Internet

usage for two basic reasons. First, technically, the Internet and text messaging use

different protocols; the Internet uses a 'standardized' IP, whereas text messaging uses

Short Message Service (SMS). More importantly however, receiving a cell phone text

message generally does not constitute Internet exchange because it is imagined as part of

the already established telephone technology, though the telecommunication lines and

network routers used in information exchanges may be the same. Although the Internet

represents the latest technological efforts in the ongoing development of

telecommunication technologies, it is still based upon the previously established

technologies, and therefore still limited by them.

Though the terms are arguably still being defined, 'Internet' and 'cyberspace'

represent subtly distinct ideas. In popular usage, if the Internet refers to the general

exchange of information through networked computers, then cyberspace represents the

virtual 'place' where this exchange occurs. Whereas the Internet represents the real,

physical networks of users, computers, and network protocols, cyberspace is an imagined

zone created by this network and computer-based interface. Brenda Brasher sees









cyberspace as "a fiction of public etiquette that orients people in a virtual environment.

An abstract idea with electronic components, cyberspace identifies the expanse, if not the

time, where those communicating by means of computers believe and act if they are"

(Brasher 2001). Cyberspace is not merely the place, but also refers to the activities and

communications that occur within the Internet; thus Vasquez and Marquardt's definition

of cyberspace as "the shifting public spheres and subcultures, the cognitive and social

digital 'matrix', generated by the Internet" (2003: 94).

When 'logged-in' to cyberspace, one imagines that they are no longer within the

physical bounds of nationality, borders and place. The user has access to a nearly

limitless encyclopedia of information, from a vast array of sources, and contact with

other users around the globe. This reflects the two greatest strengths of the Internet:

information and interaction. The interactivity allowed by the e-mail and online chat

makes exchange of ideas and information possible in new ways, through a myriad of

textual, audio and video interfaces.

Although the Internet has revolutionized information storage and accessibility,

there are significant limitations to the Internet. Since the Internet is built upon previously

established technologies, it can only function as prescribed by these technologies.

Therefore, as Hoj sgaard and Warburg point out, "the Internet by and large can be used

either as a television set or as a telephone. In the first case, the Internet transmits

messages...from content providers) to content consumerss. In the second case, the

Internet connects people from various places" (Hoj sgaard and Warburg 2005: 6).

However, the Internet also transcends some limitations of print and broadcast

technologies by:









(1) enabling many-to-many communication; (2) enabling the simultaneous
reception, alteration, and redistribution of cultural objects; (3) dislocating
communicative action from the posts of the nation, from the territorialized spatial
relations of modernity; (4) providing instantaneous global contact; and (5) inserting
the modern/late modem subject into an information machine apparatus that is
networked. (Vasquez and Marquardt 2003: 95)

The Internet can therefore transmit more information faster than other technologies, and

connect more people simultaneously.

The Internet is also limited by the content providers and consumers; i.e., those with

the resources, training and access to computers and a network. Lovheim and Linderman

(2005: 125) remind their reader that

Susan Herring's research on gender and participation in chat rooms is one of many
indications that the Internet reflects, or even might reinforce, certain inadequacies
in society. Although the Internet offers opportunities to acquire new skills and new
knowledge, different Internet arenas also require certain technical, social, and
cultural skills that different individuals may be more or less endowed with.

If the Internet users represent a disproportionate make-up of society, than the same

inadequacies of representation will likewise occur on the Internet. For example, Vinay

Lal writes that "in even as large a country as India, the largest democracy in the world,

only a million people have Internet connections, and they are the ones who already have

at their disposal fax, telephone, and other means of communication..." (Lal 2003: 101).

Furthermore, if we accept that "one of the iron rules of cyberspace...is that it is

intrinsically Republican, or inegalitarian; its most keen enthusiasts are white, upper-class

males" (103), then we may indeed agree with arguments that "cyberspace represents a

more ominous phase of Western colonialism, the homogenization of knowledge and, in

tandem, the elimination of local knowledge systems" (101). However, such bold

statements require critical assessment. Lal's statistic of one million users is not only three

years old, but is also a pessimistically low estimate. Figures from The Internet and









Mobile Association of India (IAMAI http://iamai.in/), the International

Telecommunication Union (ITU http://www.itu.int/home/) and the National Association

of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM http://www.nasscom.org/) estimate

that there are currently about 7-8 million Internet subscribers in India, and anywhere from

35-40 million Internet Users. The IAMAI's stated goal on their website is to have 100

million users by next year, with significant raises in female users as well

(http://www.iamai.in/section.php3?secid=16&pressid=822&mon=2).

Furthermore, while access to the Internet is clearly limited by one's socioeconomic

position, the Internet also has significant democratizing potential. Without a strict

governing body to censor web content and e-mail exchange, and with the help of recent

initiatives by companies offering free web space to host individual web pages, those with

access to the Internet can express their own views, insights and experiences regardless of

authority or education. This is in part due to the anonymity of Internet exchange, and a

lack of authoritative and editorial review. Hojsgaard and Warburg (2005: 7) write that

Cyberspace. .basically represents a 'multiplication of voices'. Among other things,
this multiplication of voices means that conventional or exclusive beliefs, practices,
and organizational authorities are being confronted with alternative solutions,
competing worldviews, and sub- or inter-group formations. In this interactive
environment of increasing pluralism, reflexivity, and multiple individual
possibilities, new ways of structuring and thinking about issues such as reality,
authority, identity, and community are inevitably emerging.

For example, though women have not always been given a forum to express their

perspectives and voices within temple, liturgical or otherwise clerical boundaries, the

Internet provides a space where women can express and investigate religiosity outside the

bounds of the religious institution. Thus, while Lal is concerned about the Internet and

globalization leading to "the elimination of local knowledge systems", the Internet









actually provides a forum for the expression of such epistemologies, giving voice to the

many unheard peoples and communities.

Furthermore, as the Internet becomes a necessity of global exchange and economy,

international access to the Internet has grown greatly (and will surely continue to do so).

"Worldwide, the number of Internet users is estimated to have been 16 million in 1995,

378 million in 2000, and more than 500 million in 2002" (Dawson and Cowan 2004: 5).

Current estimates, gathered from various Network Information Centers, the International

Telecommunication Union and user polls, place the number of Internet users over one

billion (http://www.intemetworldstats.com/stats.htm). Although English is the

predominant language of the Internet, this reflects the origins of the Internet (in the US)

and the global use of English as a lingua franca, more than geographic usage. Computer

technologies have been successfully dealing with the use of non-Roman script languages,

and are now capable of handling most characters and scripts. As of 2005, 32% of web

users request pages and searches in English, though other languages are becoming

increasingly prevalent, including Chinese (13%), Japanese (8%), Spanish (7%), German

(6%) and French (4%).

However, language statistics are potentially misleading, since many individuals

outside of English-speaking nations use English. In fact, statistics on Internet usage by

continent have shown that 34% of Internet users are in Asia, 29% in Europe and only

23% in North America (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm). Furthermore,

since English, Chinese and Japanese are the three most used languages on the Internet,

and Asian users compose the majority of all Internet users, Lal's concern that the Internet

is "intrinsically Republican, or inegalitarian; its most keen enthusiasts are white, upper-









class males" (103) seems overly pessimistic. We must keep in mind that the Internet has

only been around for approximately ten years, and the statistics of the growth in Internet

usage suggest (to me) that the democratizing potential will come to outweigh white,

upper-class dominance.

This growth and democratizing potential of the Internet reflects modem social

changes, but is also directly influencing society itself. As Dawson and Cowan write, "If

for no other reason, this phenomenal rate of growth assures the importance of continued

research into the Internet and its effects on society" (Dawson and Cowan 2004: 5). Many

scholars argue that the Internet is more than a technological advancement, in line

following the printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, television and satellite

communication. Rather, they see the Internet as a new wave of civilization; a revolution

from matter to information. Citing Alvin Toffler, Lal argues that the Internet represents a

Third Wave of civilization. He writes, "If in the First Wave civilization was

predominantly agricultural, and the Second Wave ushered in the age of industrial

production, in the Third Wave 'the central resource-a single phrase broadly

encompassing data, information, images, symbols, culture, ideology and values-is

actionable knowledge" (Lal 2003: 99). This knowledge, or information, is radically

altering forms of exchange and commerce, replacing older material forms in a process

Michel Bauwens calls 'virtualization':

Today, the natural world is being transformed not only by using matter and energy,
but also by information, leading to a new explosion of productivity. In one way,
virtualization is the increased substitution of matter by information. This
substitution has profound consequences for the relations of humankind to nature,
between humans and other humans, and between humans and machines. This new
layer of information is becoming increasingly prominent as virtualization
intensifies. (1996)









What are the potential impacts of this 'virtualization'? Bauwens (1996) continues by

writing that:

This alteration has affected leisure time. Many find watching nature documentaries
on television more preferable than real walks in the woods. This process has been
intensified by new cyberspace media. For many, the Internet is not just a
continuation of traditional mass media, but a new shift. The Internet, unlike other
media, represents a new collective mental space. Hence the notion of cyberspace, a
parallel 'virtual' world, co-existing in tandem with real world. Over the long term of
human existence, our prehistoric ancestors existed principally in a natural
environment. Civilized humanity occupied an invented architectural environment.
Our descendants may principally live in a digital environment (mentally speaking,
that is), where they will spend a great deal of time, working and playing. If this
digital revolution is altering civilization, it will also impact our metaphysical
imagination, the basic building blocks of our experience.

We are in a transition from matter to information, from real life to virtual life. In fact, "rl"

is an acronym commonly used in Internet chat and instant messenger communications to

mean "real life" (also jokingly called 'meatspace'), as opposed to friendships and

exchanges occurring only in cyberspace. Yet, Bauwens (1996) sees a transformation in

our perception of the 'real':

In the past, the credo of science, the industrial world, and materialism was simply
"ifI can't touch it, it is not real. Today, it is nearly reversed to the point where it
could be said "ifyou can touch it, it's not real. Information has become more
important, in political, economic, social, and philosophical terms, than material
objects.

A good example of this virtual revolution is in online transactions, where the exchange of

physical currency has been replaced with electronic exchange of funds (which can be

accessed through a variety of electronic interfaces, including personal computers,

telephones and ATM machines). The future of much economic exchange lies within

cyberspace, including banking, stocks, and online purchases, slowly eliminating the need

for both currency and face-to-face exchanges.









Religion and the Internet

If indeed we are engaging a new era of civilization-cyberspace, and all it

encompasses-then what effect will this virtualization have on religion? On the one

hand, statistics show that religion is a significant component of the information available

on the World Wide Web. Hojsgaard and Warburg (2005: 2-3) write that:

By the end of the 1990s there were more than 1.7 million web pages covering
religion...By 2004, the number of religious web pages had grown considerably
worldwide. There were then approximately 51 million pages on religion, 65 million
web pages dealing with churches, and 83 million web pages containing the word
God...Although religion is not the most popular issue of cyberspace the interest in
this subject area among Internet users has become widespread: in 2001 28 million
Americans had used the Internet for religious purposes. By 2004 the number of
persons in the USA who had done things online relating to religious or spiritual
matters had grown to almost 82 million.

Furthermore, "In 1998, a survey of American teenagers by the Barna Research Group of

Oxnard, California, showed that one out of six teens said that within the next five years

they expected to use the Internet as a substitute for their current religious practices"

(Lovheim 2004: 59).

Although religion is a topic well represented on the Internet, does this mean that

virtual religion can replace or substitute current religious practices? While there are

indeed many sites offering information about religion, is this the same as doing religion?

Lorne Dawson notes that "an element appears to be missing: an element Durkheim

perceived to be essential to religious life. Can we do religion online, in the more

demanding sense of participating in shared religious rites?" (Dawson 2005: 15). If we are

to understand religion as a social function, we must recognize that religion necessitates

action and performance. For Durkheim, this action strengthened and maintained social

solidarity, and thus religion is always a moral phenomenon. Whether we accept a

Durkheimian approach to religion, or even consider popular usage, Dawson argues that









"being religious still implies being part of a group, even if the affiliation is more

symbolic and subjective than real. In the popular mind the notions of religion and

community go hand-in-hand" (Dawson 2004: 75). Therefore, can religious action be

performed on the Internet? Many traditional religious churches, organizations and groups

have actively engaged cyberspace, using web sites to promote their activities and/or

beliefs. Yet, in these instances, the Internet is merely an auxiliary tool used to

complement their other (real life) activities. The Internet may be used to contact members

and parishioners, and to advertise church information, but the 'religious' work is still

being performed in the sacralized church, temple or home (as with home pujas), and not

within the confines of cyberspace.

Some progress towards a 'cyber-religion' has developed, primarily within the online

pagan movements. Bauwens (1996) points out that:

There are some movements that are taking a very active role in cyberspace such as
the techno-pagans. They use the Internet not only as a self-organizing tool but as a
new space that has to be ritualized. For example, Mark Pesce, one of the creators of
the Virtual Reality Modeling Language, has developed a Zero Circle on the Internet
and used a shamanic ritual to 'sacralise' it. Every three dimensional object will have
to position itself against this spiritual "Axis Mundi" or "Center of the World."
Similarly, Tibetan monks at the Namgyal Institute in Ithaca, New York consecrated
cyberspace on February 8, using a tantric ritual usually performed by the Dalai
Lama himself.

Efforts to sacralize cyberspace illustrates the imaginative possibility for religion to exist

in the virtual world paralleling the real world. However, there is strong skepticism

regarding the possibility and implications of cyber-religion. Hoj sgaard points out that

"The Internet does not generate religion, only people do...The allegedly pure cyber-

religious sites are being produced and used by persons who do not live their entire lives

'on the screen' (Hoj sgaard and Warburg 2005: 9). Since all people must survive and

exist outside the Internet, it is difficult to imagine that cyberspace cold ever replace the









old, physical borders of the material world. As Stephen O'Leary asks, "Isn't the

physicality of the place itself something that cannot be dispensed with? How could a

cyber-temple ever replace the actual wall of the real one?" (Hoj sgaard and Warburg

2005: 9).

On the other hand, Dawson, drawing on the concerns of Chris McGillion, suggests

that if such a replacement of the real world with the virtual world could take place,

necessary elements of religion would surely be lost. She writes:

Striking a Durkheimian note, he [McGillion] fears that the Internet 'encourages
people to opt out of the kind of flesh-and-blood relationships that are the
indispensable condition of shared religious meanings'. If religion becomes detached
from real places, real people, and a real sense of shared time and cultural memory,
then how can there ever be a significant measure of collective conscience and
collective effervescence? The move of religion to cyberspace may be extending
disenchantment and the secularization of the world, in ways unanticipated by its
exponents. (Dawson 2005: 19)

While some pagan groups have created new online pagan movements, without an

established real life component, this is much more difficult for a previously established

religion to transition from sacred spaces to cyberspace. Yet, even these cyber-pagans

groups are composed of members who do exist primarily in real life. Therefore, even

though a particular movement only has online components, surely the individual

members have real life social groups who share similar views and values, and partake in

the material culture of paganism. For the individuals, cyber-religion is still only an

auxiliary tool for the other aspects of their total spiritual life.

Furthermore, the World Wide Web is only one aspect of the Internet. Interactivity

is also a major component of Internet exchange. Going back to a Durkhiemian

perspective, a central and necessary element of religion is community. Therefore, can

communication of religious ideas and experiences online constitute cyber-community?









The chat rooms have become an important forum for individuals to discuss religious

beliefs, ask questions to other members, and dialogue about specifics of religious

practice. If this exchange creates a community of regular users, who share their insights

and experiences, is this not religious action (or actionable knowledge, as Toffler put it)?

Some authors are skeptical about calling such exchange community, since there is

typically not a real life component to this community, and often this community exists in

total anonymity (where users only know each other by their user name and comments).

Yet, this interpretation of online communication neglects the significance of such

dialogue, not only in shaping one's own identity, but also in providing a forum for self-

expression and exploration.

The dynamics of face-to-face, telephone and online communication are clearly

different. Face-to-face communication allows individuals to communicate and read subtle

expressions in the face and body, as well as the intonation of the voice. Indeed, body

language and tone transmit tremendous information, sometimes even more than is

verbally expressed. While Internet communication is still largely text-based, this is

changing as Internet technology develops and changes. With the advent of web cams,

video and audio online chat are possible, and in fact utilized in many business and social

settings. However, this does not mean that text-based online chat is less complete than

other forms of communication. Text-based chat provides a new feature not present in

other forms: anonymity. Vasquez and Marquardt write that "the asynchronous,

anonymous, and text-intensive nature of computer-mediated communication allows a

level of dematerialization and disembodiment hitherto unseen, generating identities and

forms of sociability quite distinct from those built on face-to-face exchanges" (2003: 95).









What individuals may be too shy, embarrassed or insecure to express in telephone or

face-to-face dialogue, can safely be expressed in online text forums. These forums, then,

provide a safe forum for individuals (particularly young adults) to engage and reconsider

spiritual ideas they may be unable or unwilling to discuss with their parents, family or

clergy. Sensitive issues, such as sexuality and dating, can thus be expressed online in

relative safety.

Taxonomy of Hindu-Related Sites

It is difficult to quantify the content of the World Wide Web because of the

disorganized nature of the Internet. Searching content is somewhat problematic; there is

no one directory with all information and network addresses cataloged. Searching for

web pages and documents stored on thousands of web servers located across the globe is

not a simple task. Search engines work by regularly sending out automated searches

following all links encountered and reporting the content and address back to the engine,

which then stores this information in an indexed database. When a user performs a

search, the search engine looks through this database for relevant matches. Unfortunately,

these indexes are never complete, primarily because the Web is growing too fast for any

current technology to comprehensibly index, and because the vast majority of all content

on the web is part of the Deep Web3 Furthermore, the dynamic nature of the Internet

and the expense of server storage and hosting has meant that sites are continuously

changing, moving and being dropped.







1 Web pages not accessible or indexable by search engines, either because they are dynamically
generated, or hidden behind closed and secure networks.









As of January 2006, a Google search of Hinduism yields anywhere from 15 million

to 26 million hits4. As a means of quantifying and interpreting this massive amount of

data, I have divided the sites into eight types, based on content providers and consumers,

with various degrees of information provided and interactivity allowed.

1. General sites
2. Academic sites
3. Personal sites
4. Sectarian sites
5. Temples sites
6. Activist sites
7. Virtual Ritual
8. Cyber-Community

This classification system, though logical, is nonetheless arbitrary; therefore, there is

some overlap between the categories. Though most sites available offer little interactivity

at this point in time, the current trends in technology are pushing for increased Internet

interactivity and mobile access; we can expect interactivity to continue to develop,

improve and increase in use and significance.

General sites typically offer encyclopedic information about Hinduism, with

varying degrees of detail and accuracy. They can range from broad, all-encompassing

web sites such as About.com, to online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia.com, online

newsgroups such as BBC.com, or online archives of data and textual storage, such as the

"The Internet Sacred Text Archive" (http://www.sacred-texts.com/). Motivations for

these types of sites involve many issues, including advertising revenue, selling products

and/or services, and earnest desire to make information available to people.

Academic sites typically offer the same style of encyclopedic information about

Hinduism, but are hosted on university servers, created by university professors and

2 This range in "hits" represents only what has been indexed. Far more information is capable of existing
on the Internet, but limits of search capabilities make accessing the entire available content impossible.









students, and/or are intended to serve as scholarly and educational aids and tools. Some

examples include the ELMAR (Electronic Media and Religions) Encyclopedia project at

St. Martin's College, University of South Carolina's Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A Project

for the Third Millennium site, Minnesota State's Hinduism site, and Exploring Religions:

Hinduism, sponsored by the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wyoming.

The Asia Society web page provides the latest news and events related to all of Asia, and

the American Forum For Global Education "features a multimedia collection of primary

and secondary source materials, narratives, literature, poetry, maps and video clips

designed to supplement and enrich existing classroom resources". Many web sites are

created by individual professors as aides for students and scholars. Gene Thursby's

Lifaafaa site has various links related to South Asian studies, and his personal Resources

to Orient Students and My Point of View as a Teacher page. Although academic sites are

generally hosted on academic servers, the quality, detail and accuracy depend largely on

the time, money and resources expended for the various projects.

Whereas the sites listed above are primary reference tools, providing information to

the public, other academic sites and Internet protocols enlist high levels of interactivity.

By networking with other scholars and dialoging about various issues, scholars can

utilize the insights of many people, and not just their publications. In this regard, the

Internet is enhancing accuracy and detail. The Indology.info web site

(http://indology.info/) provides "Resources for Indological Scholarship", and consists of

the following:

[E-mail]: an adjunct to INDOLOGY@LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK.
[E-texts / Software]: an archive of Indic e-texts and Indological software.
[Papers]: an archive of articles, papers, and other writings pertinent to Indological
studies.









[Books]: an information service detailing Indological books listed by Amazon.
[Links]: a list of external websites and resources of value to Indological research.

The Religion in South Asia group provides information for scholars, and features the

RISA-L listserve, allowing scholars to network and discuss issues relevant to their

research and teaching (http://www.montclair.edu/risa/), as well as The South Asian

Studies Program at Rutgers (http://southasia.rutgers.edu/listserv.html). Most scholarly

organizations have restricted access in order to limit the information and discussions to

scholarly interests, and to prevent a conflation of practitioner/scholarly debates.

Personal sites are created by individuals not necessarily associated with any

particular sect, tradition or movement. Such sites are often personal expression of the

web makers faith, experiences and interests. For example, "A Tribute to Hinduism" is a

site created, maintained and paid for by Ms. Sushama Londhe

(http://www.atributetohinduism.com/). Her motivation for creating this site, she writes,

was to:

provide appropriate collection of information about Hinduism, as well as to attain
correct appraisal of India's rich cultural heritage. Furthermore, it is to create
awareness among Hindus and non-Hindus about the world's most ancient living
tradition...A Tribute to Hinduism started out as a personal quest for my own
spiritual heritage in early 1990s. The inception of the site began in the fall of 1997
as a small personal non-commercial web page/hobby, and it has grown over the
years as I have become aware of more relevant information. I am an Indian
American who came to the U.S. as a graduate student almost 30 years ago, and
have settled here for good. Although I welcome feedback from everybody, this site
is NOT associated with any religious or political organization.
(http://www.atributetohinduism.com/)

Some companies, such as Geocities, have allowed for such personal Internet expressions

by offering free web space for members. Both the "Hindu Puja & Bhajan Home Page"

(http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/8891/) and the online "Biographies of

Saints and writings on spirituality" (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8107/index.html)









are expressions of two individuals own personal interests in Hinduism. In these two

examples, both authors chose to remain anonymous. Although the authors neglect to offer

sources for their expressions, such personal sites provide a forum for personal expression

that brings in a 'multiplicity of voices' as well as a myriad of insights, perspectives and

experiences. What may have been traditionally ignored by orthodox, patriarchal

Hinduism can be fully expressed on the Internet.

Sectarian sites are created by members of a particular group or sect of Hinduism,

primarily for their own use and/or to educate the wider public about their traditionss.

Most of these sites primarily only contain information about their particular sect, though

many utilize interactive features as well, including BBS's, e-mail discussion groups and

chat rooms. The "Shaivam Home Page" announces itself as "an abode on the net humbly

dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva, God of Hinduism" (http://www.shaivam.org/),

and offers a wide range of information relating to Shiva and the various Shaivam sects.

Similarly, Gaudiya.com provides information regarding the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition

(http://www.gaudiya.com/). While both of these sites offer a great deal of information,

neither offer any interactivity other than a contact page. The "Sri Vaishnava Home Page"

(http://www.ramanuja.org/) was created by a handful of members in May 1994, to

facilitate a forum for "the first public Vedanta email discussion group on the Internet",

which included over 1,500 members at its height (Varadarajan 2005). Today, the site only

serves to provide users with information about the south Indian sect.

For more organized groups, such as the International Society for Krishna

Consciousness (ISKCON) and the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam

Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), the Internet serves as a portal providing services to









members and information for non-members. The International Society for Krishna

Consciousness official website (http://www.iskcon.com/), working in conjunction with

the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust site (http://www.krishna.com/), provides information

(textual, audio and video) about Hare Krishna beliefs, as well as news, directory and

contact information for members. Likewise, the Swaminarayan official web site

(http://www.swaminarayan.org/) has information about the history, beliefs and practices

of the BAPS movement, as well as a newsletter, temple directory, and other member

information. Such regular newsletters have become an affordable and practical way of

keeping large extended groups of members in contact with each other, and the

organization leadership.

Temple sites are created by specific temples, primarily used to advertise their

locations, services and deities. "Mandirs, Derasars and Gurudwaras Around the World"

(http://www.mandirnet.org/temples list/) lists Hindu temples (with websites and contact

information) in forty three countries across six continents. Some of the lager temples in

America, with more sophisticated web sites, include the Sri Venkateswara Temple in

Penn Hills, PA, (http://www. svtemple.org/temple/index. shtml), The Hindu Temple

Society of North America: Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam in Flushing, NY

(http://www.nyganeshtemple.org/), and The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, GA

(http://www.hindutempleofatlanta.org/). Although the primary purpose of the temple

websites is to advertise their services, with the hopes of individuals and families

attending such services in person, like the sectarian organizations, the Internet

(particularly online newsletters and e-mail list serves) has become a primary tool for

communicating with the larger Indian American community.









Activist sites vary regarding the amount of information and interactivity provided;

some activist web sites only offer information, while others utilize regular newsletters,

list serves, chat rooms and BBS's. What is distinct about these groups of sites is the

position and motivations of the web providerss. Whereas some sites offer information in

an attempt to provide an encyclopedia of collected knowledge, these sites offer limited

elements of this knowledge (only those that the authors) accept as valid) in hopes of

affecting and persuading the users. Although the intended effects of the sites vary

depending upon their position, one thing is clear: the activist web sites about Hinduism

comprise a significant portion of such sites, particularly through the myriad of URL's and

websites created by the Himalayan Academy and the Global Hindu Electronic Networks

(GHEN).

The Himalayan Academy web site (http://www.himalavanacademy.com/) offers

information about Hinduism, various publications and videos, Hindu temples, and daily

news about the Shaiva Siddhanta Church and their various temples and monasteries.

Most importantly, the electronic version of Hinduism Today

(http://www.hinduismtoday.com/) is their latest effort in outreach, and through both the

print and electronic versions, they are able to communicate with over 135,000 readers

worldwide! In order to facilitate their goal of providing information about Hinduism, they

have also established the "Hindu Resources Online" website (http://www.hindu.org),

which offers information about a wide range of topics and links (which gives them a

higher priority on Google searches). The Hindu Students Council (HSC) has been another

active promoter of Hinduism on the Internet (http://www.hscnet.org/). Although the

HSC's primary activity is in organizing student groups on campuses across North









America, they have created GHEN in order to facilitate "the ancient Vedanta truths such

as Vasudaiva Katumbakum (The Whole World is One Family)"

(http://www.hindunet.com/contact.htm). The primary task of GHEN has been to create a

series of web sites dedicated to providing information relating to various aspects of

Hinduism. The three primary web sites of the GHEN project are the Hindu Universe

(http://www.hindunet.org/), the Hindu Web (http://www.hinduweb.org/), and the Hindu

Links web site (http://www.hindulinks.org/). These sites typically offer general, if not

generic, views and explanations of Hinduism, intended for a wide audience of Hindus.

Other activist sites are more orthodox and fundamentalist in their information.

The Vedic Friends Association provides information and a forum for discussion

about various topics of Hinduism, primarily involving orthodox interpretation of issues,

including vegetarianism, caste, as well as "Vedic Science" and culture

(http://www.vedicfriends.org/). The Vedic Foundation extols that it has "Authentic

Hinduism", and is "Re-Establishing the Greatness of Hinduism"

(http://www.thevedicfoundation.org/) (I was not even aware that Hinduism was no longer

great). Other sites offer opinions beyond even orthodox interpretation, crossing the bridge

from orthodox to fundamentalist, if not outright militant. One such Hindutva site,

HinduUnity.org, identifies itself as "promoting and supporting the Ideals of the Bajrang

Dal: V.H.P.", and claims that "Together we shall fight to protect our culture, heritage &

religion" (http://www.hinduunity.org/). With hateful headlines such as "Pakistan: Hindu

Girls Kidnapped, Forced to Islam" and "Hindu Traitors praying to Allah", this site openly

promotes dissension amongst Hinduism and most other world religions, though primarily

Islam and Christianity. Of particular interest is the site's "Black List", which includes all









those the site author deems to be "Enemies of Hindus" (http://hinduunity.org/hitlist.html),

including a host of religious, political, celebrity and academic figures. Hindutva.org

expresses similar views, exclaiming, "Today the enemy of the Hindus and of the world at

large is terrorism. And terrorism resides in the hearts of all Muslims. Not just their

leaders, but all Muslims, since all of them are bound by the Instruction Manual of

Terrorism the Quran that calls for killing of all Kafirs" (http://hindutva.org/). Both sites

allow individuals to make comments on the various articles, though these comments are

clearly censored by the hosts, who make no efforts to allow for diversity of opinions.

Virtual Ritual sites allow for some modified form of online ritual performance (or

assistance). These sites provide a high degree of interactivity and user response, and

represent the future of online religion and practice, and a potential for online

performance. With the recent emergence of new technologies and funding, this potential

is quickly becoming a reality. Both Shaadi.com and IndianMatrimonials.com allow

families and individuals to search for potential spouses for their family and self; one

member touts that he and his parents were able to find his sister a suitable spouse in Los

Angeles, at the comfort of their home in Bangalore (http://www.shaadi.com/introduction/

true-stories.php). Other sites have made online astrology possible, such as with

Indastro.com and Astrogyan.com. These sites offer a host of astrological readings and

charts, as well as providing advise on marriage dates, auspicious times and child names.

There are also web sites designed to allow or assist with ritual performance. Many

commercial sites, such as SirIndia.com, sell puja materials online, in case an individual

or family cannot purchase the necessary items due to their location

(https://www.sirindia.com/psl.asp?catlD=236). Some sites go even further, allowing









individuals to commission temple puja-s online. Ekta Mandir, the Dallas/Fort Worth

Hindu Temple, even allows online darshan and puja-s of the deities

(http://www.dfwhindutemple.org/onlinejpuja.htm), guiding the user through a digital,

interactive puja. The pressing question, of course, is whether this can be considered

performing authentic Hindu ritual. Since both online puja services are sponsored by

Hindu temples in the US and India, we can assert that some sense of authenticity is

associated with these cyber-rituals. However, both sites also encourage in-person

participation, and seem merely to provide these online services for individuals unable to

attend in person; priority is still given to the physical presence of the devotee.

CyberCommunity sites are typically designed with dynamically interactive

protocols, allowing for global networking and online discussions with other individuals.

Features common to these sites include chat rooms, bulletin board systems (BBS's), blogs

(web logs), e-mail newsletters, gifting, travel arrangements, matchmaking, as well as

web hosting and e-mail accounts. Chat rooms allow users to join live text-based

discussions, in which messages are immediately sent and viewable by any other user in

the same "room". Bulletin Board Systems (BBS's) allow users to post a message,

comment or question on a web page, with other users able to read and post responses

below. Blogs are web logs that provide individual users with a structured, user-friendly

space to post their own site, images, text and other files. Typically, other bloggers (web

log users) can post comments and questions on each other's blogs. E-mail list serves

allow a group or individual to sent e-mail messages to multiple individuals at once,

typically requiring an online 'subscription' to that list serve. Different hosts handle

restrictions and registration differently, providing a range of limitations and benefits









relating to the control of content; such variations range from high host control in some

forums and high user control in others.

Authority and Unity in a Global Context

The first six categories of Hindu sites (General, Academic, Personal, Sectarian,

Temple and Activist) are primarily aimed at providing information about Hinduism. This

information ranges from general Hindu overviews, to highly specific information about a

particular temple, organization or tradition, depending on the nature and purpose of the

web site. Since so many people are now using the Internet as a reference, how Hinduism

is constructed, defined and explained on these Internet sites (and by whom) will have

serious impacts on Americans' understanding of Hinduism, particularly young American

Hindus. Indeed, serious questions have emerged: who has the authority to speak for a

religion one billion people strong, who constructs this definition, who controls the

information, and who verifies the accuracy?

Since the Internet is decentralized, and generally has no editorial process or

authority, it has created authoritative problems and challenges for many religions (Barker

2005). Yet, Hinduism shares many of these same characteristics with the Internet. Vinay

Lal (2003: 112) argues that

More than any other religion, Hinduism is a decentered and deregulated faith, and
in this it appears akin to cyberspace. It has no one prophet or savior, nor are Hindus
agreed upon the authority of a single text...Hinduism not only has multiple sources
of doctrinal authority, it is polycentric [has many sacred spaces]...one could say
that Hinduism is rhizomatic, with multiple points of origin, intersection, and
dispersal... [therefore] Hinduism most certainly inhabits those very properties that
characterize cybernetworks...Hinduism and the Internet, one might conclude, were
happily made for each other.

For Lal, the significance of this is that Hindus easily gravitated to the Internet, and

"through cyberspace, Hindus have found a new awareness of themselves as part of what









they now imagine is a global religion, and nothing could be more calculated to augment

Hindu pride than the perception that Hinduism is on the verge of arriving as a 'world

religion"' (113). With approximately one billion people in over one hundred and fifty

nations, it remains unclear to me why Lal contends that Hinduism is on the "verge of

arriving as a 'world religion"'. However, there is no doubt that Hindus, now linked

through the Internet, are becoming increasingly connected and aware of their rising

status.

Lal worries that such connectivity and awareness is creating an unhealthy

nationalism, and that Hinduism is being redefined along Hindutva lines. In his own

research of the Internet, Lal analyzed the GHEN websites of the HSC, the various web

sites created by the Himalayan Academy, sites specifically dedicated to teaching the

ideals of Hindutva (HinduUnity.org, Hindutva.org), as well as the websites for political

organizations, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party

(BJP), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the VHP. Yet,

Lal also notes that these activist and 'paramilitary' groups, in association with GHEN and

the HSC, have created the most remarkable and comprehensive web sites about

Hinduism. Through a series of hyperlinked web pages and sites, the plethora of different

sites associated with Hinduism often carry links to the more militant Hindutva sites.

Therefore, unsuspecting Internet surfers may very well find themselves suddenly on a

Hindutva web site.

Although Lal is unclear if the relationship between American Hinduism and

Internet-promoted Hindutva is causal or corollary, he unabashedly charges Hinduism in

the US with a "literalism that is so characteristically an American trait", and that









compared with the Hinduism of India, "displays the most retrograde features" (107). He

provides the following example:

To gain an inkling of what this Vedic civilization of diasporic Hindus looks like,
one has only to consider the activities of the Saiva Siddhanta Church in the
northern California town of Concord. A few years ago thepujari, or priest, of this
temple [before it was purchased and turned into the Shiva Murugan Temple] placed
a rope about ten feet away from the deity, and strung a sign on it that loudly
proclaimed, 'Vegetarians only beyond this point.' At a slightly greater distance,
another rope was strung out in the cold, denied darshan of their deity, condemned
to be pariahs. (107)

Lal sees this American literalism, together with the online Hindutva, as redefining Hindu

history. He writes that:

historical discourses are preeminently the discourses of the nation, and the
Internet...is poised to become the ground on which the advocates of Hindutva will
stage their revisionist histories...it is poised, alarmingly, to become a Hindutva
domain, considering that there are scarcely any websites that offer competing
narratives. (122)

While Lal recognizes that unifying capabilities of the Internet, particularly in unifying

Indians and Americans, he contends that what is missing in American Hinduism is a

recognition of the long history of hospitality, and the "soft and porous edges that gave the

religion its historically amorphous and ecumenical form" (Lal 113).

Lal is quick to make hasty conclusions and judgments based on only part of the

data, and tends to obfuscate the difference between Internet and World Wide Web. Yet,

even more troublesome is his denial of agency. The nationalistic ethos of Hindutva

implies a sense of victimization, that Hinduism has been weakened by Islam,

Christianity, colonialism and globalization. While Lal's observations indeed carry some

truth, based on my own research and cyber-ethnography, I contend that the orthodoxy

and Hindutva are only one small portion ofHinduism in cyberspace and America; and a

relatively small portion, at that! The literalism of the Saiva Siddhanta Church, and other









activist groups such as the Vedic Friends Association, seems obvious considering they

are both comprised largely of Caucasian converts to Hinduism, and the dynamics of

conversion are significant when comparing religiosity to individuals born within a

tradition; not to mention that white Hindus mustprove their authenticity to Hindu-born

Indians. By sticking to literal interpretation and orthodox practice, such converts can

assert their authenticity by virtue of rhetoric and praxis. Yet, this same dynamic would

not apply to Hindus of Indian ethnicity, who are authentically Hindu by virtue of birth.

While there are certainly elements of Indian nationalism among Hindus in the US,

this should not be surprising considering the relatively short amount of time that most

Hindu families have been in America; they are still conscious of their 'homeland' and

minority status in the States. As we will see in the following chapters, these minority

Hindus draw strength and support in numbers by inclusiveness, bringing together many

ethnically, linguistically and religiously different people. In fact, in direct contradiction to

Lal's conclusions, I would contend that one of the primary characteristics of American

Hinduism is both its "amorphous and ecumenical form".

Moreso, American Hindus are not misguided religiously because of western

globalization and colonialism, nor are they passive victims weakened by colonialism.

Rather, it seems the use of English and the educational institutions in India have prepared

many Indian Hindus for life, and success, in the US. Following The Immigration and

Nationality Act of 1965, Indian migrants to America came because of their technological

training, and have become major components of recent technological advances. The post-

1965 Indian migrants have established strong niches in the fields of engineering,

computer programming and medicine, securing "highly specialized jobs at institutions









such as NASA, at university research institutes and hospitals, or at large corporations

such as IBM and Burroughs-Wellcome (Waghorne 1999: 104-105). As a result, this

highly skilled and education population has indeed made tremendous economic strides in

America. Priya Anand (2004: 11) reports that

The average household income of the Indo-American community is estimated at
$US 60,093 compared to the average household income of $US 38,885. More than
87% of Indo-Americans have completed high school and 62% have some form of
college education compared to just over 20% of the US population. They are found
in high profile and diverse professions such as medicine, engineering, law, higher
education, international finance, management and journalism, media and music.
Their educational profile, economic success and knowledge of English help them to
assimilate into the American 'melting pot'.

Furthermore, the IndoAmerican community is growing rapidly, particular in wealthy,

urban states. Anand (2004: 11) writes

The United States now has a 1.68 million strong Asian-Indian American
community. Between the 1990 and 2000 census a phenomenal growth of 105.87%
the highest among all Asian origin groups, was recorded. California has the
largest concentration of Indo-Americans followed by states like New York and
New Jersey. Other states with a sizeable population of Indo-Americans are Florida,
Pennsylvania and Washington. The Indians who migrated to the United States
belong to the class of educated and professional elites such as engineers (mostly
software), scientists and college teachers as well as accountants and businessmen.

In fact, the overseas Indians on a whole have grown so successful that many are

recognizing the economic and political potential that organized diasporal Indian

communities present. Joel Kotkin, in his article "Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity

Determine Success in the New Global Economy", writes that "The more than twenty

million overseas Indians today represent one of the best-educated, affluent groupings in

the world...The Indian may prove to be the next diaspora to emerge as a great economic

force" (Waghorne 1999: 104-105).

Indeed, this "great economic force" is already well established in America, and

continually growing in size, as well as social and economic impact. In fact, this is in part









due to the Internet, a resource quite accessible to the Indian American Hindus considering

their education and occupations. Through the interactive potential of the Internet, Hindus

in America have been able to generate a strong social presence by drawing strength in

numbers. By uniting as a strong group, Hindus in America successfully pressured Warner

Brothers to delete a scene from Eyes Wide Shut in which verses of the Bhagavad Gita

were recited during an orgy scene; an impressive feat, considering the daunting power of

the Hollywood studios. Other figures, such as Rajiv Malhotra, have been able to generate

group resistance against western scholarship they deem damaging by organizing groups

to petition and challenge many academic scholars, as well as major media groups they

accuse of"Hinduphobia"

(http://www.sulekha.com/blogs/commentdisplay.aspx?cid=4715&pageno=4).

Concluding Remarks

Although the vast majority of the World Wide Web is primarily only informative,

interactivity is a significant aspect of the Internet, particular when considering religion on

the Internet. Although Sectarian, Temple and Activist web sites are primarily

informative, they also incorporate a fair degree of interactivity, and have made extensive

use of e-mail and Internet communication. The final two categories of Hinduism on the

Internet, Chat rooms/BBS's/Blogs and Cyber-praxis, represent the initial attempts at

performing religion online, through the use of sophisticated technologies and imaginative

applications of religious ritual and practice. Although many issues and questions are

raised by the current challenges of Hindus living in America, the high degree of

interactivity made possible by the Internet provides a rich forum for Hindus to explore

these issues with other Hindus across the globe.









As Hindus in America continue to organize, these communities are actively

engaging their new environment, and developing clever and effective solutions,

particularly through the Internet. The imaginative use of the interactive capabilities of the

Internet by these various communities (including online communities) illustrates the

flexibility and adaptability of Hinduism, and suggests that Hinduism is well prepared for

the transition into this new Age of Information.














CHAPTER 3
THE DOMAINS OF HINDU TEMPLES IN AMERICA

Assimilation, Accretion, and Adaption

With migration comes new challenges, regardless of the circumstances of their

transportation to a new land. As individual migrants settle in their new homeland, a

common strategy is to form communities with other migrants from their homeland, that

share a similar memory of their home land, language, religion and customs. Together, the

community assists the individual members in their assimilation and adaptation to their

new environment, and actively develop strategies of assimilating and adapting their

religious traditionss. However, not all aspects of Hinduism can be successfully

transmitted outside of India. For example, Ninian Smart (1999: 424) points out that

themes such as caste, yoga, bhakti, pilgrimage, temple rituals, austerity (tapasya),
wandering holy men, instruction in the scriptural traditions, regional variation,
pundits, a strong sense of purity and impurity, household rituals, veneration of the
cow, the practice of astrology, belief in reincarnation, the importance of acquiring
merit, etc. These themes, which are woven together into the complicated fabric of
Hinduism in India, do not all travel equally easily to new environments.

As a result, many religious elements are dropped during migration, while other aspects

are retained and transformed. Vasudha Narayanan (2006: 359) writes that

Selected elements from the more than three thousand five hundred years of
religious life in India are retained, transformed, and transmitted in the diaspora.
Through processes of assimilation, accretion, and adaption, some traditions are
renewed and revitalized while others are marginalized and discarded. Hindus in the
United States strongly support temple culture; transform temple buildings into
community centers; frequently conflate ethnicity, culture, and religion; and
overwhelmingly use the performing arts, especially dance and music, to transmit
Indian/Hindu world views to the second generation.









For the migrant Indian Hindus, one primary method of adaption has been to build strong

communities around a temple culture and ritual practice.

Temple Culture

Narayanan observes that "the most noticeable feature of Hindu communities that

settled outside of India is the tremendous time, monies, and energy expended in the

building of temples" (Narayanan 2006: 364). In fact, "No other country outside of India

has as many Hindu temples as the United States" (3). Although the primary function of

temples is to "provide the means for formal ritual worship", Hindu temples in America

have become a central locus for the minority Hindu communities, assisting immigrants

with their assimilation and adjustment in a new country and culture (Anand 2004: 14).

Elaborating further, Anand (2004: 12) writes that:

Religious and cultural identity has been a significant factor in helping the
community to cope with the stresses of adjustment in a foreign land. In addition to
providing a spiritual dimension, affiliation with a temple or a religious group has
enhanced social participation and group dynamics and has helped the immigrant to
find acceptance among his peers. High priority is therefore given to the
construction of places of worship. Religious centers act as community
centers.. .Nationwide, a wave of Hindu temple construction is going on; perhaps
1,000 communities are in various stages of planning or construction. About 200
temples have already been built.

Due to the high cost of construction, temple building is difficult to achieve. Many

communities started with small buildings, often converted churches purchased by the

local community. However, by the late 1970's and 1980's, the first wave of ('authentic')

temple construction began. Karen Pechilis Prentiss (1998: 4) writes that several factors

were necessary for this momentum:

1. a critical mass of Hindu Indians had settled in the surrounding area...2. Members
of the Hindu Indian community, most of whom are employed in the professional
sector, had savings to contribute and the ability to participate in fundraising
activities for the expensive project of building a temple; and 3. there was a growing









concern among parents in the community that their children would lose touch with
traditional Hindu institutions and values.

This temple culture, however, involves far more than ritual practice; it also develops

cultural synergy and community. Narayanan (2006: 366) explains that:

In addition to being a center for individual piety, temples set up by Hindus from
India serve as large community halls for the local population...In all these matters,
the temples in the diaspora are different from those in India and have assumed the
functions found in the community at large in the home country. Regular newsletters
and updated web pages provide an "outreach" function. New temples are rising up
all over the American landscape, and in many cases, the community hall is being
built even before the shrine. This is understandable in a situation where members of
the Hindu tradition are trying to assert identities in the midst of a larger society in
which they feel marginalized and sometimes disenfranchised culturally and
linguistically. The community hall is a place where different Hindu groups can
meet and have language, music, and dance classes and celebrate the many festivals
of he religious calendar.

For Pyong Gap Min, this is significant in Hinduism because "Indian Hindu immigrants

can maintain their ethnic traditions through religion effectively because their religious

values and rituals are inseparably tied to ethnic customs (including funerals and

weddings), values, holidays, food, music, and dance" (Min 2000: 100).

The Internet is a primary resource utilized by American Hindu temples, who

maintain a broad community through their websites and e-mail exchanges. However, it is

difficult to perform ethnography on e-mail exchanges, since they are closed

communications, only accessible by the sender and recipients. Therefore, the primary

focus of this chapter is on the websites of Hindu temples in America that are built,

operated and maintained by Indian American Hindus. Although the analysis of this

chapter is primarily aimed at determining the use and function of the temple websites, it

must be placed within the context of temple use and function. Therefore, the base of

study was limited solely to those temples which have websites (see Appendix A). The

websites were located primarily using other websites-maintained by American Hindu









organizations-designed to assist in locating Hindu temples in America (as well as other

parts of the world). These sites are the Himalayan Academy's "Temples & Ashrams"

webpage, the Hindu Student Council's HinduLinks Universe "Temples and

Ashrams/U.S.A" webpage, and the Council of Hindu Temples' "Hindu Temples in U.S."

webpage. These websites, however, did not provide a complete list of all Hindu temple

websites in America. Therefore, I supplemented these lists with searches performed on

Google.com.

Ecumenical Tendencies and Temple Names

Perhaps the most obvious place to begin the analysis is with the temple names.

Typically, the temple's URL reflects the temple name. However, many temples share the

same names, and therefore must make slight variations when choosing a URL. Of the

eighty-nine temple sites studied in this essay, fifty-four had 'ecumenical' names (roughly

60%) (see Appendix B). By 'ecumenical' I mean names that are not specific to any type

of Hindu sect, region or deity, but rather are pan-Hindu.

Temple names commonly employ broad, general terms without giving any

specification as to the type or regional variation of worship. In fact, the most popular

name of the temples analyzed is simply "Hindu Temple", despite the term being a foreign

demarcation. 'Hinduism' is term associated with British Colonialism as the British name

for a multitude of religions within India, first coined around 1829 and popularized some

fifty years later (Hawley 1991: 20-21). Hawley (1991: 22) writes that:

The word 'Hindu' is much older than 'Hinduism', but it too is a bit of a stranger in
India itself. Though the Greeks knew a version of the word (hindoi), it was
apparently first used by Muslim invaders who entered Indian early in the second
millennium A.D. to designate the practices of peoples they found living in the
region of the Indus River.









Nonetheless, today Hindu communities in America (and throughout the world) have

adopted and implemented the term as a religious umbrella subsuming many Indian

traditions, sects and regional variants. In doing so, the name of the Hindu temple

represents the migrant community itself, which is comprised of a wide variety of people

from different regions and religions of Indian. Furthermore, this tendency towards

ecumenical terminology is typical of all minority groups (Williams 1992: 238).

Typically, the city or region is affixed to the end of the name, such as with The

Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, Hindu Mandir of Lake County, Hindu Temple of

Central Indiana, or The Hindu Temple of Metropolitan Washington. In these cases, the

temple name even seems to imply that this particular temple is the 'official' Hindu temple

of that city. Some of the Hindu temples in Michigan have chosen the name Bharatiya

Temple, which extends beyond even pan-Hindu and implies being pan-Indian.

Furthermore, many temples also affix "(Indian) cultural center" to their names, such as

with the Indo American Cultural Center and Temple (Kalamazoo, MI), the Hindu Temple

& Cultural Center of Kansas City, the India Cultural Center and Temple (Memphis, TN),

and the Sanatan Dharma Temple & Cultural Center (Maple Valley, WA). Such names

illustrate that the temple performs many services beyond strictly temple rituals, as well as

inclusiveness to all Indians and Indian Americans. Many temple names also include

terms such as "society", "association" and "institution", which characterize the

communal nature and mission of the temples, as well as illustrate the organization and

structure of the temple, which speaks to the credibility of the temple.

Therefore, the importance of the temple name is that the name functions to bring in

a varied and diverse base of devotees. By emphasizing the 'Indian' or 'culture' in a









temple name, Hindu temples have occasionally been able to include Jains and Sikhs in

their activities and community. For example, the Hindu American Religious Institute

(HARI) in New Cumberland, PA houses a number of Hindu deities, as well as a murti of

"Lord Mahaveer" for Jain worshippers (http://www.haritemple.org/deities.htm). The

Hindu Temple Society (Allentown, PA) accommodates Hindu, Jain and Sikh worshippers

with regular ritual activities and festivals from all three traditions

(http://www.hindutemple-allentown.org/about.htm).

As the Indian migrant community grows, the higher population allows for

specialization of temples. Vasudha Narayanan argues that "a general rule of thumb in

North America is that the smaller the geographic area under consideration, the more

inclusive the group. A large city may have very specific groups based on caste,

community, and language lines" (Narayanan 2006: 362). For example, as the numbers of

Gujarati immigrants in America has grown, specific Gujarati communities, temples and

communities have developed in many cities. In fact, Lal (2003: 124) estimates, based on

his own research, that:

There are at least 2 million, and perhaps as many as 3 million, Gujaratis living
outside India, and they almost certainly account for a greater portion of the 16 to 20
million diasporic Indians than any other community. Perhaps as many as a third of
the 1.8 million Indians residing in the United States are Gujaratis...

Due to the exceptionally large Gujarati population in America, many cities have

established specific Gujarati ethnic communities. The BAPS Swaminarayan movement,

which comes from Gujarat and is comprised of Gujarati immigrants, is a perfect example

of such an ethnic community. Through their official website and newsletters, the

Swaminarayan leadership and community and stay in contact with each other, and locate

other BAPS members when relocating to new areas. One difference between the BAPS









website and individual temple web sites is the prominent use of Gujarati, as well as very

specific information about their sect's history and leadership.

In metropolitan cities and regions with large Indian communities, we find non-

sectarian temples which can be more specific than 'Hindu'. In these cases, the temple

name denotes a specific deity, deities or sect [see Appendix C]. Many temples are named

after a single deity, giving a preference or special place for that deva. Temples such as the

Sri Venkateswara Temple (Penn Hills, PA), Vishnu Mandir (Bronx, NY), the Maha

Ganapati Temple Of Arizona (Maricopa City, AZ), the Murugan Temple of North

America (Lanham, MD), and the Shiva Temple (San Marino, CA) are all named after the

primary deva worshipped at that temple. These names imply that the temples are more

like their Indian counterparts, in that they only house one deity in the temple garbha-

griha. Yet, this is rarely the case. For example, the Maha Ganapati Temple Of Arizona

(Maricopa City, AZ), which was built specifically to house a 1400 lb., 4 ft. tall granite

Ganesha murti denoted by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami in May 1999

(http://ganapati.org/about temple.html), houses other murtis, including Shiva, Karthik

and Lakshmi (http://ganapati.org/). The Sri Venkateswara Temple in Bridgewater, NJ is

primarily devoted to Sri Venkateswara. However, other murtis are also present, including

Shiva, Ganesha, Parvati, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati (http://www.venkateswara.org/).

Though the majority of temples named after a single deity are dedicated to Shiva or

Vishnu, many temples are also named after devis, such as the Sri Lakshmi Temple

(Ashland, MA), the Kali Mandir (Laguna Beach, CA), the Durga Temple (Fairfax

Station, VA), and the Parashakti Temple (Pontiac, MI). Like the Shaiva and Vaishnava

temples, all of these temples also employ other murtis as well. Likewise, in many of the









Shirdi Sai Baba Temples (Florida Shirdi Sai, Iverness, FL Sri Shirdi Sai Baba Temple,

Pittsburgh, PA Shirdi Sai Temple of Chicago, Hampshire, IL Shri Shirdi Sai Center,

Brunswick, NJ), Shirdi Sai Baba is presented with along with other Hindu deities, and

many Hindu festivals and rituals are still performed. Therefore, even in naming a temple

to a specific deity, the temple worship is typically still ecumenical and inclusive for many

different Hindus.

Other temples have sought a middle ground, by naming their temples after two

primary deities, especially Shiva and Vishnu. Once again, however, the many "Shiva

Vishnu" temples also house other deities, particularly Ganesh, Balaji, Murugan and/or

Kartikeya. Other temples, such as the Shiva Murugan Temple (Concord, CA), the Sri Sri

Radhakrishna / Sri Balaji Temple (San Diego, CA), or the Shiv Shakti Peeth (Flushing,

NY) pair deities with some type of relationship to one another, such as with Shiva and his

son Murugan, Vaishnava deities Radhakrishna and Balaji, or the male and female

components (Shiva-Shakti) in Shaiva beliefs. Other temple names, such as the Shaiva

Siddhanta Church (Kauai, HI) and the Shirdi Sai Baba temples, announce that these

organizations belong to a particular lineage or tradition.

Although it may seem pedantic to spend so much time discussing temple names,

the name of the temple is important. On the one hand, temples (particularly when

multiple temples are present in one city) vie for devotee participation, membership and

donation, making authenticity of the utmost importance. Names like "Hindu Temple"

have no connection to the temple tradition in India, and therefore seem inauthentic by

Indian temple standards. A certain degree of authenticity is granted to the Sri

Venkateswara Temple in Penn Hills, PA, both by its connection to the temple in Tirupati,









as well as by name. Yet, the need to be inclusive, in both temple practice and name,

cannot be understated.

Therefore, a few temples have tried to avoid the problem by having two names. For

example, The Hindu Temple Society of North America (Flushing, New York) is also

called the Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapathi Devasthanam, and the Hindu American Temple

and Cultural Center (Morganville, NJ) is likewise called the Sri Krishnaji Mandir. While

these dual names give the temple both the general appeal and authenticity, the downside

is having a long and complicated name.

This issue raises an intriguing question: how much does the Indian American

Hindu community rely upon Indian Hindu standards? The majority of temples have

ecumenical names, a strategy specific to the migrant Indian communities. Yet, we also

see a trend in larger metropolitan areas towards specialization of the temples (at least in

name). With a larger pool of devotees at hand, temples can afford to narrow their worship

and still maintain a large enough body of worshippers. Yet, as these communities

continue to grow in America, will new temples continue this trend of specialization? If

we assume that the Indian American Hindu community is diasporal, meaning they share a

memory of their common place of origin (Vertovec 1999: 12), it would logically follow

that they would attempt to replicate temple standards in India, and thus become more and

more specialized. On the other hand, the Indian American community has openly adopted

the name 'Hindu', which is now part of the average Americans' lexicon (whereas

Gaudiya Vaishnava most likely is not). The future trends of temple naming, in many

ways, will illustrate Indian American Hindus attempts to retain connections to their









shared past (elements of diaspora), as well as their active construction and naming of a

new, American, form of Hinduism (patterns of migration).

Website Aesthetics and Technology

Other than the name, the first place to begin the analysis of temple website content

is with the general look, aesthetics and technology of the site. Often, the temple websites

are highly impressive, and utilize a high degree of programming technology. The

significance of the programming technology is that the highly sophisticated sites appear

more professional, which can set one temple apart from other temples with simpler web

technologies. Furthermore, more sophisticated web protocols allow for more interaction

from the user.

Although most sites are basic Hyper Text Markup Language (.html), many temple

sites also incorporate elements of more sophisticated web protocols, such as Macromedia

Flash and Shockwave-Flash (.swf), Hypertext Preprocessor (.php), Active Server Pages

(.asp), Extensible Markup Language (.xml), and Cascading Style Sheets (.css), as well as

a host of simple animated .gif s and Java Script functions. HTML is the most basic

Internet language, but also the most limited. Essentially, HTML can only display text and

images. For more dynamic interactions, as well as animation, other protocols must be

used. CSS provides a way to organize web page textual features, such as font size, color

and links, and are commonly used in association with HTML. Java Script is a protocol

that allows for more dynamic features, such as roll-over images or drop-down menus, to

be used within HTML pages. Animated .gif s are images which have multiple 'slides'

which play at a set rate, giving the image the appearance of animation. Animated .gif s,

CSS and Java Script are slightly more complicated than basic HTML coding, but

common enough that individuals familiar with HTML can easily incorporate them into an









HTML web page. Therefore, they are the most common features on the various Hindu

temple websites studied in this essay.

However, many temple sites utilize more complicated web technologies for more

dynamic and impressive websites. The Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple (Lanham, MD) uses

Active Server Page (.asp), which allows them more features, such as scrolling menus.

The Hindu Temple Society of Capital District (Albany, NY) utilizes Extensible Markup

Language (.xml), a language similar to HTML which offers better file management and

display, within a .php protocol. PHP is an HTML-embedded scripting language that

provides dynamic interaction and easy organization of the website content. Many sites,

including the Shiv Shakti Peeth (Flushing, NY), have basic HTML pages with other more

advanced features, such as online streaming bhajans.

By far the most impressive temple sites utilize elements of Macromedia Flash, or

Shockwave-Flash (.swf). Macromedia Flash and Shockwave allow for animation and a

high degree of dynamic interaction. Some sites, such as the Dallas/Fort Worth Hindu

Temple Society (Irvin, TX), Sri Venkateswara Temple (Bridgewater, NJ) and the Hindu

Temple of Arizona (Scottsdale, AZ), are HTML pages with Shockwave Flash (.swf)

elements embedded within the page, giving the sites simple animation. Other sites, such

as Barsana Dham (Austin, TX), are made entirely of Flash, and therefore highly

sophisticated in both appearance and functionality. This particular site has an animated

cursor, with falling flowers and 'mystical' music as the user navigates throughout the

site, giving a sense of the Indian and religious nature of the temple and organization.

Little India

Even if simple protocols are used, temples can still have a similar effect by

incorporating images of the temple; in fact, the majority of temple sites have an image of









their building on the home page. Most of the temples have some architectural element of

Indian temples, whether the entire building itself, or simply a spire attached to a pre-

existing building. In all cases, these elements of Indian architecture provide a feeling of

being in India. When conducting his research on immigrant Hindus and temple worship,

Pyong Gap Min reports that many devotees said they came to the temple because they

felt like they were in "Little India" (Min 2000: 108). By putting the images on the temple

site's homepage, visitors are given a virtual taste of "Little India" online.

Yet, even more than reminiscence, the images of the temples-especially the

larger, more beautiful buildings-are a testament to the success of the Indian American

community. These buildings, which often tower over neighboring buildings, required

great finances and organization to construct. As a symbol of the Hindu community in

America, these buildings legitimate the presence of the Hindu community as an active

and vibrant part of the American landscape. Many temple sites even have "temple

history" links, which document the successive stages of the temple building, and

expansions. These histories often provide information and/or images of their bhumi puja,

an elaborate ceremony to bless the ground before temple construction begins, which

offers a sense of authenticity for the temple. Furthermore, these histories record the

struggles that particular community underwent to construct the temple, which strengthens

the feeling of accomplishment and success for that community and temple.

Both the sophistication of web technologies and the construction of ornate Indian

temples are possible only with access to resources and finances. However, the Indian

American community has enjoyed a high degree of success in this country. The

proliferation of software engineers provides the Indian American Hindu community with









a pool of trained programmers, capable of constructing websites, both basic and

sophisticated. Furthermore, the overall financial success of the Indian American Hindus

provides the temples with a base of relatively affluent devotees. This, in turn, provides

the temple with a member base that has access to the Internet. Without an affluent

member base, the resource of the Internet would surely be useless.

As the temples have become the central locus of community activities, temple

building and maintenance is crucial to the development and maintenance of the migrant

Indian American community (Waghorne 1999: 522). However, temple building is an

expensive task, potentially costing several million dollars to construct (Anand 2004: 12).

Not only must a community acquire the necessary funds; temple building also requires

the organization and leadership to carry-out the construction and maintenance of the

building. This figure of "several million dollars" is somewhat misleading, since not all

temples are as ornate (and expensive) as the Sri Venkateswara Temple (Penn Hills, PA).

For example, the Bharatiya Temple (Troy, MI) cost approximately $500,000 to build

(http://www.bharatiya-temple.org/home/history/), with only slightly over $100,000 put

down. In fact, many temples begin construction with a simple building, and later add

additional renovations when more funds are available. Furthermore, aside from the initial

costs of building the temple, maintenance itself is costly, both for the physical building

and grounds as well as temple priest and staff salaries. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, GA

estimates that it takes approximately $90,000 per month to operate the temple

(http://www.hindutempleofatlanta.org/opexpenses.html).

Funding these temples is complicated by the fact that Hinduism has no official

tithe. Both the construction and maintenance of Hindu temples generally relies upon the









donations of the devotees. Therefore, Hindu temples in America have to provide simple

methods of accepting donations and other forms of income. Virtually every temple

website advertises for donations on their homepage. Many websites are even capable of

accepting donations online, through a secure PayPal account or other online payment

protocol. PayPal has made the process of accepting online payments simple by auto-

generating the HTML code so the web designers can easily implement PayPal into their

websites (https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr? cmd=_additional

-payment-integration-outside).

Another common method of generating income for temples is to have memberships

to the temple. Most temples with memberships have online forms available, and many

also accept online payments for the memberships. The Birmingham Hindu Temple, AL

charges $500 for an annual membership and $5,000 for a lifetime membership. Though

they have an online form for membership, they do not accept online payments at this

time. The Hindu Temple of Arizona (Scottsdale, AZ) offers a series of membership types,

based on the amount of donation:

Grand Benefactor : $50,000 or more
Benefactor : $30,000 to $49,999
Grand Patron : $15,000 to $29,999
Patron: $5000 to 14,999
Founder : $2,000 to $4,999
Life : $1,000 to $1,999
General : $100 to $999
(http://www.hindutempleaz.org/membership.htm)

The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, IL offers three types of memberships: Annual

membership are available with a donation or service fee of $200 per year, Lifetime

memberships require a donation of $2,000, and Patron memberships are available for

individuals that donate $10,000 or more (http://www.ramatemple.org/









HTGCMembership_2005.pdf). Typically memberships allow the individuals to vote on

temple matters, with different types of members having varying degrees of

responsibilities and considerations. The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, IL, for

example, states in their membership form that "The Patron Members will be considered

as a separate category of members for voting and administrative purposes"

(http://www.ramatemple.org/HTGC Membership_2005.pdf). Therefore, higher financial

donations are rewarded with more voting power, and thus more influence within that

community.

Seva, Dana, and Temple Budgets

Hindu temples in India typically do not emphasize communal practice for ritual

worship; yet, American Hindu temples have a distinct financial need for an established

patron community to fund temple building, maintenance and activities. Although

donations are emphasized and important in this process, membership is more mutually

beneficial in that members provide regular income to the temples, and in turn can take

part in the temple leadership and functions. The temple functions and activities funded by

community finances testify to the success of that community. Therefore, individuals

within that community can take pride in the accomplishments of the community at large.

Although Hinduism has no official tithe or sanction on donations and charity,

selfless giving and service are all valued within the plethora of Hindu traditions. Priya

Anand provides a general overview of the religious elements of charity and giving within

the broad Hindu tradition:

For Hindus dana (giving) is an important part of one's dharma (religious duty).
Dana includes selfless service or sewa to those in need. Dana is a broad term used
to define almost any type of giving which is non reciprocal or one sided and which
is not motivated by immediate self interest; to share our possessions with those less
fortunate and to support institutions such as temples, schools, and service









organizations... A form of Dana is dakshina, which is given to the priest after a visit
for any religious occasion. The dakshina is considered as a service charge for
officiating at family functions. Another form is the bhiksha in the form of articles
or food given to sanyasis or monks. Bhiksha therefore is only given to holy men
and is different from bheekha i.e. giving to the poor, needy and persons with
disabilities...Dana in turn is linked to dharma...Each person has a dharma wherein
charity is first directed towards immediate family and is then extended to society,
the world and all living beings. (2004: 9)

Since the Hindu temples act as a central locus for the Indian American Hindu

community, many charitable activities are organized and performed at the temples. In

fact, Anand reminds the reader that in America most money donated by individuals and

families is given directly to the temple. In turn, the temple organizes and manages the

distribution of these charitable funds (49).

The Internet is an excellent resource to promote the various types of dana. Most of

the websites had a call for volunteers on the homepage. Typically these volunteer roles

are to assist with various temple activities, such as assisting with classes. Other activities

promoted on the temple websites include fund-raisers for various relief efforts, such as

natural disasters, blood drives, toys-for-tots and soup-kitchen programs. Often these

activities are performed in conjunction with non-Hindu churches and organizations

(Narayanan 2006). The Sri Venkateswara Temple (Penn Hills, PA) has an online form

that organizations seeking assistance can submit (http://www.svtemple.org/artman/

uploads/guidelines for organizationsseeking funds.doc). The Hindu Temple of Greater

Chicago, IL often organizes a food drive for people in the Chicago area

(http://www.ramatemple.org/Food_Drive_2005.htm).

Although these various activities have religious significance in terms of dana and

seva, they also serve crucial pragmatic functions. Since part of dana involves payment to

temple priests and temples, promoting dana is a means for the temple to promote









financial donations. Furthermore, the charitable activities themselves serve to reinforce

and strengthen the communal bonds. On the one hand, these activities bring together the

individual devotees and families, internally strengthening and maintaining their sense of

belonging to a community. On the other hand, the charitable services provided to the

larger community builds relationships with the external community of non-Hindu

Americans. This assists in legitimating their presence in America, and that specific

region.

Many other charitable fund-raisers have been orchestrated to assist India,

illustrating a diasporal tendency in some of the volunteer work of Indian American

Hindus. Anand writes that "overseas Indians demonstrate considerable attachment to

their ancestral towns and villages and have contributed extensively after national

emergencies like the Kargil war (1999), the cyclone in Orissa (1999) and earthquakes in

Gujarat (2001)" (2004: 12). In fact, the amount of transnational funds filtered back to

India have been extraordinary. Anand writes:

In 2000-2001 overall foreign contributions [from non-resident Indians] to India
totaled $955 million. The main foreign donor was the United States, which gave
over $315 million. It is estimated that between 1975-2000 $97 billion was
received from the diaspora. In 2002, the American India Foundation raised $7.5
million from people of Indian Heritage now living in the United States. Of the
$7.5 million, one million went to the victims of the September 11th attacks with
the remainder going toward relief efforts in...Gujarat. (5)

While there are many reasons for charitable works given to India, such donations must

surely give the Indian American Hindus a sense of accomplishment and success by

financially assisting the needy in their nation of origin. However, we also find that

regions of India that have larger populations in the US also tend to get more money.

Thus, in looking at the examples of Orissa and Gujarat above, we should bear in mind









that Gujarat received far more money that did Orissa, although both disasters were

comparably devastating. However, the migrant Gujarati communities in the US (and UK)

are much larger and more organized than Orissans, which accounts for this discrepancy.

Therefore, it seems that ethnic identity still plays a prominent role in transnational

donations to India (Lal 2003).

However, some scholars are concerned that this transnational exchange of money

between the US and India, coupled with ethnic identity, is fueling and funding Hindutva

pogroms against Muslims in India. Ashutosh Varshey speculates that as the diasporal

Gujarati communities have become "fabulously wealthy... A lot of the new Gujarati

wealth, at home and abroad, has gone to Hindu nationalist organizations" (Lal 2003:

124). In fact, Lal even argues that the political ascension of the BJP to power in India was

a direct result of US Gujarati influence and finance, though he admits that "little

empirical work has been done on the money trail that is widely alleged to exist between

the VHP-America and other organizations committed to Hindu rejuvenation and

supremacy in the United States..." (125). Vijay Prashad is also concerned about the Non-

Resident Indian financing of Hindutva organizations in India. He reports that:

Between 1990 and 1992, the average annual income of the VHPA was $385,462.
By 1993 its income had gone up to $1,057,147. An allied group of the VHPA, the
India Development and Relief Fund, raised almost $2 million in the 1990s (some of
it via the United Way). This money is discreetly transferred into India. (Prashad
2000: 146)

Prashad admits that the few million dollars funneled to Hindutva organizations "appears

to be insignificant" when considering the billions of dollars received from Non-Resident

Indians. However, he argues that this money is enough to place Hindutva organizations

within the intellectual elite, establishing their legitimacy and fueling a diasporal sense of

nationalism (147).









The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH) is an online organization based in

California, which attempts to expose US financial exchanges (particularly from corporate

philanthropy) that fund Hindutva organizations (http://stopfundinghate.org/index.shtml).

Their home page encourages philanthropy, but "urges people to make the responsible

choice in favor of supporting secular groups with a long-standing commitment to the

pluralistic ethos and democratic ideals of India". In their online article "A Foreign

Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva"

(http://stopfundinghate.org/sacw/index.html), the author argues that of all the money

received by the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF):

Nearly 70% of the IDRF funds go to organizations dealing with education (largely
in adivasi/rural areas), hostels, 'shuddhi'/reconversion programs, and Hinduization
efforts; about 8% goes for health and welfare work; 15% goes for relief work, and
only 4% towards what is normally understood in the NGO world as rural
development. (http://stopfundinghate.org/sacw/part4.html#4_2)

What is particularly disturbing about this Hindutva funding is that the money is often

obtained using deceiving fund-raising tactics. Priya Ananda reports that many major

corporations-including Cisco, Sun, Oracle, Hewlett Packard, AT&T and MBNA-

donated funds to the India Development and Relief Fund under the pretext that it was

"for 'development & relief work I India", unaware of the organizations' ideology

(Anand 2004: 44).

However, while it is important to bring attention to transnational funding of

Hindutva organizations, Priya Anand emphasizes that it is nonetheless "important to

stress the positive role of religion in promoting social development and reform in civil

society" (2004: 5). Though Hindutva organizations have successfully raised funds for

their causes, this still only reflects a relatively small portion of the billions of dollars sent

to India by the diapora; "$5 million from 1994 to 2000" (5). Furthermore, the education









programs are not all part of a Hindutva cause or attempts at Hinduization. The Chinmaya

Mission, though dedicated to teaching the "wisdom of Vedanta", nonetheless offers non-

Vedic educational scholarships, and works with many humanitarian organizations,

including Mother Theresa's Mission (25). The Chinmaya Mission West (CMW) has 26

centers in the US, most of which are involved with local community projects, including

soup kitchens, feed the homeless programs, and clothing donations to the poor. The

Chinmaya Mission even raised $150,000 for rural development in Himachal Pradesh, and

runs a child sponsor program for impoverished children in Andhra Pradesh (26). The All

India Movement for Seva (AIM), established by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and his

followers, promotes various educational, environmental, healthcare and women's

empowerment programs (38-39). Similar programs are directed by BAPS Swaminarayan

Sanstha, ISKCON, Ramakrishna Mission, Sathya Sai Baba Organization, Sankaracharya

and the Veda Vyasa Foundation. Therefore, funds generated by Hindutva organizations,

such as the VHP, are only one small part of the overall fund-raising groups and

initiatives. In fact, "though the VHP claims it has links to various religious groups such

as Chinmaya Mission, Ramakrishna Mission and the Sankaracharya, it must be clearly

stated that none of latter laid claims to such a relationship [my emphasis]" (47).

Furthermore, the individual Hindu temples in America and the various BAPS

Swaminarayan mandirs "receive much more in donations from their congregations" than

do the various religious movements and Hindutva organizations (Anand 2004: 48).

Furthermore, the funds received by the local temples are not generally sent to India, but

rather applied to bettering and serving their local community. Dr. Uma Mysorekar,

President of the Hindu Society of North America (Flushing, NY) says that they undertake









local social initiatives to preserve Hindu culture by focusing on their local community,

and not social causes in India (48). Therefore, while they successfully raised funds for the

Gujarat Earthquake and Orissa cyclone, they likewise raised funds for the victims of 9/11

and Hurricane Katrina, and continually perform many charitable activities within Queens.

The Internet provides a forum for these local temples to advertise their charitable

programs, and even collect donations online.

Promotion and Advertisement

In terms of religious activities (i.e. ritual worship and celebration), the World Wide

Web primarily serves as a tool to promote the activities and worship. Most of the temple

sites tell which murtis are housed in the temple, and often display images of them as well.

Some sites even have cyber-pujas or online darshans of the deities. For example, the

Florida Shirdi Sai (Ivemess, FL) temple has a Flash introduction which begins with an

image of Shirdi Sai Baba, and culminates with a virtual arati of the deity. The Kali

Mandir (Laguna Beach, CA) has a virtual darshan of Kali on their homepage, which

offers a brief Sanskrit prayer to the devi and a close-up image of the murti.

Likewise, most temples use the Internet to promote types and times of regular ritual

services, such as pujas, aratis, and/or bhajans. By offering information about their

services, devotees can know if their own deity and ritual practice is performed at that

particular temple, and when they are performed. Furthermore, most of the temples also

offer information about additional rituals, including the various samskaras andpujas.

Typically the website also offers information about the pricing for these rituals (which

are different when performed at one's home or at the temple), as well as the materials

needed. Some temples even sell these materials, though I did not encounter any sites

which sold these materials online.









In similar fashion, most temple websites offer information about various festivals

and special events, usually within a year-long calendar of events. Like the ritual and deity

worship, virtually all Hindu temples in America celebrate many major festivals from

various regions and sects of Hinduism. Furthermore, other significant days are often

celebrated, such as Gandhi's birthday, New Years Day and Indian Independence Day.

Occasionally sites will even offer pictures from certain festivals and events, as a way to

promote participation.

Most temples and community centers have classes for adults and children, and

promote these classes on their websites. Although the specific information about class

times are not always available online, the types of classes offered at the temple are

usually listed on the website. Common types of classes include various languages (most

commonly for Sanskrit and Hindi, but also English, Tamil, and other regional languages

of India), meditation, yoga, sacred texts (particular discussions on the Bhagavad Gita),

dance, music, balavihar, youth groups and camps and even SAT prep courses. Many sites

even offer forms to sign up for the classes online.

Often the balavihar and youth groups or camps are listed separately on the

homepage, which infers a certain sense of priority for these youth-based programs. This

tendency reflects the need for the Indian American communities to bridge the

generational gaps between Indian born parents (and grandparents), and their American

born children (and grandchildren). Such programs provide a religious education to the

children, as well as Hindu peers. By bringing their children together with other Indian

American adolescent peers, these classes also function to preserve the future of the Indian

American Hindu community.









All of the temple websites need some basic, common features, such as contact

information, temple location and directions. Typically, the websites have contact

information for the temple priests, temple staff, Board Members and Trustees, and the

webmaster. Most sites also have background information about the temple priests, as a

means of authenticating their ritual worship.

Another common feature of most of the websites is a news link, often in the form

of a .pdf newsletter. Typically the websites offer a means to regularly receive the

newsletter, such as by email list-serves. These newsletters often have information about

temple expansions, classes, festivals and events. Although it is convenient to have all

news information available online, it is not generally assumed that members constantly

check the website for updates. Therefore, it is necessary to keep all members of the

community informed about the various activities, and email newsletters provide a simple

and effective method of communication.

Some sites have information about renting out halls at the temple and/or

community center. Many of these temples and community centers even rent out space to

the larger surrounding community. This provides the temple with additional funds, and

forges new relationships with the surrounding non-Hindu community. By providing

information and forms for these rentals, the temples can better advertise this space.

Some temple sites even have a FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) link, which

offer information and answer questions about Hinduism and Hindu Deities. Surprisingly,

however, this is not entirely common. Most sites offer very little information, and assume

the viewer is knowledgeable about Hinduism. For example, many sites will utilize









Sanskrit terms without defining the terms, therefore assuming their intended viewer is

already familiar with the rituals and elements of Hindu worship.

Hindu temple web sites in America assist the temples in developing and

maintaining community by promoting their services and activities. Thus, the Internet is

primarily an advertising resource, with the primary religious work still being done at the

physical temple itself. However, with more sophisticated Internet protocols and

technologies, these sites are capable of serving even greater functions. The more

sophisticated temple sites provide online resources, such as accepting donation payments,

allowing individuals to sign-up for classes, hall rentals, and other activities online. The

use of newsletters and e-mail exchanges allows the temple to stay in contact with their

suburban devotees, who may be separated by substantial distance through the city, or

even nation on a whole; indeed, most of my personal Hindu friends (who are primarily

south Indian) made the trip to the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Penn Hills for specific

festivals. Newsletters (and the temple web site) allowed them to keep up-to-date on

temple functions and festivals. Furthermore, these sites also illustrate the success of the

temple, and surrounding Indian American community, by displaying temple information,

history and images. With beautiful temples and websites, the Indian American Hindus

have proven their success in this country, and the strength of their community and

religion; a strength established through ecumenical inclusivity, and not Hindutva or

Vedic orthodoxy. While the temple space and community becomes a primary place for

many American Hindu adults and families to work out solutions to their new challenges,

these solutions are developed on the parents and temple leadership's terms. As we will

see in the next chapter, the Hindu Students Council (HSC) has emerged to allow a forum









for the young American Hindus to build groups of peers, and work out their issues and

conflicts on their own terms.














CHAPTER 4
VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM: HINDU STUDENTS COUNCIL
ACTIVITIES ONLINE

Ethnic Preservation and Generational Conflict

One of functions of Hindu temples in America is to assist new immigrants with

their assimilation to the American landscape and culture, as well as collectively develop

strategies for adapting Hinduism to this new environment. Both processes develop and

maintain strong local communities, built around the temple space and maintained through

cyberspace. However, the primary impetus for temple building and participation in the

US was the emergence of second and third generation Indian American Hindus. Renee

and Ajit Bhatia (1996: 252), in their article "Hindu Communities in Atlanta", argue that:

A significant factor contributing to the growth of religious institutions and
organizations is the strong desire among first-generation Hindus to carry forward a
viable Indian identity and instill cultural and religious values among their children,
who are growing up in American culture.

Pyong Gap Min reports that the majority of Hindus he interviewed cited educating their

children as the primary reason for their participation in the Hindu temple. He quotes two

Hindu interviewees who stated:

'We are from India. Helping our children to learn about their root is the main
reason for going to temple. Have them know about Hindu gods and goddesses.'
Another informant...put it this way: 'I think the main reasons are for my own peace
of mind and my children's development. We want our kids to know as much as
possible about their religion and culture.' (2000: 112)

These attempts to preserve their heritage are, in fact, attempts to instill their heritage onto

their children.









One of the key challenges of any migrant community arises with the emergence of

second and third generations, who do not have any (or much) first-hand knowledge of the

nation of origin. Raymond Brady Williams, who has written extensively on the topic of

Indian Hindu migration to America, points out that:

two national identities are involved in the development of any immigrant group: the
nation of origin and the nation of residence... Tension between the two identities is
often experienced as a generational gap between Indian parents and their American
children. (1992: 237)

This tension between the generations creates significant conflicts, requiring mediation

and resolution. Williams continues by arguing that one of the key strategies to

overcoming these generational tensions lies within the use of religious organizations,

which he sees as a "primary forum in which this dynamic is expressed" (1991: 251).

Therefore, participation in religious activities is among the most important factors

of ethnic preservation. Pyong Gap Min, in his work on Korean Christian and Indian

Hindu immigrants, presents a widely supported view that "there is a relationship between

participation in an ethnic congregation and the preservation of ethnicity" (2000: 99). In

fact, Min insists "religious participation consistently makes a greater contribution to

ethnic identification than any of the family or individual characteristics examined, except

recency of arrival" (99-100). For the second and third generations of Hindus, therefore,

participation in religious activities is crucial for the preservation of their Hindu identity.

However, participation in religious rituals (such as temple worship) is difficult for

second and third generation Hindus who have been raised as Americans, and do not

understand the various rituals and samskaras (which are quite foreign to Americans).

Many Hindu students articulate a discomfort with the ritualistic aspects of their religion

which they feel "that they could not and were not asked to understand" (Waghorne 1999:









123). How, then, can the Indian American Hindu communities built around the temple

facilitate interest and participation from their children?

The use of performing arts (primarily music and dance) becomes a primary method

for religious and cultural preservation and transmission. Unlike the complicated and

foreign temple rituals (which are often performed in Sanskrit), Indian dance and music is

more exciting, and provides a venue where the children can actively participate. Most

importantly, we should not assume that this participation in music and dance merely

generates cultural transmission. As Narayanan points out, classical music and dance

"have a broad religious base in India" (2006: 366). Furthermore, participation in

"language and religion classes; frequent religious discourses; study circles for adults; and

summer camps" further augment this preservation and transmission of Hinduism to the

American born generations (366).

Yet, summer camps, temple and domestic worship and religious education are still

on the parent's terms; the children are instructed by adults and other authority figures.

The challenge of this generational gap is significant. It is not merely an issue of teaching

Hinduism to their children and generating interest in Indian culture, history and religion.

It is also about instilling "Indian values" to their children; i.e. the same values held by the

parents. Bhatia and Bhatia write:

Indian parents recognize the difficulties associated with teaching Hindu traditions
and values to their children, who become steeped in American culture from their
earliest years. Parents recognize this cultural change as an inevitable yet
undesirable part of rearing children in the United States. (1996: 252)

Although Indian American Hindus have exhibited progressive attitudes and religious

openness in many regards, it is extremely difficult for parents to watch their children

develop interests and values which run contrary to their own. Although the various









classes and temple events can successfully generate interest and participation in

Hinduism, the reality remains that their children are Americans, whose primary

influences come from non-Indian American peers and American popular culture.

Therefore, even if the parents can successfully transmit cultural and religious elements to

their children, their "Americanness" cannot be removed simply by adding Hinduism.

Differences between the two cultures generate conflicts between the two generations. For

example, Bhatia and Bhatia (252) write that:

first-generation Hindus lived in a society that regarding dating and marrying
outside the tradition as taboo. Conversely, for second- and third-generation Indian
Americans, freedom to choose whom to date and marry is an integral part of
courtship in this country, much to the chagrin of their parents...While some
children acquiesce to their parents' wishes, many find ways of getting around these
restrictions, even if it means creating domestic friction.

Indeed, the migrant parents often assert tremendous pressure on their children, attempting

to persuade their decisions regarding key issues, including dating, marriage, use of

English (in religious worship), education and career choice. Since the majority of

religious education and participation occur in domestic and temple spaces, where the

terms are set by parents and priests, there is a distinct need for a forum where the youth

can explore these conflicts and issues on their own terms. The university, which typically

provides the first steps towards independence and adulthood, is a primary forum where

this dialogue can be facilitated and explored.

Hindu Students Council (HSC)

The Hindu Students Council (HSC) is a student organization with over fifty

chapters across universities in North America. Their mission and goal is to provide

education about Hinduism for students, and to provide a social group and support system

of other Indian American Hindu peers. Their work at the university level is crucial









because such a high proportion of Indian Americans are college educated, which means

that there is a greater chance that their children will be as well. During the formative

years of college, the HSC presents young American Hindus with a forum to learn about

the 'foreign' rituals and culture of their heritage (and parents), while having a group of

peers who also share the same tensions. It is important to analyze the various activities

and functions of the HSC chapters in order to better understand issues of migration and

generational tensions within the Indian American Hindu community, as well as patterns

for future developments of Hinduism in America.

Furthermore, it is necessary to analyze the resources utilized by the HSC

organization and affiliate chapters, in their outreach attempts. I assert that the Internet is

one of the primary resources used by the various HSC groups. The focus of this essay is

on the various chapter websites at universities across America (see Appendix D), as well

as the official website of the Hindu Students Council. Although the analysis of this piece

is primarily aimed at determining the HSC's use of the Internet, it must be addressed

within the context of the broader generational issues.

It is important to note that the HSC is not the only student organization that

functions to assist Indian American Hindu students. The Indian Students Association

(ISA) also has many chapters throughout North American universities. Although their

emphasis is directly on broader Indian elements, and not specifically Hinduism, in reality

both organizations participate in very similar events. This is not unexpected considering

the overlap between religion and culture in Indian religions. Further along down the road,

an examination of the various ISA websites would be needed to complete this study.

However, due to limitations of time and the scope of this project, I have had to relegate









my observation and analysis to one group, and chose the HSC over the ISA because of

their explicit religious emphasis, and because of their strong presence on the Internet as a

result of the GHEN network.

The primary methodology utilized in this study was in-depth observations of the

various HSC chapter websites, as well as the HSC official website. When observing the

sites, I focused on two general aspects of the site: 1) website content and information

provided, and 2) website aesthetics, use of images and symbols, and the Internet

protocols used (such as .html, .php, flash). Therefore, it was necessary to view both the

web page and the page source5. I further supplemented this observation with an email

survey (see Appendix E), which I sent to the HSC officers and general chapter email

addresses (see Appendix F). I intentionally put "HSC research" on the subject line of the

email so that the members would know it was relevant to their membership in the HSC.

Unfortunately, the responses were few and far between. While the information I obtained

from these emails was highly beneficial, it is now clear to me that email surveys are not a

strong method for conducting research. With the plethora of Spamm' and other junk emails

and viruses, it is likely that the recipients deleted the emails without reading them.

Hindu Students Council on the World Wide Web

I will begin my analysis of the Hindu Students Council web sites by giving an

overview of the official HSC website (http://www.hscnet.org/), because "all HSC

chapters are registered units of the HSC (a non-profit 501(c)3 organization)"6. The

HSC's mission statement is crucial to this study because the goals and objectives of the



SThe source refers to the code, or language, used to create the web page. In most browsers, the source
can be located by going to View>Source. The source is important because it contains information about
the various protocols and features used in the site, which may not be visible from the web page itself.
2 Email correspondence with the General Secretary of the HSC, Nikunj Trivedi.









HSC organization are the foundation for each chapter. However, the emphasis of this

study is not on the official HSC website, but rather on the individual campus chapter

websites, which are used by the HSC members and other student participants. The

official HSC website offers more information regarding the procedures of the HSC in

general, as well as information about starting a chapter. For this reason, the majority of

their content is not applicable to this study.

The HSC "About Us" page defines the Hindu Students Council as "an international

forum that provides opportunities to learn about Hindu heritage through various

activities, events and projects" (http://www.hscnet.org/aboutus.php). These activities,

events and projects are listed on the page as:

/ Campus Study Groups
/ Classes and Symposia
/ Seminars, Lectures & Workshops
/ Celebration of Festivals
/ Conferences and Camps
/ Leadership Workshops
/ Sport & Travel Activities
/ Publication & Distribution of Literature
/ Various Projects
/ Collaboration with other campus and community organizations

However, it is important to note that while all of these various activities are practiced by

various HSC chapters, most individual chapters themselves only participate in some these

activities. The site continues by asking "Why A Hindu Students Council?"

(http://www.hscnet.org/aboutus.php). The subsequent answer states that:

One out of every six persons born on this earth is Hindu. Mark Twain said, "In
religion and culture India is the only millionaire." And yet, so many of us know
very little about this great culture and heritage! HSC represents the first and only
North American and international attempt by students and young professionals like
yourself to explore, discover & experience the immense treasures of the time-tested
knowledge and wisdom of the great Hindu culture.









Therefore, one primary objective of the HSC is to learn and explore the teachings of

Hinduism. Yet, it is significant to note that this is phrased as "the great Hindu culture".

On the one hand, this reflects the HSC's relationship to the VHPA, and the VHPA's use

of Hindutva ideology, which attempts to lump all Indian cultures and traditions together

as a unified great culture. Yet, it also illustrates the cultural and religious inclusivity

found within many American Hindu communities and temples.

If education and information were the sole goals of the HSC, the organization could

exist entirely online. However, the most crucial element of the organization (and

subsequent chapters) is the social element offered by the group and their events (which

are largely based on performing arts, music, dance and film); the community of students

created and maintained by the organization. The "About Us" site continues by stating

that:

As Hindu students, we often feel isolated and lost within ourselves because of our
upbringing in a dual culture Hindu and Judeo-Christian. We try to reconcile our
own sorrows and imperfections as human beings in a variety of self-defeating
ways. And we usually go through this confusing internal struggle alone. It is
precisely to assist you with this spiritual, emotional and identity needs that the HSC
was born. Let us help you and help us to help others.

Therefore, above all else, the HSC website exclaims that the organization is designed to

educate students about the "Hindu culture", in a social setting designed to provide a

community of fellow Hindu student peers.

This goal is likewise the objective of the various chapters. In fact, most chapters'

home pages have borrowed the official HSC site's mission statement, either reproducing

it in whole or slightly modifying the text. Almost a third of the sites quote the passage

"One out of every six persons born on this earth is Hindu. Mark Twain said, 'In religion

and culture India is the only millionaire.' However, other than the "About Us" or









"Mission Statement" pages and the official HSC image (see Appendix G), most chapter

websites draw very little from the official site, in terms of both content and aesthetics.

Most individual chapter sites offer the basic information about that particular HSC

chapter on their homepage. Typically this involves some variation of the HSC official

mission statement, as well as the origins of that chapter. Often this includes the

individuals that started the chapter, as well as dates and motivations for its creation. For

example, the first thing on the homepage of the Boston University HSC site states:

The Hindu Students Council at Boston University started in 1995 by some very
enthusiastic students...HSC at BU organized a plethora of activities in 1995-96 with
the leadership of the its dedicated coordinators. (http://people.bu.edu/buhsc/)

One common trend in the homepage statements is an emphasis on diversity and

inclusiveness. For example, the University of Virginia's HSC chapter explicitly states

that their primary goal is "is to provide a forum for both the Hindu and non-Hindu

students at the University of Virginia to observe and practice the Hindu religion and the

Hindu philosophies" (http://www. student.virginia.edu/-hindu/).

Most sites have the general contact information on the homepage, though many

utilize some form of a "contact us" link. Almost every chapter site has a link to a page

about the chapter officers, with their names, contact information, and occasionally images

and other biographical information. This is significant because it highlights the actual

people involved in the HSC, and not simply the activities and information itself. This

implies an emphasis on social activity and group participation.

Some of the sites offer general information about Hinduism, in a variety of ways.

The University of Pittsburgh HSC has two links which outline a basic history and general

beliefs of Hinduism (http://www.pitt.edu/AFShome/s/o/sorc/public/html/hindu/

index hindu historv.html. httD://www.oitt.edu/AFShome/s/o/sorc/Dublic/html/hindu/









indexhindu_religion.html), based on information borrowed from the BBC's religion

website. Boston University HSC has a prayerbook online, with a basic overview of

Hinduism, as well as transliterated and translated mantras, slokas and bhajans

(http://people.bu.edu/buhsc/downloads/prayer.pdf). By providing information online, the

various HSC chapters can use the web as a resource to develop their goal of education

about Hinduism. However, the primary method of education, as well as the function of

social community, is not performed online.

Since the HSC is an activity-based organization, the majority of the site content

regards their various functions, activities and events. These events are never online

events. Therefore, the website simply functions as an advertising resource. Most HSC

chapter sites have a link to an Events or Activities page, which lists the activities and

dates. Many sites utilize a calendar feature, which provides a simple and organized layout

of their activities. Other sites simply list the activities on their homepage, such as with the

University of Michigan HSC (http://www.umich.edu/-hindu/). The University of

Virginia HSC site has incorporated a "ticker script"' into their html code, allowing their

events window to scroll through various events at a set speed.

While many of the events are explicitly religious and ritualistic, many other events

are social activities involving a blending of various elements of American and Indian

popular cultures. Common religious activities involve regularpujas, bhajans, discussions

and yoga or meditation sessions, as well as occasional lectures, special guests and temple

trips. Many chapters have regular events on various days. For example, the Boston

University HSC has a monthly puja, Tuesday night discussions and a Sunday morning

prayer (http://people.bu.edu/buhsc). Their Tuesday night discussions are designed to

3 ProHTML Ticker script, O Dynamic Drive (www.dynamicdrive.com)









address all issues relevant to the students, not merely religious issues. Sample questions

they list on the site include:

What does Hindu religion imply to you?
Do you practice your faith?
What does this mean, how do you practice?
How have you been able to adapt it into your life?
What do I say when people ask me about my religion/faith?
How do I explain things?
What are the most common misconceptions people have about Hindus?
What are the most common questions you are asked?
What is difficult for you?

Among the major topics raised throughout the various chapter discussions are issues of

dating, racism, and conflicts with parents. The University of Florida HSC site has a write-

up on their recent "Discussion on Faith" meeting (see Appendix H). What is striking

about this discussion on faith is the prevalence of dating and love; in fact, no ideology

was even discussed! Instead, the students discussed their own difficulties with dating and

American values, in direct contrast to the views of the parents. This, in my opinion, is the

greatest ,\ engtil and function of the HSC. The Internet promotion of these activities

allows for various Hindu students to also share their own personal struggles, discuss

strategies for dealing with these conflicts, as well as encouraging participation in the

HSC's religious activities; this, in turn, develops and maintains their student community.

Diwali and Holi celebrations are especially popular with the HSC chapters, though

a plethora of other festivals are also observed. However, based on the few questionnaire

responses and frequency of occurrence on the websites, it appears that these two festivals

have the greatest turnout. Other popular religious activities include garbha and bhangra

dancing. These festivals and activities have great appeal because they are joyously

celebrated, and fun social activities. Most importantly, they are religious activities that









allow the students (particularly female students) to actively participate in the transmission

and retention of Hinduism in America. The performing arts have a long-established

tradition of religious meaning and function in Hinduism, and are, in fact, a primary

method for cultural preservation and religious education in America (Narayanan 2006:

366).

Other activities have relatively little religious orientation, but nonetheless serve to

provide social interaction with other Indian American students. Such activities include

watching movies (both Hollywood and Bollywood films), playing sports and leisure

activities (which range from bowling to playing Hindu Jeopardy), as well as dinners and

small feasts (with various Indian and American foods). Many sites incorporate online

photo albums, displaying images of their various events. These online albums document

the events, and provide an easily retrievable memory of the event for those that

participated. Most importantly, these images (which always look fun) encourage

participation from other students in future activities.

One of the stated goals on the HSC official website was to provide service (seva) to

the community. However, this is not represented on most of the various HSC chapter

sites. Georgia Tech University's chapter works with Raksha, a local Georgia-based

nonprofit support and referral network, which their site describes as a:

non-profit organization which addresses social issues within our South Asian
community such as family violence and divorce, as well as issues concerning
children, senior citizens and new immigrants. Raksha strives to be a source of
support for all South Asians who may need a helping hand.
(http://www.prism.gatech.edu/-dsadmhsc/)

Founded in 1995, Raksha's official homepage describe their various services as:

Raksha's general direct services include crisis intervention, information and
referrals, interpretation and translation, legal and general advocacy, individual and
family counseling with children and adults encompassing a variety of issues facing









the South Asian community.
Raksha's community outreach programs increase awareness around issues such
as immigration, the myth of the model minority, family violence, child sexual
abuse, hate crimes, stalking, LGBT issues, access to health care and workforce
readiness within the South Asian community.
Raksha strives to promote cultural sensitivity and provides technical assistance
on the unique needs of South Asians to law enforcement agencies, social service
agencies and health care providers, among others.
(http://www.raksha.org/raksha/services.html)

Other chapters simply organize occasional community service activities on their own,

which are likewise promoted on their website (such as the University of South Carolina

HSC site).

In fact, the majority of service related promotion on the chapter websites involves

student services. The George Mason University HSC site and the University of South

Carolina HSC site have online classifiedds, where students can post items for sale,

rooms for rent and job postings. The Penn State HSC site has information about Hindi

classes available at the university. Some sites include news features for their members

and various participants. For example, both chapters at University of Florida and

University of Illinois Urbana Champaign have online newsletters; other HSC sites, such

as the University of Washington and University of California, Irvine, have mailing lists to

keep their participants regularly informed.

Website Aesthetics and Technology

The second aspect of my observation involves the general look, aesthetics and

symbolism utilized on the HSC sites. In fact, when observing the various sites, many

recurring images, symbols, themes and tropes continuously emerged. The om (aum)

symbol adorns nearly every HSC site, though the symbol is much less common in India.

More popular religious symbols in India, such as the ./n i and swastika, have no presence

on the HSC sites. This is likely due to the fact that the om is commonly known to non-









Hindus in America, and is an increasingly marketed symbol in American pop culture,

whereas the .\ n i is virtually unknown by non-Indian Americans. Furthermore, the

swastika carries the stigma of Nazi Germany, which discourages its use in the west.

Images of deities and religious figures are also commonly used. Ganesh appears on

nearly half of the HSC websites, as opposed to Krishna, Shiva and the goddess who

appear on only a few sites. There was not a single Venkateswara located on any site; this

was a surprise, considering the popularity of this particular form of Vishnu in both south

India and America. Images of Vivekananda appear on the websites of Stanford

University and the University of Washington.

Many of the sites incorporate a Devanagari-style English font (see Appendix I),

which gives the initial impression that the language is Sanskrit or Hindi. While this font

gives the site a somewhat 'Indian' look, it does so at the risk of being kitsch. Some sites

begin with traditional Hindu greetings, such as namaste and svaagatam (Emory

University, Duke University and University of California, Berkeley). Although these

greetings are increasingly less common in India, they are finding rejuvenated use in

America.

There are also a number of common phrases, scriptures and tropes inculcated into

the websites. Not surprisingly, the HSC slogan, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The entire

creation is one family), is frequently quoted on the individual chapter sites. While the

term Hindu itself is generic by nature-the etymology is based on geography, and not

ideology and practice-the highly popular use of Sanatana Dharma ('eternal duty or

religion', an ecumenical term popularized during pre-Independence India) reflects their

inclusivity, as well as possible influence from the VHPA and other Hindu groups active









in America (including the plethora of Vedanta movements and philosophies). Many sites

include quotes from popular texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and Rig Veda, including the

Gayatri Mantra. For example, the Penn State HSC site has four quotes on their

homepage:

Knowledge
Wisdom and righteous knowledge are the key to true success
Unity
The entire creation is one family
Progress
Let everyone be happy, healthy and blessed
Dharma
Truth is one, sages call it by different names

The University of Pittsburg HSC site has two quotes from the Bhagavad Gita and Rig

Veda:

God is seated in the hearts of all Bhagavad Gita
There is no religion greater than truth and a truthful person knows no fear
~ Rig Veda

Furthermore, their link for information about Hinduism is called "Hindu Culture".

Barkha Gurbani, the HSC President at John Hopkins University, wrote an article for the

campus ministry's newsletter called Being Hindu, Being in College, in which she argues

that:

Many people are misled to think that Hinduism is all about rituals. True Hinduism
is a philosophy that everyone can follow and benefit from whether they call
themselves Hindu or not. It is a faith based on the fulfillment of duty to self, family,
friends and mankind without any expectation of a reward. (2002)

Vasudha Narayanan discusses some of these same ecumenical outlooks in American

Hinduism, temples, and among the "young urban professional Hindu" (2006: 173). She

writes that it is often said that:

'Hinduism is not a religion, it is a philosophy, a way of life.' This is usually
followed with 'Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world.' These sentences are
probably most commonly heard in this country. Some of my American friends who









teach religion here have told me how many of their second-generation Hindu
students spout these lines at them. The 'Visitor's Guide' to the Penn Hills temple
tells us that 'Hinduism might be better described as religious culture rather than a
religion.' (173)

Another common trope she outlines is that "Hinduism is a tolerant religion... Sentences

like 'Truth is one, Paths are many' are voiced even as India spins into crises expressed by

communal rioting and separatist violence" (173). However, these tropes reinforce the

inclusive, ecumenical nature of American Hinduism, and it should not be surprising that

this element is likewise found among the youth.

While the website symbolism, imagery and language use are crucial to their

representation of Hinduism, the website structure and code are likewise important in their

presentation of this representation. The official HSC website uses PHP, which gives their

content more organization, and an overall professional appearance. However, since the

individual chapters are responsible for creating, hosting and maintaining their own sites,

using only the basic university resources available to them, most are simple HTML,

though there is a wide range of technological sophistication. Some chapter sites, such as

Cornell University, George Mason University, The University of Illinois Chicago, Johns

Hopkins University and The University of South Florida are HTML pages with

Shockwave Flash (.swf) elements embedded within the page, giving the sites simple (but

effective) animation. Other sites, such as University of Miami and Purdue University, are

made entirely of Flash, and therefore highly sophisticated in both appearance and

functionality.

Interactivity and Community

Other sophisticated elements of web design include chat rooms and discussion

boards. However, since these require specific server-side setup and management, many









chapters are not able to utilize these functions because the university servers do not

support them. However, technological support is only one reason for a lack of these

features. The University of Florida chapter features a discussion board

(http://grove.ufl.edu/%7Ehsc/cgi-bin/board/YaBB.cgi), yet there is only one post (a man

looking for a tabla teacher). This is most likely due to that fact that the various sites of

the HSC's GHEN network include chat rooms features; therefore the individual chapters

do not need their own. However, other chapters have utilized these features with more

popular support and usage, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago

(http://www.pliner.net/appmb/board.aspx?id=7621&key=C21A53F760F4440F). Other

university chapters in California had extensive usage of their message boards, but had to

shut them down due to a plethora of racist and anti-Muslim postings

(http://www.rediff com/us/2001/jul/10us6.htm,

http://www.rediff.com/us/2001/jun/22usspec.htm).

Such anti-Muslim statements can be interpreted in a number of ways. Racist

postings on discussion boards, drawing on highly politicized Muslim-Hindu conflicts, can

be the views of a few, extreme individuals. So much attention is given to these conflicts

in the news and media that we should not expect these statements to be absent in

American Hinduism. While the seriousness of these racist remarks necessitates attention,

making concrete conclusions due to the existence of some racist postings is incongruent

with the overall picture, and certainly not one representative of all Indian Americans or

Hindus.

However, many scholars have made bold conclusions regarding American

Hinduism, and the various student groups, bala vihar's and summer camps facilitated by









the HSC, Chinmaya Mission and FHA (Federation of Hindu Americans). These summer

camps often teach general Hindu viewpoints, representative of ecumenical Hindu

adaptions. Some scholars worry, however, that this pan-Indian education denies local

traditions and languages, and can "indirectly provide the receptive soil in which the seeds

of the [Hindutva] movement can be sown" (Kurien 1998: 64). Vijay Prashad, in his

criticism of the HSC and 'Yankee Hindutva' takes this even further (Prashad 2000). His

primary critiques of the HSC are that (1) the HSC is a Hindutva organization governed by

the VHPA (VHP in America); (2) that Hindutva groups conflate culture and religion as a

means of promoting the views of the 'elite' culture; (3) that the individual chapters are run

exclusively by young men; and (4) that the various camps and summer programs are

Hindutva training grounds (Prashad 2000). Prashad (2000: 148) writes that

Rather than join what should be a collective battle to reconstruct society along the
lines of compassion and fellowship, Yankee Hindutva asks desi children to
withdraw into Hindu enclaves to learn the ways they are great than others. At its
summer camps, the VHPA trains youths in a syndicated Hindu dharma. There is
nothing wrong with learning shlokas, literature, Hindi, bhajans...There is, however,
everything wrong with learning them as if they are the heritage solely of Hindus
and not part of a complex shared history that includes those who are not Hindus".

He continues by asking "How do they decide or make a choice [regarding their religious

stance] when they have not been given a story filled with different versions of the past?"

(148).

It seems that just as Vinay Lal fails to give agency to American Hindus, Vijay

Prashad fails to give agency to the American Hindu youth. Young adults, though

certainty impressionable, are not ignorant, mindless sponges eagerly absorbing any and

all rhetoric thrown their way. They can, and do, actively think for themselves, like all

adolescents and young adults. While it is undeniable that the HSC is an organization

overseen by the VHPA, each chapter is individually operated by its members and student









leaders, who come from a variety of backgrounds. Likewise, his critic of patriarchal

domination in the HSC is not supported by my research and discussions with participants

in the University of Florida chapter of the HSC. Many chapters, including the University

of Florida and John Hopkins University, are run by female leadership, and largely

comprised of female participants. The HSC is a dynamic forum for the young adults to

work out issues on their own terms, and not the terms set-up by their parents, priests, or

HSC and VHPA national leaders.

Clearly there are distinct patterns of inclusivity and ecumenicism in American

Hinduism, yet both Lal and Prashad view this pan-Indian ecumenicism as Brahminical

Elitism (Prashad's alternate term for Hindutva). They do not address the necessity and

function of this inclusivity due to issues of migration and minority status in America.

Furthermore, inclusiveness does not equate to the denial of diversity; it simply builds on

the common denominators required to bring a diverse group together as one strong,

united community, with all their differences expressed openly (such as by including

many different deities in a temple, offeringpujas and prayers in different languages,

including Shirdi Sai Baba and Swaminarayan images andpujas in non-sectarian temples,

etc.).

Part of Lal and Prashad's error lies in their sole emphasis on belief and philosophy,

often obfuscating the differences between Vedantic ideologies and Hindutva histories,

not to mention the exclusion of performing arts from their analyses. The HSC activities

and various student camps and bala vihar programs do incorporate lectures and

discussions on Hindu belief. These lectures are typically inclusive by nature, emphasizing

general, if not generic, beliefs and ideological viewpoints; viewpoints necessary to unite









Hindus from various backgrounds and family practices. Narayanan describes this

dialectic nature of American Hinduism as "Diglossic Hinduism", a complex overlap of

generic and specific beliefs and practices (Narayanan 2000: 761). Like diglossic

languages, such as Tamil, which incorporate both formal and colloquial strands,

American Hinduism allows formal brahminical viewpoints to be discussed along with

each member's unique, specific traditions and family practice; it is this complex weave of

traditions that Raymond Brady Williams describes as "Ecumenical Hinduism" in the

"Sacred Threads of Several Textures". Even Kurien recognizes that "the second

generation is simultaneously becoming 'Indianized' in the colleges and universities, where

there are many pan-Indian organizations. At home, however, the community with which

they identify is the subcultural one, since most family-level- interaction is within the

regional group" (Kurien 1998: 46). A student's education comes from multiple sources;

therefore, conclusions cannot be drawn from simply analyzing one aspect.

Kurien continues by arguing, however, that this "Great Tradition" had little impact

for the majority of Hindus, until the recent airing of the Hindu epics and the rise of

modern Hindutva (Kurien 1998: 56). However, this process is by no means new to

contemporary Hinduism or the American front. M.N. Srinivas described this complexity

in Indian history as "Sanskritization", a process:

by which a lower caste attempts to raise its status and to rise to a higher position in
the caste hierarchy. Sanskritization may take place through the adoption of
vegetarianism, of teetotalism, of the worship of'Sanskritic deities', or by engaging
the service of Brahmins for ritual purposes. Sanskritization can apply to ritual and
custom, to ideas and beliefs, or to the pantheon (Staal 1963: 261).

However, as many scholars have pointed out, this distinction requires some qualification.

Staal's critique of this overly simplistic explanation is that the "little traditions" have, in

fact, greatly influenced the Sanskritic, Brahminical ideologies, beliefs and practices.









There has been a long, ongoing interplay and exchange between various groups,

traditions and castes in India, and this dynamic has been central to the development of

Hinduism (Staal 1963). Similarly, this same interplay between the "great tradition" and

local traditions is continuing today in India, as well as in America. Furthermore, we

cannot focus our analysis solely to Hindu ideologies, for Hinduism incorporates many

rituals, festivals, and embodied practices.

This is evident in the many local dances and festivals sponsored by the HSC, and

engaged by the various HSC participants (many of whom are not members of the

organization). When analyzing the various chapter websites of the HSC, photos and

descriptions of the events typically include activities relating to dancing and music, as

well as feasts; all of which have an established religious base. Even the popularity of

Bollywood films, which draw heavily on the musical and dance traditions from India,

reflects the student interest in the performing arts. In her discussion of the arbitrary

distinctions between religion and culture (particularly in the academic study of religion),

Narayanan addresses the tendency to emphasize Vedic, Brahminical ideologies as

religious. She continues by pointing out that "None of this was wrong; it was just that the

epic stories, the variations of the stories, the varieties of devotional activity, the

celebrations of festivals, and the fuss about food seem far more important than doctrine

and philosophy in the practice of the Hindu traditions" (Narayanan 2000: 762). She

continues by stating that:

All over India religion is conveyed and transmitted through narrative and
performance, both onstage and through mass media...It is quite strange that despite
all these contributions to the understanding of the Hindu cultural tradition, the
focus in portrayals of Hinduism as a religion is still on the Veda and not on
performing arts. (Narayanan 2000: 775)









When scholars deny the significance of performing arts (both Indian and American

alike), and place sole emphasis on ideology, it is easy to misconstrue American Hinduism

as doctrinal and ideological. Yet, as Narayanan makes clear, performing arts are not

"classical, static, arts" (775). They are dynamic, religious expressions, which can be used

to communicate any social, political or religious issuess. The interpretive dimension of

the narratives and performances allows each individual to express the art differently, and

for different reasons. "The performers of music and dance, the transmitters of the

religious traditions, speak for Hinduism. We should listen to them" (776). By denying

agency and voice to American Hindus and students, critics of American Hindutva have

failed to listen to the transmitters of the religious tradition.

Concluding Remarks

While much can be learned from observation, it is only one part of the research

process. Officers, members and participants of the HSC need to be interviewed and asked

about their own usage of the Internet. However, as stated previously, the response to my

email questionnaires was poor. While the information provided from the few responses

was insightful, they were simply too few to establish any broad generalizations.

Therefore, there is a need to pursue other methods of interviewing for future development

of this research, particularly in-person interviews with local chapter officers and

telephone interviews with other chapter officers.

Nonetheless, some insightful information was obtained through the e-mail

questionnaire responses. Based on this small sample, it appears that well over half the

membership is comprised of students born or raised in America, with a relatively small

number of international students. This would suggest that the HSC primarily functions to

assist students with generational issues and problems dealing with dual cultures (second









and third generations), and not so much with issues of migration and assimilation (first-

generation immigrants or foreign students). Furthermore, the responses indicated that the

vast majority of participants are Hindu, with some Jain and Sikh participants. One

respondent wrote, "we have had some christians occasionally come to a meeting", though

the individual did not specify if these Christian participants were Indian American.

Aside of pragmatic issues of participation and procedure, I also asked the HSC

members about their own experiences in the HSC. One respondent wrote that:

Through HSC, I have learned what being a Hindu means to me. It really bridged
the gap between my cultures, and allowed me to appreciate the beauty of both
cultures. I made my parents, my grandparents and my family more enthusiastic
about HSC and Hinduism as well. (personal email correspondence)

What is interesting about this response is that she cites her involvement in the HSC as

important in bridging both the cultural and generational gaps in her life. Much of the

discussion of this essay has involved the idea that the HSC develops and maintains

student communities of Indian American Hindus. Yet, in this response, the individual

also discusses how her involvement has brought her closer to her family, who is surely

excited by her participation in Hindu activities. The key question this raises for me is

whether or not (and in what capacities) the HSC participants continue their involvement

in an Indian American community following graduation.

The HSC websites function in two basic ways, based on the two outlying goals of

the HSC. The first goal of the HSC is to provide religious information and education to

the students on campus, though primarily aimed at second and third generation Indian

American Hindus. This education is conducted during their various group activities, as

well as from peer interaction. Although the Internet promotes the activities, it is rarely

used to offer information directly by the HSC chapters. There, in this endeavor the









Internet is solely a resource used by the HSC to promote and advertise the activities. The

second basic goal of the HSC is to provide a social network of peers, and a student

community of Hindus. While this goal is likewise achieved by the group activities, the

Internet provides the tools to network, gives the young students a voice to express their

own understanding of Hinduism, and a forum to show pictures of their work, activities

and festival celebrations. This work can then be seen by their families, and give the

different generations a bridge to discuss their religion, and bring together the parents and

children, grand-parents and grand-children.














CHAPTER 5
VIRTUAL REALITIES: VIRTUAL RITUAL AND CYBERCOMMUNITY

A Satguru's Cybercall

So far, we have seen the Internet as a tool to promote ideas (informative) and

activities at Hindu temples and HSC chapters, but we have yet to see much substantial

online performance of Hinduism. In this chapter, I will explore aspects of the Internet

which utilize higher levels of interactivity, and the reality of virtual Hindu performance.

While information about Hinduism does not really constitute religious performance,

online discussion and ritual do. Again, the prevalence of informative sites over interactive

sites represents the origins and previous Internet technologies more than lack of

imagination. In 1995, the year typically credited as the birth of the Internet, the

Himalayan Academy's Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami offered this consideration

regarding the potential for Hinduism in cyberspace:

I've been meditating on what this all means for Sanatana Dharma and can see a
time when Hindus are all connected on the Internet. An ashram in Fiji will be able
to download explanations for samskaras. A yoga society in Orissa will be able to
locate graphical information about chakras for a public slide show. A pilgrim will
call up a home page with all the sacred sites, temples, tirthas and ashrams his
family can visit on his way back to Bharat, complete with maps, train schedules
and cost of A/C rooms. I see more. A panchangam we all use together, listing the
holy days and festivals. Our own Timeline is already on the Net. It stirred
historians to write us many letters, and discuss the new way India's history is being
understood. Even now you can get it, and search for when Ramakrishna was born,
when the Vedas were composed, when South Indian Chola kings set sail for
Indonesia.

I see interactive courses. A teacher in South Africa could download the lessons for
her students, lessons rich in photos, maps, Vedic verses, illustrations and sounds,
all the things that interest children. How about having the Encyclopedia of
Hinduism online, which our dear friends Muniji and Dr. Rao are working to









assemble through scholars throughout the world? How about a library of dharma
graphics which anyone could log onto, find that perfect piece of art for illustrating a
brochure, download it and never leave their desk?

Say your daughter just had a new child and you want a special name. What to do?
Let's put all the Hindu names on the net-we have over 20,000-so anyone can
search, find the meaning, learn the right pronunciation and then make a choice.
Need a good time to start a business, sign an important contract or leave on a trip?
Just call up the WWW home page on astrology for a computer analysis of the
auspicious moment. (http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1995/5/1995-5-
05.shtml)

Although the Satguru sees the potential of the Internet as a primary reference tool, he also

foresaw the networking potential to connect all global Hindus, and the need for various

Hindu services to be available through the Information Superhighway. However, online

communication and practice is significantly different than traditional in-person forms,

and brings in new challenges. Therefore, in order for religious performance and

interaction to exist online, these challenges must be addressed, and solutions must be

adopted.

Embodiment and Authenticity

Although this chapter cannot comprehensibly account for every relevant web site,

understanding the types of online services and the unique challenges present in online

religious performance is more important for the scope of this analysis. By 'online

services' I am referring to any type of Internet service that facilitates interactive user

participation and administrator response for the purposes of religious practice; such

services range from receiving astrological readings and religious advice via the World

Wide Web or email to commissioning and performing templepujas online. The primary

challenge to virtual ritual performance regards the questions of embodiment, authenticity

and authority. As Brenda Brasher points out, "to interact via a computer monitor with an

online Hindu temple is a profoundly different religious experience" than participating in a









physical temple building (Brasher 2001: 4). Among the primary differences of in-person

participation and online practice are the lack of sensory input and experience, as well as a

lack of social effervescence. The Internet, as Brasher argues, is "a fantasy universe that

stimulates the imagination but ignores the rest of the body, [it] is a non-environment that

sucks attention away from immediate surroundings in which most traditional religious

life occurs" (Dawson 2005: 19).

During my first visit to a Hindu temple in the Detroit area, the most immediate

aspect that struck me was the sensory experience, far more than the ideas and beliefs I

encountered. Every sense was engaged: I immediately smelled the sweet aroma of

incense upon entering the temple; I heard the beautiful, rhythmic praying of the primary

pujari and the ringing of the bell as each devotee approached the murtis; I felt the cold

bell as I rang it, the dry kumkum powder my friends adorned on my forehead, and felt the

cool floor upon my bare feet; I saw beautifully adorned murtis, so lifelike it felt as if they

were indeed watching me; and I tasted the sweetprasadam (in the form of a Granny

Smith apple) following the priests prayer and blessings. I watched and heard the young

children playing, sneaking peeks at the white stranger in their temple, occasionally

flashing brief, shy smiles in my direction. I was greeted with open arms, welcomed by the

various families and temple priests, and honored as a guest in their spiritual abode. Yet,

how can this experience be transferred to the world of cyberspace?

The simple answer is that it cannot. However, just because the experience of virtual

religious practice is different from in-person participation, we should not assume that this

experience is inauthentic and less religious. Stephen O'Leary, a scholar active in the

subfield of religion and cyberspace, shares many of these same concerns. He asks:









What will happen to our spiritual senses when the next step is taken, i.e. When
rituals are performed purely in the realm of the virtual? We may lose the smell of
the flowers or the smoke in the ritual fire offering, but will the ritual necessarily be
an less efficacious for its practitioners if the flowers are cyber-flowers and the
flames are cyber-flames? And if the full sensory experience of the ritual is
diminished by its reduction to the text, sound and imagery now possible on the
web...what in turn may be gained by working within these limitations, and what are
the possibilities for transcending them? (O'Leary 2005: 43).

What strikes me about O'Leary's statement is that he addresses the question of how to

deal with the limitations of the Internet, and looks forward for ways that these limitations

can be managed and overcome.

Similarly, Brenda Brasher explores the limitations of online religion, as well as the

benefits, in Give Me That Online Religion. She analyzes the web site Digital Avatar [no

longer in existence] which offered an online darshan of Lord Shiva, as well as

audio/video sounds and images of Shaiva prayers and images. In considering online

practice, she writes:

To contrast Digital Avatar with [a] temple, in the former the journey to the site is
gone. There is no wait to get into the temple. There is no interaction with other
pilgrims en route. The temple itself is gone. The heavy smell of flower and fruit
offerings has vanished. In sum, in the transition from temple to screen, a radical
alteration of the sense stimulation integral to Hindu worship has silently taken
place. Consequently, the religious experience itself has been altered. The
numinous, or holy, experience that cyberspace makes possible by way of Digital
Avatar is almost entirely an affair of the mind. This stands in huge contrast to the
immersion of mind and body in the numinous of an actual visit to the Kali temple.

Still, the Kali temple itself imposes limits. Only a select number of people beyond
those who live in the immediate vicinity can readily visit the temple. Given its
smallish size, a mere fifty or so can enter the temple at any one time. At the temple,
novice worshippers may gaze without comprehension upon the iconography meant
to summon the gods' presence. None of these limits apply to Digital Avatar. Its
hyperlinked visual elements enable visitors who see an unfamiliar image or sound
to learn all about it in their own language. Whereas a thousand may travel to the
temple of Kali in one month, that many and more can visit Digital Avatar in one
day. (Brasher 2001: 4-5).









So, the online performance of ritual allows individuals to transcend obstacles of space

and time. Yet, considering the lack of sensory embodiment in virtual rituals, can these

rituals be considered authentic? Lore Dawson, drawing on a Durkhiemian perspective,

challenges the authenticity of online religious participation, arguing that:

The 'reality' of religious experience resides with the reality of society as the actual,
if unrecognized, object of worship...In the absence of embodied social
effervescence online, cyber-religion may prove little more than an intellectual
chimera. It may be 'inauthentic' for everyone (2005: 29).

Although it seems impossible, at least with the current technologies we have available, to

completely transfer the real life experience to the domain of cyberspace, I am hesitant to

make any judgments about Hindu authenticity based solely on these scholarly challenges

(even if they are legitimate issues).

Consider the example of performing an online puja. While it is possible to conduct

apuja online, does this constitute authentic Hindu practice? Can one have darshan with

an online image? Can a digital image be considered a murti when it cannot be bathed and

sanctified? Most importantly (at least for the various bhakti traditions), in seeing the

digital image, will that sight generate God's grace and salvation? Ramanuja, the pivotal

south Indian Vaishnava saint, saw darshan as more than merely a reverential viewing of

the deity. For him (and indeed the millions of worshippers influenced by his teachings),

darshan in its highest form was an internal experience, shaped by the viewing and the

individual's many life experiences. The external sight of the deity creates internal

devotion, which in turn generates God's favor, blessing and salvation. Therefore, can we

assume that online darshan is authentic so long as it inspires the devotee's love and

devotion to god? No, for the simple reason that such logic is merely intellectual

speculation; I am not a Hindu, and do not represent Hindu authority.









However, the practice and various notions of darshan seem particularly receptive

to authenticity in cyberspace. There are many types of darshan, including sight of the

deity, tirthas (sacred "crossings"), dhams (sacred abodes) pithas (the seas of the divine),

sacred geographic places, and even sacred figures, such as gurus, sants, sadhus and

sannyasins (Eck 1998: 4-5). Many aniconic representations of the divine can also

constitute darshan, including various stones, clay formations, trees and other natural

objects (33-36). In the modern world, darshan has even transferred to television, through

filmed shows and animated cartoons; one temple complex even offers darshan of

mechanized, moving statues of the deities (43-44). Most importantly, even photographs

of a murti can be used for homepujas; in light of the great variation in the practice of

darshan, having sight of an electronic image seems to fit within the parameters of the

sacred act of seeing, and being seen by God. Nonetheless, online darshan will only be

authentic when practicing Hindus accept it as authentic, for their own reasons and

justifications.

Finding answers to such questions is simple; finding authoritative answers,

however, is a different matter. Hinduism, in its broad inclusive sense, does not have a

single founder, authoritative scripture, central sacred space or unified set of practices.

Where do such Hindus go for questions of authority? Individual sects, particularly those

that are well organized and institutionalized, will have specific leaders, scriptures and

customs which they can go to with such questions. Family traditions often carry more

weight than orthodox instructions, and authoritative prescriptions are not always followed

by the practitioners anyways (consider the high whiskey consumption in Pakistan despite

Islamic prohibitions against drinking alcohol). However, ritual authenticity is important









for many devotees. Therefore, as Hinduism spreads to new geographic regions, as well as

cyberspace, there is a need for the authoritative allowance of religious change.

In Transmission and Transformation ofRituals, Dr. K.K.A. Venkatachari outlines

the basic sources of authority relevant to most Hindus. He writes that "According to the

scriptures, three authorities are ranked in order: (1) Sruti or the Vedas, (2) the eighteen

Smritis of the rishis...and (3) acara or custom. Custom is accepted as authority only when

it does not contradict either Sruti or S.un ii" (1992: 178-9). However, he points out that

there is still a great deal of flexibility within this authoritative system. For example, he

writes that "The eighteen Smritis belong to different periods, and we find that the later

authors sometimes reject the authority and teachings of earlier texts...The 11th century

Tamil grammarian, Pavanantimuni, author of Nannul, argued that there is nothing wrong

in rejecting the old practices and accepting new ones to meet the needs of the time"

(179). As he argues, this process is by no means new to American Hinduism:

Historical analysis shows that Hindu rituals have been adapted throughout history
to meet the needs of people in new contexts. Times of rapid social change provide
impetus for adaption of rituals because such adaptation preserves the vitality of
ritual in new social settings and functions to preserve the tradition at the time it is
being transformed. Such change is not a modem phenomenon, but has been present
in Hinduism for centuries, and it provides a justification for some of the changes
that are taking place as Hinduism is being transported to America by immigrants.
(178)

This statement makes clear that not only can Hinduism adapt to new conditions, but also

that it can do so with authenticity by preserving "the vitality of ritual in new social

settings". In specifically addressing the adaption of Hinduism in America, he argues that

these adaptions must be met with confidence. He writes:

It is not possible for people living in North America to observe festivals as long as
nine or ten days or to continue all of the prescribed life-cycle rituals, but it is
consistent with the history o Hinduism in India for festivals and rituals to be
adapted to local circumstance. Just as regional languages have become part of