Seeing is Believing: COVID-19 and Televised Hinduism


  • Sneha Roy Choudhury Jawaharlal Nehru University, India


The idea of darshana, implying seeing and being seen is central to the Hindu religious interaction between the devotee and the divine – an extrusive rhythm of sight which brings the two into actual contact. From religious sculpture and idolatry, to calendar art, to ritualized performances, the emphasis on the visual in Hinduism can hardly be overstated. With temples being locked down and religious gatherings forbidden in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, this important aspect of Hindu religious life was severely affected. The sights and sounds of ritualized Hinduism were attempted to be reinforced through the public instructions to clap or light candles in honor of those at the frontline of the pandemic attack. This, however, failed toengender a spirit of religious communion in the absence of an effective visual paradigm. Further, in the light of the pre-lockdown socio-political scenario encompassing anti-CAA-NRC protests across the country, leading to sporadic riotous outbreaks, keeping the Hindu religious fervor alive became a political necessity. Against this backdrop encompassing pandemic and politico-religious unrest, the decision to re-run the religious epics on State-sponsored television was taken on March 27, 2020, whereby not only were both the Ramayana and Mahabharata retelecast, they also received record-breaking views. This paper attempts to compare the socio-political contexts of the first telecast of 1987-89, itself against the backdrop the Ram Janmabhumi movement and, 2020 re-telecast during the COVID-19 lockdown, so as to foreground the importance of the ‘visual’ in Hindu religious life, whereby the televised darshana becomes a means to foster the spirit of community and hope, and therefore, to reinstate the how this ‘visual’ paradigm is maneuvered to the attainment of specific goals of religious indoctrination. The central argument remains that televising Hinduism is a result of an emphasis on the importance of seeing and being seen as a crucial means of devotee-divine interaction, which itself becomes the epistemological foundation of religious life in times of socio-political crises.


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