By Renuka Dhakal Kathmandu, Nov. 22: The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an unprecedented demand for digital technology to carry out virtually all human deeds. From online education and banking services to stock trading and health and socio-economic functions, the practice of doing everything online is becoming more and more popular. And religious service is not an exception. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gatherings and meetings -- be it for festivals, schools or office -- have been increasingly shrinking for more than eight months now. Since the pandemic is yet to be brought under control, the government has not allowed re-opening of religious and cultural sites yet. Therefore, this year's big festivals like Dashain, Tihar and Chhath were largely limited to households. The government has also set the limit for the number of people attending various ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and festivals. Amid the COVID-19-induced restrictive measures, people have come up with novel ways to circumvent those barriers and carry on their businesses as usual. In order to avert the risk of coronavirus, many pundits (priests) are now offering online services to continue religious activities such as prayers, worships, Bratabanda (thread-wearing ceremony), marriage, baptism, rice-feeding and other religious rites. That is why the popularity of online services, like e-Karmakanda (e–rituals) which was launched only recently, is on the rise. Kumar Byanjankar of Kathmandu has launched an e-ritual website, which helps people in receiving all the information related to religious ceremonies online, including finding priests, worship materials, and religious books, among others. Facing difficulty in finding priests and worship materials after the death of his mother during the lockdown, he realized that people like him could have been mired in the same problem. This is why he and his team launched an easy online service to help them perform religious rites. “We launched the website so that people don’t have to face hardships while observing religious activities even during the lockdown,” he said. For people living in Nepal, they are providing both online and offline services, while for Nepalis living abroad, they are providing only online services. Byanjankar added that they now have more than 10 priests providing virtual services and that they have a plan to expand their services in the days to come. According to priest Prajjwal Luitel, technology has been around since time immemorial. Citing the Mahabharata, a Hindu religious scripture, as an example, he said that Sanjaya had narrated every incident between Kauravas and Pandavas on the Kurukshetra to blind King Dhritarashtra. Sanjaya availed of a kind of technology to convey every information of the war to Dhritarshtra, he added. Luitel believes that technology could help promote and preserve religious engagement as well as generate employment opportunities for pundits like him. The online service for religious rituals makes it easy for people to find priests, worship materials and religious books, he added. Before the lockdown, Luitel seldom provided online services. When he did, it used to be only for the Nepalis living abroad, but ever since the lockdown was imposed, he has been providing various religious services both online and offline. Krishna Kishor Tripathee, another priest, has been doing regular Facebook live since the lockdown was lifted. He comes live on Facebook every day and gives complete information about Shraddha, Malamas, festivals, among other methods of religious worship. “I have been reading Shreemad-Bhagwat Geeta and other religious scriptures which helps people to listen to the scriptures of their religion. People may not have time to read religious books and discourses for a long time, so these days they can do them online,” he added. However, he argued that god wouldn’t answer devotees’ prayer though online worship, which is why they should opt for face-to-face rituals , in physical form, whenever possible. He is of the opinion that various religious prayers and ceremonies are effective only when they are performed directly by Yajamaan (the host), in the presence of a priest.