Saturday, September 02, 2006

answering the call: cell phone use during rituals

Social life just will not be put on hold, it seems, even during major rituals here. Over the last couple of weeks, I have attended three important rituals, marking the naming of a child and marriages. The families involved were fairly orthodox brahmins, and had chosen their ritual officiants (or purohita) with care, to ensure that all stages of the ritual were performed thoroughly and correctly. Nevertheless, when the ritual officiants’ cell phone rang during the ceremony, they did not hesitate to answer the call. At both weddings I attended, the grooms also took calls on their cell phones as the wedding ceremony went on, but sadly not while my camera was at hand.

If the use of cell phones is any indication, these life-cycle rituals do not interrupt ordinary life, but absorb it, even as they punctuate and transform it. At no time did those talking on their phones while they participated in the ritual appear embarrassed or offer an apology. Nor did I see anyone exchange disapproving glances. Indeed, the only people who seemed to find this noteworthy were my friends Sangeeta, Ma’ayan and I, all three of us students of Indian religions, with all the apparently false assumptions about solemnity of rituals that entails.

The accompanying photos are taken at a wedding and at a naming ceremony, hosted by two different families in two different cities. In each case, the person on the phone is a central participant in the ritual.

No comments: