Chasing religion and faith

Chasing religion and faith

With increased affluence, exposure to western culture and a perceptible in education levels, the tendency to chase materialistic goals had become a cause for concern, particularly in urban India. All too suddenly, the trend has been reversed. Today, it is the well-informed, wealthy, upwardly mobile city dweller who is more oriented towards religion than his rural cousins.  Religious workshops, pilgrimages, yoga camps, meditation sessions and Art of Living courses have now become part of his life.

Catering to this newfound spiritual quest, is an industry of religious merchandise ranging from posters, pictures and talismans to music cassettes and books on holistic lifestyles, including pranic healing, reiki, vaastu and feng shui. “It is the fear of competition that is turning youngsters towards God,” observes 42-year-old Anita Bharucha, mother of two teenagers. “I was never as pious as my children because I did not have to experience the kind of stress and insecurities they do,” she adds.
“Steep rise in income throws open many new choices, dilemmas and possibilities that things could take a turn for the worse at any time,” opines Mohan Isaac, head of the psychiatry department at the National Institute of Mental Health, witnessing an unprecedented rush towards religion. For instance, the Balaji temple in Tirupati is receiving 50,000 devotees on an average working day and last year, an unparalleled  five billion rupees was deposited at the alter as offerings.

Likewise, the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Bombay records upto 1.6 million visitors every Tuesday and at the Golden temple complex in Amritsar, 30,000 people pray daily. At Gurudwara Nadha Sahib near Chandigarh, pilgrims form five kilometre-long queues every new moon night. Pandit Lambodar Panda, a priest at the Baidyanath temple in Deogarh, is puzzled at the devotee profile: “Elderly locals used to visit the temple earlier. Now, over five million Shiva bhakts take part in the month-long Sharvani mela and surprisingly, 80 per cent  of them are young, below 30.”
Agrees 30-year-old Paramjit Singh who had to wait 18 hours in line before he could get a darshan of the goddess at Vaishno Devi in Jammu, “A lot more young people seem  to be coming. Normally, it wouldn’t take me more than three hours to reach the sanctum sanctorum. Now the wait is indefinite.” Another indication of the youth moving away from materialism is the emergence of new-age gurus like Deepak Chopra, who are fluent in English and prepared to play shrink, philosopher and guide in what are mostly  swank spirituality workshops.

This is however not to dismiss the popularity of old Godman stalwarts like Puttaparthi Sai Baba, Art of Living Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Pandurang Athavale whose following increases with every passing day. Youngsters are organising and participating  in religious meetings in their honour in most metropolitan cities.
In Chennai, a youth organisation called Hindu Munnani is organising Ganesh Chaturthi on the streets. In Calcutta, neighbourhood sports clubs are joining in to build temples and offer pujas to hitherto subaltern gods like Manasa Devi and Shitala Devi. Besides, there are housing societies like Akash Bharati and Kakititya apartments in Delhi that have their own temples within the building compound. So do many hospitals like the Bombay Hospital, Care in Hyderabad and Manipal hospital in Bangalore.

“These days, elders in housing societies themselves want temples as part of their construction plan,” informs Prakash Rao, who works with Sun Constructions in Mumbai. An apartment block with a temple within its compound fetches a higher premium in the estate market. Quick to capitalise on this trend, corporate bodies like Godrej, Lupen Labs, Nagarjuna and Ayodhya paper mills have institutionalised prayer meetings and meditation workshops as part of their management development programme.
Spiritual institutions are in turn setting up management centres. Among others, there’s the Mahesh Yogi group’s Maharshi Institute of Management, Shringeri Sharada Institute of Management and Amritanandmayi Math’s Centre for Value Based Management.
Praveen Chopra, editor of Life Positive, a personal growth magazine observes, “The spirituality that urban Indians are getting hooked on to is the result of prosperity. When the worry for money is over, the quest for a happier, holistic life begins.”

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