WHEN I was doing field research in India regularly from 2001-2007, I kept hearing an expression for “rich person” I’d never heard before - “vasati-karar,” where “vasati” can be loosely rendered as “convenience.” As the liberalization of India’s economy gained traction in the 2000s, lots of people were acquiring vasatis. Increasingly affordable and accessible consumer items like electric fans and mixie-grinders, cars and laptop computers were making life easier and more comfortable for people across the social spectrum. Temples and churches did not miss out on the boom. Ceiling fans and electric light eased the strain of sitting through long services, while the electrified loud speakers mounted on every house of worship spoke or sang to the faithful (and everyone else) at higher volumes and across wider expanses of space than ever before. Moreover, with each status-laden acquisition, individuals and groups got a little boost of self-esteem and created emotional ripples among their neighbors: envy, pride, desire, competition, satisfaction, and so on.

I spent a lot of time thinking about convenience and consumption that year as I observed that one of the biggest threats to the forested village shrines I was researching was the drive to “clean up,” develop or civilize (nagarikka) both the deity and the community of devotees bound together around Him or Her. These forested shrines are Tamil Nadu’s instantiation of the phenomenon of “sacred groves” found throughout India and around the world, where small forests or stands of trees protected from human overuse by religious taboos.