India – the land of saints and spirits. History enmeshed so deep from the beginning of time that it’s simpler to term it as mythology instead. Every corner has a myth to make it all the more interesting. Some wise old men, some quacks, some enlightened and still some others pedalling enlightenment. Depending on your money’s worth, there are celestial experiences waiting a plenty that promise to deliver you nirvana.
The first strategic step to any branding is to identify the need and fulfil it. From The Art of Living, Inner Engineering, Brahma Kumari… there are brands aplenty that have identified the need of ‘spiritual salvation’. There is a market and there is a marketer. And all the basic rules are followed to the T. Through stating a mission, packaging products and services rendered. All have their celebrity brand endorsers and on-ground marketing executives claiming their brand as the best towards spiritual enlightenment. Each also has a USP – some propound a hugging saint, some dancing and still others claim to make you fly. While competition is immense, each spiritual brand acquires the age old techniques of breathing and meditation and coins a unique product name. ‘Have you done the Sudarshan Kriya? I am doing the Shunya Meditation.’ There’s even a gibberish meditation and so the jargon is flung across the uninitiated. Logos, dress codes, books, websites, the works… India has it all.
On my recent trip beyond the land of spirituality to the land of opportunity, I had a few interesting experiences of my own. The journey started at the International Airport in New Delhi, and an encounter with ‘Ishana’ or the Conscious One as it literally translates. Leaving aside my scepticism of branding spirituality, I walked into this 4,000 square feet area offering me pathways to become conscious. A quick stroll and I was ready to dispel it as another one of those fancy labels in the garb of Indian spiritual experience. Food stuff, books, music, massages – you name it! (Incidentally they also had a Thai massage room as part of the Indian experience). On my way out, I was intrigued by a pool of water with a Shiva Linga in its midst. A hostess explained that I could dip my feet in and could also stroll in the pool through a parikrama to massage my soles with the acupressure nodules at the base of the ankle deep consecrated pool. After a little hesitation (wondering if I will be charged for that too), I stepped in and did a few circles. It amused me to be walking bare feet in a pool of water at an airport. It did manage to get me conscious of myself performing such antics. I must admit, it did relax me. The cool water, the mild incense managed to relieve me of my stress. What was more relaxing? It was free.
My second experience was on the Capitola beach in California. As serendipity would have it, I met two young American girls intrigued with ‘the beyond ‘and the experiences that India had to offer. All three of us met while standing guard to a seagull, which was evidently hurt and had become a source of entertainment to young kids – pelting stones and poking sticks. That had all three of us surround the bird till the life guard cordoned off the area. In our brief chat, I was informed that Americans are being ripped off of huge money in the garb of branded spirituality and that they would want to experience it first hand in India. The New York Times’ best-seller list on religion and spirituality pops up 1,747 titles. Apparently, according to the LOHAS journal, there is a $10.63 billion market in the US for personal development, which includes CDs, books, tapes and seminars for mind body and soul. I sighed and wished them luck. Like a holy trinity we stood in silence for a bit. And then bid good-bye and went our own ways.
Maybe, it’s through these moments I can experience spirituality. Maybe, fancy brands are necessary, if anything, to make strangers meet and discuss. Maybe there are no paradigm shifts but brief moments in time on the edges of water bodies.
Branding spirituality may after all have its own work carved out in this complex matrix of existence. Maybe, I have to be more accepting and less sceptical. For who knows what I may miss in my nihilistic attitude.