337 Claudia Cohen Hall
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Renny Thomas, Jesus & Mary College University of Delhi
Ayudha Puja: On Machines, Rituals and Beliefs
This talk attempts to address questions in technology and religion with special reference to the festival Ayudha Puja. Ayudha Puja means "rite of the implements" or, more often, "worship of the machines", and provides an opportunity for people to honor the machines that make their lives possible and to come together as a community in their workplaces. Offices and laboratories are cleaned, machines are garlanded with flowers or anointed with sandalwood or vermillion, and celebrants share sweets. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in 2012 and 2016. This paper looks at how Ayudha Puja was celebrated and the meaning(s) attached to it by scientists, and researchers. Ayudha Puja reveals how Hindu scientists interpret their religious heritage and shape their scientific communities through traditional practices. Ayudha Puja has played only cameo roles in scholarship, its consistent recurrence indicates that the festival deserves greater attention. The short descriptions of it and the minimal theorization are a great disappointment considering the universality of the festival. Just as Ayudha Puja has a long history in India and remained a part of Indian public and private life in the twentieth century, it remains an important festival in south India, and by reflecting upon it we have a valuable opportunity to glimpse into the complex interactions of religion, rituals and science in contemporary Indian life.