A day of both faith and fashion

| | in Oped
A day of both  faith and fashion

The tradition of Maha Shivaratri rubs shoulders with Valentine’s Day, even as market and technology continue to influence and capitalise on this happenstance

On this day, tradition and modernity shall be in full display. Millions will throng to the temples to offer obeisance to Lord Shiva on Maha Shivaratri. Across the country, one would also find reverberations of Valentine's day, which is a celebration of romance. While the faith in Shiva has been integral to the Hindu tradition since time immemorial, celebration of Valentine's day, a modern Western import, started to gain attention in metropolitan cities in the late 1990s. Over the years, in its distorted form, it turned into a selective urban craze and subsequently trickled down to become a style statement for most of India. Interestingly, market and technology have been intricately linked with these two ideas of faith and fashion, and it's fascinating to undertake a sociological analysis of the same.

Maha Shivaratri, which translates into great Shiva night, is the 14th day of the dark half of Hindu month of Magh (Febraury-March). One may wonder why night, when festivals are often observed during the day time as per Hindu tradition. Many legends go around Maha Shivaratri. According to one, and that also finds mention in the Encyclopedia of Hinduism by Constance Jones and James D Ryan, it was on this night when Shiva, in order to save the world from destruction, drank the terrible poison that emerged when the milk ocean was churned by the gods and demons to produce the nectar of immortality. Another legend has it that it is the night when Shiva performs the heavenly dance of creation, preservation and destruction. Others believe that this is the night when Shiva and Parvati got married.

While one doesn't find too much reference to these folklores in popular culture, it is fascinating to see how the market has captured  and capitalised on this matter of faith. For ages, Hindu temples have acted as a hub of economic activities and as centres which sustained lives of petty traders. By selling flowers, agarbattis, pots and other materials used in these rituals, many generations of such traders have sustained their livelihoods. With the passage of time, and as big businesses realised its huge potential, religion became more commercialised, our temples more crowded, both with people and materials. Corporate groups too did not want to miss an opportunity to grab a slice of this big cake of pooja materials — estimated to be worth Rs 10,000 crore — which was largely run as an unorganised sector till some time ago. So, while Baba Ramdev's Patanjali found itself to be an ideal fit to be in this business — it sells incense sticks (agarbatti) and other products and claims that it will create 50 million jobs by outsourcing manufacturing — other big brands too have stepped up their marketing. This includes Mysore-based NR group (largest agarbatti player), Cycle Pure brand of agarbatti with Amitabh Bachchan as brand ambassador and ITC group.

So, overpowering has been the influence of the market over matter of faith and this is not only confined to Hindu religion, but other religions as well that it has inspired few excellent Bollywood movies, most noticeably Oh My God and PK. The movies beautifully depict the aberrations that have grown proportionately to our leap of faith as well as intensification of market or what some may call commercialisation.

While it may have taken market some time and enormous talent  to cash in on faith and religious behaviour of people, it was far easier in case of fashion. In fact, Valentine's day, as is celebrated in India  as a celebration of romance, is termed a by-product of globalisation, advent of MTV culture and the cards industry. Market played a key role in fueling its embrace and the advent of malls, multiplexes and music industry only added fire to it. Today it's a rage among youth and is gradually becoming a norm of the Indian society.

Technology, interestingly, played a catalytic role in expansion of market of both faith and fashion. So there is a Shiv Ji Ki Aarti app available as an Androids app on Google Play, and there are online aarti websites where one can log in and perform pooja. YouTube is full of videos which can teach us methods of performing Shiv pooja or any other pooja for that matter and thousands of religious songs and mantras. One can book priests online and order for packaged materials designed to cater to pooja needs of all kinds. One can send hugs and kisses online, even as ecommerce players have made a beeline of offerings, including huge ‘Valentines’ discounts on ‘adorable gifts for him and her.’  Go online, and one is confronted with mindless frenzy to package and sell in name of faith and fashion.

One reckons it is a natural process of all transitional societies. What's important, faith and fashion beautifully co-exist and give us reason to celebrate and cement bondings, spiritual or romantic.

(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

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