Introduction India is a land of lakhs of temples. Many of these temples have been built on the basis of some beliefs and are several decades old. A few, like the majestic Meenakshi temple at Madurai in Tamil Nadu, are more than three centuries old. The influences of culture and spirituality on the Indian economy can be discussed with specific reference to a) Deep-rooted beliefs and values b) Practices related to community beliefs c) Practices related to marriage and other functions d) Individual beliefs and practices and e) Spin-off effect on education, medical and other services.
Deep-rooted beliefs and values One of the beliefs in many parts of India is that rains are an act of God. When the rains do not arrive, a massive amount of yagnas and poojas are conducted. This is a pan-India activity. During such poojas, it is common to see a large market for flowers, ghee, coconuts, and rice. The prasad, as it is called, is made of rice and jaggery in many parts of South India, and distributed free to the devotees. This makes the suppliers of such services very happy.
Every attempt is made to perpetuate such beliefs. Even those who talk about the influence of millions of trees being planted, or judicious use of water and water recycling practices, are not given any importance. The growth of this industry has to be seen to be believed. There are millions who still believe that God would punish us for some of our evil deeds; hence the diseases. They would first pray to God and do something to ward off the evil. In Tamil, this is called "pariharam". This takes various forms. For example, there are pandits who prescribe "Ganapathi Homam" a series of rituals and slokas recited by at least six pundits, spread over even five days. The accompanying requirements for ghee, banana, coconuts and whatever is huge. This sparks demand for such goods. This pooja, done in praise of Lord Ganapathi is a common practice in most parts of the country. It should be noted that the slokas are chanted in Sanskrit, everywhere in India. The pundits are paid a fat amount and this ranges from Rs.25,000 to even one lakh rupees. Since everything is spiritual, the deep-rooted beliefs and values are given maximum importance. The economic fall out is always positive.
Practices related to community beliefs Members of the Brahmin community are generally non-believers in these practices. In many parts of South India, there is a belief that some animal sacrifice, particularly sheep and goats, will keep away evil spirits. Hence, the demand for these animals happens as a matter of routine. The temple festivals in thousands of villages, throughout Tamil Nadu, are centered around this practice. There is a mad rush to get the meat after the mass killing of animals takes place.
No one knows how an entire community, across so many castes and sub-castes, get to totally believe, as a big group, in such animal sacrifice. Those who question such ghastly practices are not given any importance. The suppliers of these animals are very happy. In the month of May, this practice continues in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh ( reportedly in some parts only).
In Guruvayoor, in Kerala and other famous temples of Kerala, there is no such animal sacrifice. However, there is a practice called "thulabaram" which is nothing but weighing any child or even an adult against banana. One can imagine the demand for the banana fruit in such places. Once again, this is a wide-spread community belief, more so, of the members of the Brahmin community.
Practices related to marriage and other functions Marriages in most parts of India have generous does of spirituality and offerings to God, as part of the marriage function itself, or just after the marriage. People pray to God that everything should go on smooth during the marriage. In any case, the need for coconuts, banana and a big variety of fruits and flowers is always there and is big business for the suppliers.
People also pray to God that after everything goes on well, the young couple would visit a particular temple, mostly held sacred by the family for several generations. This is called "kula deivam" in Tamil. This is one practice that has no end. It is a multi-billion dollar industry. For example, the lodges in each of the six abodes of Lord Muruga, like Tiruttani and Palani, have lakhs of devotees flocking to them after the marriage of their sons or daughters. Obviously, they need to stay in some lodge. The hotel industry starts booming. The local auto guys make money. The pandits make money. Of course, the demand for various pooja items sold everywhere runs into at least a couple of lakhs of rupees. The pandits are happy as they get something given by the devotees on a special occasion. The temple economy is always alive.
The temporary suspension of activity, during this present COVID-19 scare, will actually open up the highest demand for all services in hundreds of temples. The demand is just waiting to happen. The entire temple economy will obviously get the informal sector, back in action. For example, near every temple, there are thousands selling fruits, flowers, snacks, cool drinks, coconut water, cooked food and what have you. The devotees would buy any or all of them, depending on their purchasing power. But the net sales is always positive. The van operators, who operate the services to nearby temples, apart from the main temple also make money. Tiruchanoor near Tirupathi is a big example. People who visit Madurai always hire vans to visit Palani, one of the abodes of Lord Murugu, more so, if they are a family of eight or ten. There are hundreds of van operators who make their living only on this activity.
The individual beliefs and practices The economic spin-off due to individual beliefs, is a big industry by itself. There are many who pray to God that they would offer 108 coconuts to God, to save their child suffering from a particular ailment. At the very same time, on average, there would be at least some fifty thousand people praying in the same fashion. After their child is cured, the trip to the temple happens. The panditji and a few others would have an excess of coconuts for them to make chutney at home. There are always some reports that most of these coconuts find their way to the nearby vegetarian hotels for some consideration. However, the depth of such beliefs takes various forms. There are Gods decorated with saris. There are Gods who are bathed with a variety of things such as milk, holy ash( mostly in Tamil Nadu), water, and a mix of various fruits and honey, commonly called "panjamirutham" in Tamil.
The demand for the inputs goes on increasing day after day. One can very well understand how the service sector contributes to over fifty percent of the GDP of Tamil Nadu, which clocks a 7% GDP growth, year on year. Most of these practices are reportedly common to Andhra Pradesh too.
Spin-off effect on education, medical and other servicesSai Baaba, the famous Godman from Puttaparthi, a sleepy village in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, has built a hospital in Westfield in Bangalore, and the entire medical treatment for a whole range of medical services and the most sophisticated heart operations are totally free. The trust runs a deemed University at Puttaparthi.
Melmaruvathoor, near Chennai, is home to a Goddess and one Godman who claims that he is an incarnation of the Goddess. Believers from all over South India (reportedly, even from the North of India) flock to this temple and offer billions of rupees as donations. The trust runs several colleges, hospitals, schools and what have you, under the direct control of the trust and the Godman. The entire village and the surroundings have a multi-million economy that is inclusive of a variety of shops, hotels, cell phone shops, cement stockists, mini shopping centers, banks and the service providers to the big temple there. This temple is not alone. There are many throughout India, and each of these is managed by Godmen.
Conclusion Call it God's will or whatever. The biggest spin-off related to spirituality and cultural practices, throughout many places in India, is a multi-billion dollar temple economy. There are too many players in it and only a few important dimensions have been discussed above. A bigger discussion can form the subject matter of other related articles.