The 360-degree darshan: Virtual Reality finds a new use case around the Ujjain Kumbhhttps://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/kumbh-ujjain-virtual-reality-google-cardboard-oculus-rift-vr-360-degree-darshan-mahakaal-temple/

The 360-degree darshan: Virtual Reality finds a new use case around the Ujjain Kumbh

A group of people are exploring the virtual world beyond gaming to develop immersive content of temples and other religious places around India.

Virtual Reality, VR, Kumbh, Kumbh mela, Ujjain, Google cardboard, Oculus Rift VR, VR apps, Mahakaal temple, immersive content, smartphones, technology, technology news
An elderly woman in Ushapur village, taking the virtual tour of Mahakaal temple with folded hands.

This might not be the picture that comes to to your mind when you hear the word Virtual Reality. But in Ushapur village, 80 km from Ujjain, you would see many, including children and elderly women, sit with folded hands and peering into wearing VR headsets giving them a virtual darshan of the famous Mahakaal temple. They enter the small temple-themed stall only after removing their ‘chappals‘, as this virtual experience is as good as the real thing.

Virat Kuthal, founder of app development company Twist Mobile, is exploring the virtual world beyond gaming to develop immersive content of temples and other religious places around India. Kuthal and his team shot the Mahakaal temple in 360 degrees with an aim to take the popular religious center to the 70 million people who visit Ujjain’s Kumbh Mela every year. Not everyone is able to enter the temple because of swell of devotees.

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It took close to six months to shoot 360 degree videos of the temple with the right technology and permissions from the temple management. His team developed their own OpenGL 360 degree video player.

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They plan to set up some 20 stalls during the Kumbh Mela, which will take place from April 22 to May 21, with 5,000 Google Cardboards and 2 Oculus Rift VR headsets. The team will also place Google Cardboard headsets at hotels in Indore, Ujjain and Dewas and stalls near ghats.

Virtual Reality, VR, Kumbh, Kumbh mela, Ujjain, Google cardboard, Oculus Rift VR, VR apps, Mahakaal temple, immersive content, smartphones, technology, technology news
Villagers waiting for their turn to take the virtual tour of the Mahakaal temple.

“Dilip Awasti (Co-FOunder of Twist Mobile) came up with the idea. He said it would be amazing if we could showcase Mahakaal temple to the rural population,” said Virat Kuthal. While he was a little apprehensive in the beginning, it took very little time for the idea to hit the right chords with people.

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At first, they put up a small stall in Ushapur for an hour. But the response was immense and the team took about 200 people on the virtual tour in about about seven hours.

The reaction was unprecedented. While most folded their hands while watching the immersive video, some got emotional and could not control their tears. Soon after that, they launched an Android app called TMVR, which can be downloaded by anyone with VR headsets — a Google Cardboard costs just a couple of hundred rupees now.

Virtual Reality, VR, Kumbh, Kumbh mela, Ujjain, Google cardboard, Oculus Rift VR, VR apps, Mahakaal temple, immersive content, smartphones, technology, technology news
A child watching 360 degree video of Mahakaal temple with folded hands.

“The idea is to create a platform for digitising the experience of our culture, which has very high repeat value as well as uniqueness,” says Kuthal. He will not be charging people for the darshan, Kuthal says, adding that how all who want to go on a pilgrimage to famous temples are unable to do so. “The Aarti at every temple in this country is unique. People want to experience it,” he adds.

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Kuthal and his team have shot almost all temples, gurdwaras and Jain temples in Indore with different ‘aartis’ for now. The local IPS Academy College is helping them install Google Cardboards across Ujjain, which will in turn be sponsored by local brands and Akadas.

After the Kumbh, he wants to take the programme across tourist places in Madhya Pradesh and other parts of India. The team has already developed VR content of the Sanchi Stupa along with MP Tourism.