Worship and the virus in Hindu India
Contested innovation, polarization, uneven digital acceleration
Keywords:Ritual innovation, polarization, digital religion, Hindu nationalism, Corona Devi, Coronasur, Corona jihad, Ramayana, pandemic curfew, lockdown, Kali, Covid-19
The religious responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Hindu India were manifold and, at times, publicly contested, which raises the question of which societal differences became visible and were augmented as the pandemic unfolded. Based on observations mainly from the first coronavirus wave in 2020, this article argues that the limited religious innovation that ensued gave rise to a lively public debate that revealed marked differences within the Hindu community, that the pandemic offered new possibilities for affirming Hindu identities while othering Muslims, and that it accelerated the transition to online religious services in prominent temples while pausing the activities in others, thus augmenting a marked digital divide that may well outlast the pandemic. Pandemic religious changes notwithstanding, the article concludes that most of the changes were ephemeral and produced minor jolts rather than major transformations.