I think it’s fair to say that I have little to no importance for my religious identity, or lack thereof. But that isn’t quite the case with most other people, especially in India. A country that thrives on its religious beliefs, of all kinds and varieties, with a strong space for faith and belief in their lives. Effectively, that makes religion one of the most important aspects of Indian culture.
When it comes to religious beliefs, no one falls short in their methods of appeasement and appreciation to the Almighty. From grand pooja’s and ceremonies to huge donations to temples and mosques – they’ll do it all. And fairly so, if you love something – you show it.
Sometimes, it can go overboard and launch into an entire Karan Johar wedding production set – but that aside, people do jump the rope a little when it comes to showing their devotion. It’s like a secret competition – “Who Loves God The Most?” – and the winner gets their ticket to heaven.
But no shade, you can show your fondness and dedication as you wish, it’s a free country after all. (and hopefully will remain that way, fingers crossed.) But here’s what all this grandeur under the name of religion is amounting to – over a million dollars annually, for the religion industry.
I know, that’s crazy. But it isn’t all that crazy when you look at the way religion is practised and how many people take part in it. Basically, religion has become one whole capitalist industry that profits off your religious beliefs and faith.
How Does Religious Capitalism Work?
Well, for one, India has always been great at turning our culture into a tourist attraction and the same goes for temples, mosques and churches around the country. Making certain temples and other worship areas an attraction for tourists is a clever way of minting money. Entry charges, photography charges and donations all make up the essence of the religious industry. Not that Indian citizens aren’t exempt to the same charges, but for foreign tourists, the prices range higher.
But if that isn’t enough – the religious industry doesn’t limit itself to these money-making tactics – it also explores the materialistic wants of the simple human brain. Gold, photo frames, idols, mithais, pandals, rituals, pandits and the list goes on. (oof, that’s a lot.)
Buying even three of these things makes the industry a decent amount per person. I know that places of worship do require maintenance and renovation, the priests need to be paid, the employers like the guards and caretakers need to be paid, it’s fair to need the money.
Another reason why gods and godmen have become richer in India is that liberalisation has generated a lot of new wealth, a large proportion of which remains outside the legal tax system as black money and finds its way into temples as donations into hundis (contribution boxes).
But when do we go from need to greed?
The Extravagance of Religious Money Making
I’m pretty sure we have all seen at least one religious godman of sorts or a simple priest in our life – adorned with gold and expensive watches with fancy cars. How does one get there from a meagre paying job? You make an industry of a non-profit element.
Let us all acknowledge that one, we do not need to pay a shit ton of money to please the Almighty – he has no use for it. Secondly, buying idols, photo frames, and gold are all non – essential parts of religion. I guess we have lost track of the spirituality and moved into the show of capitalistic religion and its likes.
An article from The Wire puts it in a very interesting light – “While 30% of India’s poor have to live on Rs 32 per day in villages and Rs 47 in cities, in houses of mud and straw, with no clothes worth the name to cover their bodies, no water or nutritious food and no toilets to ease themselves when alive, and cannot even afford to die because of no money to bury or cremate them after death, the gods in over 16 religious shrines in India have income which runs into crores. They live or travel out in silver and gold bedecked sanctums and chariots, clothed and ornamented in the finest of fine clothes and jewellery, fed sumptuously and sung to sleep.”
Festivals are the epitome of creating a clear picture of the type of industrialization that has taken place with respect to religion over the years. The grandeur of idol celebration during the time of Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and the likes has moved from community celebrations to individual celebrations trying to one-up one each other in the non-existent competition of “Who’s a better devotee?”
Dahi Handi turning into a full-fledged competition for prize money is a blatant example of the kind of commercialization that has taken the country by storm. The prizes range from anywhere between 5000 to a lakh and that kind of range is honestly overwhelming.
To clear the air around why this is such a big issue is the fact that one, God does not need your money or gold – so if the intention is to please him – I think there are many other ways to do that. Accumulating money and adorning idols more and more as the days go by adds to no spiritual value, which is the essence of religion.
Secondly, the fact that we give into this capitalization only generates more, making the “Gods” richer and the poor, poorer. Handing over the same kind of money to those in need, may just add to your tab and give you a ticket to heaven.
So the next time you want to get a little extra with your devotion, maybe think about everything else you can do with the money and where it will go if you hand it into the hands of the religious industry.