How is religion surviving the new normal?
Nathan Fulgado, Writer
Places of worship are among the few places in the city that have remained shut even after the plans for the reopening of the country were in full swing. The purpose of this is to avoid throngs of god-fearing men, women and children flocking to achieve some divine resistance from the coronavirus. Religious institutions of Bombay came up with the most basic alternative to actual physical devotion by transitioning to the online space. Online darshan at Siddhivinayak, Durga Puja live-streamed on YouTube, and Sunday Mass at Mount Carmel’s Church attracting more listeners on YouTube than in the actual church. These are phenomena that we would’ve probably never have witnessed. With a whole plethora of festivals that come with this season, how has religion coped with the new normal.
Catholics in Mumbai have been making the most out of the digital platform presented to them during the pandemic. The positives of going online were not without certain negatives as well. Easter came on the 12th of April this year which could not have been good news to Catholics who love to celebrate the auspicious with family gatherings and Easter egg hunts. The annual Bandra Fair, held in the Basilica of the Mount in Bandra was also cancelled due to the fear of the virus spreading.
“We hired an outside person to come in and record the Mass which we would post on our YouTube channel. Eventually, we had to live stream the Mass from my mobile phone after the recording person could not go to the church anymore.”
Aside from the celebrations missed, the Archdiocese of Bombay and its churches have adapted extremely well to the new normal. Father Reuben Tellis of Mount Carmel’s Church in Bandra said about online streaming, “We hired an outside person to come in and record the Mass which we would post on our YouTube channel. Eventually, we had to live stream the Mass from my mobile phone after the recording person could not go to the church anymore.”
Churches have more than one Mass service in a day, but by posting it on YouTube people can listen to it at any time of the day. He said, “We only record Sunday masses. We used to have six Mass services and we used to get at least eight hundred parishioners per mass. Once we started streaming the Mass on YouTube, I noticed that the viewership used to come to seven thousand, which is more than the number of parishioners belonging to our parish.”
Many churches in Bombay followed Father Reuben’s method of streaming Mass online. Even the Cathedral in Colaba streams Mass, said the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias.
Siddhivinayak, Mumbai’s iconic temple has gone online too. The embrace of ‘online darshan’ seemed bleak first, but devotees have taken their time to get used to this new development...All celebrations were subdued.
“In times like these, divine intervention is necessary. In spite of the perils, we should please Goddess Durga. ‘Thala bajao’ was to bring a positive influence to people, and the Durga Puja will serve the same purpose.”
Durga Puja too was one such festival that was watered down due to the pandemic. Sourav Mitra, the chairman of the Powai Bengali Welfare Association (PBWA) looks at devotion as a means of spreading positivity. He said, “In times like these, divine intervention is necessary. In spite of the perils, we should please Goddess Durga. ‘Thala bajao’ was to bring a positive influence to people, and the Durga Puja will serve the same purpose.” The Durga Puja made the transition to the online platform as well. Fellow organisations followed suit and set up Zoom sessions for Durga Puja. Juhu’s Durga Puja celebration, organised by The North Bombay Durga Puja Samiti, is one of the biggest and most spectacular in the city. The pandal is visited by lakhs of devotees every year. Usually located in Tulip Star Hotel in Juhu, the Puja was moved to an undisclosed location. This was done to avoid throngs of worshippers crowding the pandal and risking the contraction of COVID-19. Deb Banerjee, the organiser of the event said, “To avoid any risks the puja will only be attended by members of the association and close family members. Prasad, flowers and other offerings are also prohibited. The Puja will also be live-streamed on social media, including their Facebook page.
Christmas is getting closer and closer. The Archdiocese has prepared for mass to be streamed on YouTube. Diwali is usually when the city is at its liveliest. However, card parties were online and there was a massive reduction in air pollution. However, devotion did not stop. Whether it’s to God, or to the capitalistic urges of people, these final two months of 2020 will truly test the strength of online devotion and its effect on people.