For devotees across India, the days of making long pilgrimages to a temple or braving serpentine queues for a glimpse of their favourite deity may be over. A number of religious portals are offering online blessings and prayer by proxy. The result: Devotees can now conduct pujas from the comfort of their homes.
All that the ‘yajman’ (host) needs to do is log on to the site, order a puja of choice from among a roster of temples, provide details such as the name, ‘gotra’, star alignment and place, make an online payment, and get the blessing shipped to them. This blessing will include a parcel carrying the prayer DVD, dried flowers, vibhuti, sandalwood and vermilion.
Websites like Saranam.com, epuja.co.in and eprarthana.com charge anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 2,000, depending on the temple’s popularity.
For example, a package of all the eight Ashtavinayak temples in Maharashtra will cost Rs 1,800 and a puja at Kolkata’s Kalighat Kali Devi Temple will cost Rs 600. A remedy puja package for Sarpa Dosham (snake curse) in three temples – Nagaraja Temple in Nagercoil, Thirunageswaram Rahu Bhagavan Temple and Keezhperumpallam Kethu Bhagavan Temple (all in Tamil Nadu) – will cost Rs 864.
Shivakumar, who launched Mumbai-based epuja last month, said the e-commerce venture acts as a bridge between the temples and the devotees. “People have specific needs such as a puja in the famous Maha Saraswathi Amman temple in Tamil Nadu on the day of their child’s important exam, or a bhog in the famous Thirumanancheri temple of Shiva on the wedding day. People today are either too distant or too busy to take the journey, which is where we help them,” he said.
The firm has tie-ups with more than 3,600 temples from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and directly works with the temple management, which ships the prasad to the clients. Saranam and eprarthana, on the other hand, have adopted an agent-based model, where trained freelancers attached with the sites go to the temples, get the puja done in the clients’ name and ship the parcels themselves.
Both portals began at the turn of the millennium and initially offered various astrological and religious services mainly to non-resident Indians (NRIs) and foreigners. However, after noticing a sudden surge in domestic orders, the sites have recently revamped to better service the resident Indians even as orders from NRIs continue to form the bulk of the business. “Locals are increasingly shedding their apprehension with online payments and services, and are getting busier,” said Mahesh Mohanan, of Tamil Nadu-based Saranam.
Asked about the viability of the business in an age where several famous temples have their own websites, which also offer virtual pujas, Mohanan said, “Out of the more than two lakh temples in India, not more than ten offer puja by order. So the requirement is huge.”
Narendra Rane, chairman of Siddhivinayak Trust, which is on the service list of all the sites, said the trend is benefits devotees in a big way, and simply reflects the changing times. Nikhil Goswami, priest with Vrindavan’s famous Banke Bihari Temple, who has been conducting such pujas for a couple of months now, however, said though the trend is a need of the modern age, puja by proxy can never give the same ‘phal’ as an actual puja.
Chennai-based AM Arivudai Nambi of eprarthana, which has over 1,000 temples on the list, and recently launched a mobile app to facilitate the tracking of the puja order status, said, “We are enabling a process and serving an existing need. We are fulfilling near impossible desires such as puja archana at Garbarakshambigai Temple in Kumbakonam during pregnancy. Most can’t make the journey,” he said.
In any case, the clients are not complaining. Ravi Kumar, a banker, said, “A few months ago, I took a darshan at Navagraha temples for better career prospects. Two weeks ago, I saw a buy-one-get-one-free puja offer for Palaivananathar Temple, and immediately bought it for me and my friend. I, in fact, have become addicted to pujas now.”