Religious services startups help devotees seek divine intervention online amid coronavirus lockdown
At times of worries and sickness, reaching out to the supreme power or ‘God’ for relief is natural for many. While the pandemic scare and coronavirus panic may make one turn to prayers to overcome the fears, however, the need to lock down the nation for controlling the pandemic has left people unable to visit even places of worship.
Not being able to reach out to deities has led many to seek help from spiritual startups in India, who are using technology to help people complete their puja and rites. According to stakeholders of this segment, the demand for online religious services is experiencing a huge leap amid the lockdown.
According to Ajay V, Founder and CEO of 27 Mantraa, the demand for virtual puja has shot up by 40 percent this month amid the lockdown. Speaking to YourStory, Ajay claimed that amid the 21-day lockdown, many from India and abroad requested for Mrityunjaya puja and Dhanvantari puja.
Thanjavur-based religious concierge service provider 27 Mantraa allows users to complete Hindu religious rituals online, performed at specific temples. It allows people to conduct archana or a remedial pooja or homam, arranging for e-prasad delivery, and organising spiritual yantras and darshan (viewing) at temples online.
According to Ajay, the startup’s clients watch the pujas live through messenger or WhatsApp video calls, while priests conducting the puja from their own puja rooms, chanting mantras, and doing japas as per the clients’ requirement.
Increasing demand for services
“This period, in a way, has given us a lot of boost,” says Ashwani Garg, Co-founder and CEO of VR Devotee (Kalpnik). He adds, “People cannot go to the temples because of the lockdown, and thus our user traffic has gone through the roof. Our daily traffic is almost 20 to 50 percent higher.”
Speaking to YourStory, Ashwani said the lockdown period had bolstered the need for the startup’s services. Earlier, the Kalpnik team had to visit temples and request them to stream their puja online, but now places of worship were reaching out to the company to help them reach their devotees online.
Bengaluru-based Kalpanik Technologies, or VR Devotee, is helping bring God nearer to devotees. Through its mobile application, the startup is bringing religious rituals live from places of worship on a virtual reality (VR) platform.
“The shift towards digital worship was already taking place, but it has gone viral. Right now, there is a demand and a supply at the same time,” Ashwani adds. He also believes that the momentum will continue in the future, as even after the coronavirus pandemic is resolved, people might vary of leaving houses and going to crowded places like temples.
Problems in meeting demands
While the lockdown has led people to opt for online religious services, startups are finding it difficult to meet the needs of the users.
Funeral management service provider Mokshshil’s Co-founder Bilva Desai Singh says the demand has increased as people are not getting help from families and friends for performing funeral services and last rites due to the lockdown.
However, the Ahmedabad-based startup is finding it increasingly difficult to provide services as the technology startup also involves human engagement for the rites and rituals. “While the government has allowed funeral management as a necessary service, we are facing difficulties as we cannot get hold of pandits or helpers to conduct puja and the rites,” Bilva says.
At present, Bilva says his startup is providing users with a kit to help them conduct the basic rituals on their own, but not every family is satisfied without completing the entire puja.
Similarly, 27 Mantraa’s Ajay says that while users' demand for online pujas has increased, it is having difficulties in conducting the puja itself due to lower availability of puja materials, flowers, etc.
He adds that payments from most clients are getting stuck due to restrictions on banking hours and transports.
Despite the challenges, these startups have ramped up their efforts to help people seek divine intervention during these distressing times.
(Editing by Suman Singh)