Today's Editorial

11 August 2017

The business of religion



Source: By Debarati Bhattacharya: The Telegraph



India, globalization is not a foreign phenomenon. We find overwhelming evidence of crossborder trade and intermingling markets in ancient dynasties. However, with India's adoption of the LPG ( liberalization, privatization and globalization) model in 1991, all conceivable boundaries were transcended and India became a vivacious part of the global village as a consequence of growing transnational flows of capital and goods, information and ideas.


Religion is being increasingly used as a transmitter of the agenda of globalization, contrary to the various classical theories that predicted the decline of religion with the progress of society. In times past, religion, in its various manifestations, has been a carrier of globalizing tendencies in the world. Religious faith persists in a complex interaction with the structures and processes of the modern world, and that complexity has only intensified under the conditions of contemporary globalization.


According to P. Radhakrishnan's article, Religion under Globalisation , globalization's major impacts on religion have been " the transmogrification of traditional religions and belief systems; the beginning of the disintegration of the traditional social fabrics and shared norms by consumerism, cyber- culture, new- fangled religions and changing work ethics and work rhythms; the fast spreading anomie forcing an ever increasing number of individuals to fall back upon the easily accessible pretentious religious banalities, and attributing to religion the creation and acceleration of extremist, fundamentalist and terrorist tendencies in the third world countries." Shirdi, one of the richest temple organizations in India, which is synonymous with Sai Baba — a Maharashtrian saint — could be considered as a case in point. Sai Baba ( 1835- 1918) lived as a mendicant ( fakir ) and is said to have dwelt in Shirdi for approximately 60 years, from 1858 until his death in 1918.


There has been rapid economic growth and significant demographic changes owing to Shirdi's importance as a spiritual centre because of its association with Sai Baba, who is worshipped both as a guru and a deity. On any given day, some 25,000 devotees visit Shirdi for darshan . On holidays, the number reaches to about half a million people. In a largely capitalistic and globalized world, pilgrimage has become modified into a major form of tourism. Yet the undercurrent of spirituality and connection to a higher goal, however invisible, continue to inform the journey and often lead to inner transformations that render day- to- day life more meaningful.


One can now find temples of Sai Baba not only in every Indian state but also abroad, in cities on nearly every continent — including Dallas, Houston, London, New York, Nairobi, Sydney, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver and so on — wherever there is a transnational South Asian population. The role of religion in defining Indian communities abroad cannot be ignored. Attachment to religion and spirituality is known to be one of the significant aspects in the daily life of the Indian diaspora.


Religious practice is thus accommodated in urban lifestyles by various means, including temple worship, religious tourism and the formation of cultural associations. Moreover, an enormous increase in the value of rental and residential properties at the pilgrimage site has further helped in rapid urbanization and dramatic social change. This holds true for all places associated with temples, churches, synagogues, mosques and chapels.


This relatively unregulated development has transformed the spatial character of Shirdi, just as the influx of Indian middle class visitors and property owners has changed the social fabric. The middle class, with both disposable income and time for leisure, has emerged as a significant target for the sale of destination pilgrimage tourism packages. Alongside this, there has been an increasing growth in the business of devotion at the site because of its religious significance and high demand for services. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of charitable trusts and ashrams in the urban landscape of diverse pilgrimage sites. Also, people's growing tendency of offering diamond, gold and other expensive articles at the religious places has triggered business.


VIP entries in various prominent religious places make the divide between privileged and unprivileged apparent. What makes this split more obvious is the fact that there are different types of prasad , depending on the amount that is donated by the devotee. Another key component of globalization is the different modes of transport made available at pilgrimage sites — an outcome of improved infrastructure. Be it coffee houses or high- standard restaurants, resorts or hotels, one can find all this easily in and around these places.

Globalization has made all this possible, leading to the maximum utilization of time and space. For example, one can view rituals or aartis online from any corner of the world. Globalization has also led to increasing consumerism, as has been indicated by research.