06 April 2020, The Tablet

How technology and faith are helping Hindus in Britain through Covid-19

by Tarun Patel

How technology and faith are helping Hindus in Britain through Covid-19

Chirag Patel follows a ceremony at home as it unfolds online.
Tarun Patel

These times of uncertainty have brought tremendous unrest and adversity on a scale that nobody could have ever envisaged. As a result of the unprecedented measures to protect our communities and the nation, fear and anxiety is compounded by feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The social and spiritual connection that members of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha in the UK, headquartered at its Neasden Temple in London, enjoyed at mandirs (Hindu temples) and centres across the country, is not possible in the same manner as it was previously.

The temples provide a sense of belonging for many worshippers – a place where they can interact with others – a source of unparalleled spiritual strength and connection with God. However, as part of the collective responsibility to reduce the spread of the global pandemic, BAPS mandirs and centres across the UK closed on 13 March.

BAPS remains committed to fulfilling the spiritual needs of people in the local community, recognising that such challenging times call for innovative ways of meeting those needs. Thus, as these mandirs and centres closed their doors to the traditional ways of worship, a new door of spirituality opened, connecting worshippers to God from their respective homes.

Weekly religious assemblies for children, teens and adults are now being webcast live every weekend to ensure all generations continue to benefit from spiritual wisdom. Darshan (spiritual viewing) of the murtis at the Neasden Temple – is available every morning from the Mandir’s website, while the arti ceremony (ritual waving of lighted wicks before the deities) is also available to view each evening through a live web stream. A daily message of strength as well as important guidance and information on how to stay safe and stable from Swami Yogvivekdas, the Head Swami of the Neasden Temple, during these daily web casts provides a source of comfort to all.

Social media updates through Instagram and Twitter are proving to be a powerful tool to help disseminate information and further connect people and communities. These are supported by various other online resources that are provided to families to encourage them to conduct assemblies in their homes which help to foster family unity and spiritual understanding. Other online platforms, tools and publications are being employed to allow devotees to receive regular updates and important guidance.

His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the inspirer of the Neasden Temple, personified his life motto: “In the joy of others lies our own.” His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the current spiritual leader of BAPS, has also issued a call to all volunteers to act upon their dharma (duty) in this time of need. BAPS has mobilised hundreds of volunteers in more than 30 areas around the UK to help support the elderly and needy in local communities.

Volunteers have been assisting with food deliveries, collecting medication and shopping, running essential errands, as well as providing comfort and solace at a time when self-isolation for the vulnerable can be especially agonising. BAPS has also produced key health awareness resources in English and Gujarati to educate the public on our collective responsibility to help stem the rapid spread of this deadly virus.

Amid the pangs of separation between friends and family, faith and technology are working together to unite a world that for now, must remain divided. The spiritual vaccine delivered through this online platform provides an instant immunisation. Just as the success of any medicine depends upon the manner in which the body responds, these online tools prepare the soul to respond with courage to such deeply challenging circumstances.

It is a collective response – a national response – a global response. Families have found the time to re-connect in their homes, eating and praying together and tackling the adversities as a unit. It is a ‘reset’ button, where the hustle and bustle of life has been replaced by the calmness and serenity of devotional hymns, spiritual discourses and collective prayers performed with swamis and fellow worshippers together – but apart.

The sea that shimmers and sparkles from the warm rays of the sun is distinct from the vastness of the skies above. Yet, if one looks ahead at the waves that sway gently in the distance, the ocean and the sky are immersed and entwined – they have become one. There is no separation, but fusion. In these times of separation, online worship has brought a divided world together.

Friends and families may be separated from their places of worship, but the advent of technology and faith has united them. There is no separation but complete fusion – with one another, and with God.

Just like a candle burns selflessly to give light to others, today, in our moment of darkness, this is the candle that shines brightly in our lives.

Tarun Patel is a senior corporate banker and father of two adult children. He has a voluntary role at Temple as Media spokesperson. His other voluntary activities include Magistrate; school governor; non-executive director at the Football Association NFS. His interests are golf, following Liverpool FC and going on holiday with his family.

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