India's religious take to tech-savvy blessings

Posted Aug 5, 2014 by Sravanth Verma
India is a $30 billion religious and spirituality market of gods, temples and pilgrimages, and now that the 21st century is here, tech companies are jumping onto the bandwagon.
Shiva  as a teacher  at the Madurai temple in South India.
Shiva, as a teacher, at the Madurai temple in South India.
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Goonjan Mall is one such "faithful" entrepreneur who launched a portal where you can buy prasad from over 50 temples in India delivered to their doorsteps. Prasad is an offering of food offering made to a deity and later distributed to devotees who seek divine blessing. Many Indian temples however have long queues, massive crowds and troublesome touts who spoil the whole experience of receiving what is supposed to be divine benediction. Mall's website seeks to take away all that rigmarole.
Mall had his flash of inspiration while visiting the Karni Mata temple in the eastern Indian state of Rajasthan, during the Navratri festival. "The idea that religion must be simplified and technology was the perfect tool came in a flash," he said. A senior analyst at Bain & Company at the time, he quit his job and launched the website. His website also organizes poojas — prayer rituals — at these temples and sells a range of religious items such as rudraksha beads and yantras.
The website is clocking 2,500 daily visitors according to CNBC and has 120,000 Facebook followers, and is financially backed by investment company "India's religious market is a huge white space which is migrating to the internet with the changing pace of social lives," said K Ganesh, founder of the company who, along with his wife Meena have already sold several startups, including TutorVista, Marketics Technologies and Customer Asset, to acquirers like UK's Pearson, WNS and ICICI. "Here is a market that is both recession-proof and price inelastic. Unlike other sectors it is not cyclical because people resort to faith in good times and bad times. Also nobody negotiates with God!" he added.
"Religion is the most viral business in India and we are invested not just in terms of money but getting the right product out, setting pricing to service standards and connecting the dots between technology, resources and facilities that enable believers to reach out to their faith," said Nandini Guglani, co-founder of Morpheus, which invested $10,000 seed money into OnlinePrasad.
Similar websites offering a range of services from astrology to guided meditation have also appeared in the past few years, with the more popular ones such as Isha Kriya drawing close to 900,000 visits a month. With 40 million people in India expected to transact online in 2014, first-movers in this market niche will have an advantage.