If you are an avid TikTok user (unlike me) then you may be familiar with Pawan, a monkey who has been ordained into the internet Hall of Fame by faithful TikTokers. Pawan, a 13- year- old monkey held captive inside a small metal cage outside an Aghor Ashram in Pashupatinath, is the latest internet sensation and ‘devotees’ just cannot get enough of him. 
Since I got to learn about Pawan, I go there regularly. I sit and watch as the crowd clamors to find the perfect angle for a selfie with Pawan. I watch with growing irritation as the crowd prods and pokes a napping Pawan for a blessing. And I also watch on with a lot of amusement, as people play and replay their videos with Pawan, while trying various filters to make sure it’s good enough to be shared online. After all, what is the value of a photo or video without the accompanying likes?
Pawan is under the care of Hari Baba, an Aghor and his band of followers. According to them, Pawan is the reincarnation of Hanuman and when asked why the great Hanuman is locked inside a cage, they are quick to answer that it is part of his sadhana (spiritual practice), for which he will be rewarded thousand fold in the afterlife. Sure! 
Pawan is severely obese due to lack of exercise and he gets visibly irritated, which is very natural when you’re being forced to interact with thousands of people every day. Can you imagine spending your entire life inside a very uncomfortable metal cage built hastily along the edges of a cliff, and having to spend every single day forced to bless your so called devotees? Even a God can’t be this benevolent or patient! This is not the life any of us would knowingly choose for ourselves, so then why is it ok to inflict this nightmare on an animal? And Pawan is certainly not the first, nor will he be the last animal imprisoned to be used as a prop to increase one’s karmic and social capital.
Once they capture the perfect photo / video with Pawan, no one turns around to say a final goodbye to him; nobody turns around to make sure he is okay or ask his caretakers about his needs. Their heads are bowed down over their smart phones, their fingers performing the ritual of uploading the image onto various social media platforms. And their hearts full of faith that they will receive plenty of likes and followers. This, dear readers, is how the ‘performative pooja’ is carried out in the age of the selfie. May the like button bless us all!