The Mother Divine
Change Font Size 

By Rajeshwari V. Pandharipande 

Difference in the language of online and offline satsang 

Online satsang or connection with the Guru, differs from its live or offline counterpart in many ways. The most important difference is that online satsang is not restricted to a particular group of people, time or space. For example, a person can connect with the Guru, Mooji, a Jamaican (Hindu) Guru, from anywhere in the world. Amritanandamayi, a woman saint of India, can connect with anyone across the world. The discourses of the saints can be accessed from anywhere in the world anytime and by anyone. In contrast to this, in the live satsang, the community of disciples may place restrictions on the audience, i.e., who can participate in it. Some temple-based satsangs do not allow non-Hindus in the satsang. In this sense, online satsang can be treated as more democratic than its offline/live satsang. 

There is permanency about online satsang. It might be recorded in a real time, day, month, year, but once recorded, it can be used by different groups of people at will in their homes, temples, or public spaces. In contrast to this, puja has to be performed each time the devotee aspires to connect with the Divine. Its efficacy lies in its actual performance, not in watching its recorded version. 
Another major difference is in the language used in the online satsang and offline satsang. 
Online satsang may or may not have a well-defined homogeneous community with a shared faith since anyone can connect with the Guru and interact. In this sense, online satsang is more democratic than its offline counterpart. In contrast to this, in offline live satsang, the audience is generally a community with shared beliefs. This difference impacts the language use. In online satsang, the language used is expected to be understood by a larger non-homogeneous/diverse community, using many languages at different places in the world. Therefore, online satsang, though more democratic in the audience selection, is more restricted in the language use. In the US, in online satsang of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, English is used almost exclusively. In India as well, satsang of Sri Sri Ravishankar, Dayananda Saraswati, and many others, the language is English. In contrast to this, in live offline satsang, the Guru uses the language of the community, i.e., Hindi in north India, Marathi in Maharashtra, Gujarati in Gujarat, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, etc. 

It is important to note here, as the size of the communities which use Indian regional languages increases in the diasporas within India (where communities migrate to states where the majority language is not their own, such as Gujarati speaking communities moving to Punjab, and outside India (UK, US, Canada, Australia, etc), the language of online satsang changes. That is, two types of languages are adopted by the satsang communities (including the Gurus presiding over satsang): English language to include larger (the global Hindu and non-Hindu-audience) multilingual community across the globe and the regional Indian languages (for the communities which speak those particular languages). For example, in the UK,  Dadabhawan TV channel conducts satsang in the regional language, Gujarati and it is translated into Marathi as well. The Dish channel in the US broadcasts satsang in the regional languages of India which are broadcast all over the world. This ability of technology to provide choice of language according to the need of the community/audience, has almost eliminated the difference between online satsang and offline counterpart. The question arises then, why is live/offline satsang with the presence of a live Guru preferred by many disciples? Is the offline satsang more authentic? Is the goal of satsang better accomplished in the offline satsang with a presence of a live Guru? Does face-to-face conversation equal a technology mediated one? In the following discussion, I will describe online puja and point out how it differs from offline puja and then take up these questions in the following section.  

Puja in Hindu tradition and online puja 

There is a large body of literature on Hindu rituals in general and puja in particular. However, online puja is a new phenomenon similar to online satsang. Puja is traditionally viewed as a worship ritual. The Sanskrit word puja (puujaa) is derived from the verb root puuj “to worship”. Puja, similar to other religious rituals, can be defined in terms of “what it is” and “what it does.” (Helland 2012:27). From the perspective of the former-“what it is” - religious ritual such as puja is a conventionalized activity performed repetitively on many occasions by the devotees. It is a performative act through which the devotee connects with the Sacred, whatever God/Divine (abstract or concrete) is believed to be in the tradition such as a Higher power, (human or other incarnations of the Divine, etc.). It can range from a simple action of folding hands and praying, or an elaborate action of offering flowers, fruit, incense, food to the Divine, reciting scriptures, singing bhajans (religious prayers put to music), meditation, etc. The worship ritual can (but not necessarily) involve one or many people, including the priest who may officiate the ritual on behalf of the devotee(s). One of the main aspects of the ritual is murti or vigraha (literally meaning a concrete expression of the Divine), an idol/statue of a Hindu deity to whom the above-mentioned offerings are presented. This ritual is performed at home, in a temple, or other spaces depending upon the nature and type of worship. Certain pujas may be performed anytime and anywhere while others must be performed at the designated time/day/month/year, etc. After it is offered to the deity, the food is distributed among the people present at the ritual as a blessing (prasada) of the Divine. There are many types of pujas, the performance of which varies according to the occasion and purpose of the puja. For example, puja for God Ganesha involves offering a particular sweet, modaka. The worship of Hanuman includes the reading of the text, Hanuman chalisa, etc. 

There are many perspectives on the function of the worship ritual – “what it does”. Hindus believe (Eck 1985) that puja connects the minds of the devotees to the Divine incarnated in the murti (image/idol). Darshan, “seeing the Divine,” is central to puja. The devotees believe that in puja, the eyes of the Divine meet those of the devotees and this exchange of the glance between the deity and the devotee (through their respective eyes) provides the most coveted religious experience of the vision of the Divine for the devotee. It is further believed that this experience transforms the mind of the devotee (Eck1985). What puja does is transform the world-centred consciousness into the God-centred consciousness. In this sense, puja is an individual encounter with the Divine, regardless of whether it is performed with other devotees or not. 

While language (of prayers, scriptures and religious music) plays a role in the restructuring of consciousness (from the self-centred to the God-centred), its use is not mandatory. Silence can be maintained throughout the puja. Since satsang is invariably a dialogue of the religious master/Guru and the disciples, language is essential. The disciples gather in satsang to learn from the master through discussions on the topics related to material as well as spiritual life and the connection between the two. Language is the most essential aspect of satsang. The structure of the discourse with the Guru in satsang is not predetermined. It gets organized depending on the questions which devotees ask and the answers which the Guru provides. On the other hand, the structure of the language used in the puja (alongwith the other actions mentioned above) is conventionalized and, to a large extent, predetermined. It is believed that the “performative function of puja” is accomplished when it is performed according to the predetermined conventions. Therefore, any change in the ingredients of puja are not really acceptable since the “performative” force (or efficacy) of the ritual depends on its “flawless performance” which would not admit a change in linguistic code. However, in my earlier work (Pandharipande 2006, 2010), it is mentioned that in the US diaspora, the English language is currently being used in the worship rituals in the US. Thus the performative function of the language depends on its structure dictated by the conventions while the structure of the dialogue in the satsang is flexible. While language plays the role of a communicator/mediator in the satsang to facilitate communication between the Guru and the seeker/disciple/aspirant, it is the medium which helps the devotee to directly experience connection with the divine. Thus, the primary function of language in a satsang is informational while it is performative in puja. In a satsang, language informs while in puja, it performs

The last decade has seen a marked use of the internet in rituals including worship/puja. Globalization is one of the major reasons for the migration of many Hindus to move to the US. There are over 200 Hindu temples devoted to many deities in the US. Hindus in the US have arrived from many countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, UK, Malaysia, Africa, Fiji, etc. They cannot visit India (or whichever their native country may be) as often as they would like. Virtual/ online puja offers a much needed opportunity for them to visit the temples of their choice in India and perform puja of the deities they wish. (
A number of major temples in India have opted for providing online worship of the deities such as Vishwanath, Durga, Hanuman, Vishnu, Shiva, etc. The online puja provides an easy access to the temples to which they are not required to physically travel and connect with the Divine from the US through the temple-worship! 

The typical online puja does not have the restrictions of time, space and the need for the priest. 

Additionally, the materials (incense, flowers, food, etc.) are provided in their “virtual” form which takes away the need for preparation time and material required in offline puja. The instructions for conducting puja are provided by the “digitized voice” of the computer. There are many online puja websites currently available on the computer. For those who know the process and do not need any instructions for puja, the computer-initiated instructions are superfluous.

For example, see This website provides information about what puja is, its purpose and role in the life of Hindus. It also explains every step of the ritual, and its purpose. The instructions include a) choose temple, b) enter temple c) click on the temple bell, click on the incense, click on the lamp to light up the flame, offer food by clicking on the sweets. The religious music appropriate for the “chosen” deity plays in the background.  

Language in the online puja varies according to the context. For example, the instructions for the performer of the puja are typically in English. The choice of the language (s) of the chanting, recitation of mantras, prayers, etc. are determined by the type of puja, scripture/sacred text. For example, the traditional classical homam/havan (fire sacrifice) is performed using Sanskrit while the recitation of Hanuman Chalisa (forty verses dedicated to the deity, Hanuman), Satyanarayana Katha (the ritual of the reading of the story of Satyanarayana), are typically in regional languages. Moreover, many websites allow translation of the prayers in the languages mentioned in the “drop down” menu.