Source: The Washington Post/HamptonRoads.com
TIRUCHIRAPALLI, India - Balaji, a Hindu priest, stood before the reclining god and offered a plate of coconut and bananas. His chest bare and his face adorned with red and yellow sacred paste, he set the food at the foot of a statue Hindus regard as an embodiment of the powerful god Vishnu.
Following ancient tradition deep inside one of India's oldest and holiest temples, he chanted Vishnu's names 108 times to beseech health, wealth and good fortune - not for himself but for an Indian emigrant living in London who had bought the prayer with her credit card on a Hindu Web site.
"If you wish to make an offering, the god will accept it - even if it's on the Internet," said Balaji, standing barefoot in the hot sand of the South Indian temple compound.
The Internet has become a hub of religious worship for millions of people around the world. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and people of other faiths turn regularly to Web sites to pray, meditate and gather in "virtual" houses of worship graphically designed to look like the real thing. Some sites offer rites from baptism to confession to conversion to Judaism.
For many cyber-worshipers, online religious life conducted at home or in an Internet cafe has replaced attendance at traditional churches, temples, mosques and synagogues. Some are coming to religion for the first time, in a setting they find as comfortable as their grandparents found a church pew, while millions of people reared on churchgoing are discovering new ways to worship.