There’s no question that religion sells in India – it’s a market that’s estimated to be worth over $30 billion. So, what happens when you add a tech touch? That market value only inflates, according to one woman who decided to do exactly that.
Growing up in a mathematically inclined family, Saumya Vardhan says it was only natural for her to complete an undergraduate degree in statistics. She worked her way through the educational ranks to an MBA degree from Imperial College in London – and then embarked on a career as a strategy consultant.
It was shortly after she had returned to India in 2013 that a friend’s father passed away – this was to provide crucial insight into how difficult, and elaborate the traditional Hindu 13-day death ceremony actually is. Most of the family lived outside India, and those in India struggled with organizing the rituals that surround the cremation process.
“There’s no pricing schedule,” says Vardhan, “nobody checks the educational background and qualifications of the people who deliver these services.”
A couple of years ago, The Times of India declared that the Indian spiritual and religious market is worth around $30 billion – they remain one of the most cited authorities on this figure; though newer estimates put that figure closer to $40 billion and Vardhan says her calculations place the market value at around $48 billion today.
Around 80% of India’s population is Hindu – many continue to follow ancient traditions that have evolved little since around 500 BC. These play a huge part in daily life. Families contact priests to perform everything from astrological chart readings for the entire family to rituals for naming children to fixing financial problems, warding off evil spirits, wedding ceremonies, last rites – you name it.
Temple donations, the purchase of offerings, spiritual tourism, payments for ritual services, astrology services, traditional home décor services – the money being spent in India alone easily rockets into the billions of dollars.
The figures prompted Vardhan to start up Shubh Puja in late 2013; Shubh,which means ‘auspicious’ and Puja in reference to the act of worship. The platform was created using technology as the intermediary – providing ‘a puja one click away’ experience for users.
Customers from anywhere in the world can schedule and participate in rituals customized for them, in India, through Skype or Facetime. The priests on-the-ground handle everything – bringing the offerings needed for the ceremony and informing a customer of when they need to log in – and what recitations, if any, they should participate with during the ceremonies, which are still conducted in the ancient Sanskrit language.
“It’s a very fragmented industry, which saw no innovation for a long time,” says Vardhan, whose company hires a small full-time staff of priests, but also maintains a wide net of tightly vetted priests, “a lot of people don’t know that the priests have done undergraduate and Masters degrees in these subjects – we have specialists in each field.”
Priests typically specialize in an aspect of the religious practice; some are experts in career astrology, others may have stronger experience with wedding rituals, and so on. Vardhan says by utilizing the individual expertise of priests they are able to provide a better experience for customers participating in the ceremonies.
“There are so many scams and scandals with spirituality, we want to make people aware of the science and facts behind these rituals,” says Vardhan, “no one is talking about the science behind it – it all has some significance, some science.”
She’s created a blog to cover this. For example, answering the question why children are fed sweet curd before exams: because scientifically curd cools the body, calms the digestive system, the knock-on-effect is a clearer mind.
Wanting to ensure that her platform provided a seamless experience, Vardhan recently qualified as an astrologer herself – after taking a two-year course. She’s currently studying the science of numerology, and Vaastu Shastra (a practice comparable to Feng Shui).
“I realized I had to in order to be able to figure out who is saying the right thing,” says Vardhan, “now people acknowledge I know what I’m talking about.”
Her customer base logs in from around the world, but priests are also regularly requested in New Delhi, where Shubh Puja is headquartered. Prices are fixed, so priests cannot throw out random figures based on their perception of the wealth of the individual requiring services, as typically happens.
With a growing young market, many of whom are living and working away from home – and looking to ask their own health and career questions – Vardhan says the platform provides diagnostic help, suggesting what can be done for maximum benefit.
“In Hinduism to achieve a particular thing, you worship a particular god,” says says, “for example, the goddess Lakshmi – for money.”
By creating some guidance and structure in the practice, Vardhan says Shubh Puja is simply trying to make it easier for the next generation to keep up with the old traditions – with a computer, anyone can access it from anywhere.
“Otherwise five years from now, the younger generation will have no idea,” she says.
see more at : http://www.forbes.com/sites/abehal/2016/08/19/indias-30b-spiritual-market-and-the-woman-thats-tapping-into-it/#761d22368ca0