Monday, December 25, 2017

Raison d’etre of religion

The share of India’s service sector in its GDP is increasing at a rapid rate. Do you know how and why?
My take on the above is very unconventional but easily defendable. I think it is religious tourism that has underwritten India’s service sector growth.
In Tamil Nadu, when I was away in the US for 12 ½ years (from late ‘70s to early ‘90s), things seemed to have changed rapidly on this front. With no claim to correct chronology, let me list a few “auspicious days” that seem to have captured the imagination of the people.
Sankata Harana Chathurthi – The fourth day after Full Moon. At least 12 times a year.
Pradhosham – 13th day after both New Moon and Full Moon. At least 25 times a year.
Akshaya Trithiye – 3 days after New Moon in a particular month. Once a year. But, do not be surprised if it became once every fortnight. Jewellers will drive up the frequency.
At home, suddenly doing Navagraha Homam, Ganapathy Homam, Sudharshana Homam has become common. You just pay the money to the priest and things are done for you. If this is not service sector, what is?
I had heard of Saturn shifting from one Zodiac sign being a harbinger of bad luck or good luck (no one can tell which!). There is a temple in Thirunallaru which survives on this occasion. Incidentally, in the institution I work, on that day, a homam was performed.
And, in central Tamil Nadu, along the banks of River Cauvery, never mind it is not much more than a stretch of sand and weeds, there is this age old custom of celebrating “Aadi Perukku” signifying the river running full, harbinger of good profit from agriculture. But, celebrating the day in the face of intransigence of the state of Karnataka? Makes no sense, except through reckoning it as a service sector activity.
And, each of the festivals that were celebrated when I was in Madras has become grander on the logarithmic scale as the city changed its name to Chennai. Add to that, weddings and other rituals. All these have transmuted towards more consumption, more travel, more staying in fancy hotels, and truly should be tagged as service sector activities.
I argue, indeed claim without numbers but not without logic, that travels, eating outside, associated with these festivals are the very things that are boosting Indian service sector. Just in the past 3 weeks till date, we have had “Karthigai Deepam” in Thiruvannamalai, and in another 3 days, there will be this big thing, “Vaikunta Ekadasi” in Srirangam (Trichy). In another 15 days or so, there will be a convoy of vans to  Chengannur in Kerala, the starting point of the trek to Sabarimalai Temple. In the days of Madras, not many from Tamil Nadu made that journey and trek. Now in Chennai and Tamil Nadu, it is de rigueur (in the limited sense of “required by fashion”) to take that effort to acquire the blessings of the lord.
In the days when it was Madras, we acknowledged these special days but in our local temples. But these days, in Chennai and Tamil Nadu, doing it locally shows your incapability to do it where it should be done. You are so infradig.
After the lord comes His/Her appointed agents, the Guru. Take the instance of the Art of Living (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) jamboree in Delhi a couple of years ago. I know people travelled from other countries, at the special invitation extended by the Guru. How sweet of him, to making Indian service sector shine ever so brightly, never mind the ecological destruction.
The Guru maybe dead (Puttaparuthi Sai Baba), but tourism to the shrine must have only gone up, not come down. Likewise, Shirdi Sai Baba.
The last point. The above scenarios are reflected in every other state of the Union of India, with its own capriciousness. The Gokulashtami in Banke Bihari temple on the banks of the sewer Yamuna.
If religion promotes such service sector activities, one must acknowledge that it is a positive feature of culture that contributes to the growth of economy.
I rest my case – the first and foremost reason for the existence of religion is economics.


No comments: