Book: For God’s Sake
Author: Ambi Parameswaran
Publisher: Portfolio, Penguin
Ambi Parameswaran has spent many years trying to find the answers to religion-based questions that no one seems to ask. These include ‘Why has the bindi disappeared from advertisements?’, ‘What can Harvard Business School learn from the Kumbh mela’, ‘Are Muslims more open-minded shoppers’ and so. In his latest book, For God’s Sake he attempts to answer these questions and more.
An excerpt from the chapter titled ‘God Okay, Gandhi Not Okay’.
While Islam abhors idolatry, Indian Christians do have a penchant for images and idols, but to a lesser degree than their Hindu brethren.
It is but natural that, with increasing affluence, Indians are also willing to splurge on expensive idols, not necessarily the types described in the holy scriptures.
Leiber, a fashion brand, recently arrived in India with the Ganesha minaudière, a handbag studded with 12,000 Swarovski crystals and priced at an eye-popping Rs 2.6 lakh. The Spanish porcelain luxury brand Lladro claims that religion as a segment contributes to about 30 per cent of their total sales in India. Their Spirit of India collection includes the goddess Lakshmi, the Veena Ganesha, Bansuri Ganesha, Dancing Ganesha and the Radha Krishna priced between Rs 55,000 and Rs 2.5 lakh.
Ma Passion, which makes idols with precious stones, has a Ma Passion Ganesha idol in adventurine (popularly known as Indian jade) for, hold your breath, Rs 25 lakh. Indian jewellers always knew of the potential of gods cast in gold and silver. Now, we are seeing international brands too jumping on to the religion bandwagon with all kinds of materials, not just gold and silver.
The Austrian brand Swarovski has offered their crystals to producers who want to decorate religious fi gurines. The Gitanjali lifestyle group seems to be experimenting with the religious gifting market in earnest. It has even created a brand with a foreign-sounding name, Adler & Roth, to tap the growing premium idol market. Adler & Roth has a divinity collection and the advertisement says that the images are ‘Handcrafted by generations of Master Craftsmen, using resin and the fi nest clay from the riverbeds of the holy Ganges and the purist (sic) of pure sterling Silver and brass. The Divinity Collection brings a rich heritage of traditional elegance to the beauty of your home.’ It is a bit like the apparel brand Peter England, which was created in Bangalore by Madura Coats and is close to 10,000 kilometrefrom England. Chances are that many other jewellers will also jump on to this exotic bandwagon.
In yet another innovation, Gitanjali Gems has set up an ATM-type vending booth in Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple. The vending machine dispenses gold and silver coins of various sizes with the images of the temple’s reigning deity. This is an interesting experiment since it capitalizes on the immediacy of a temple visit with the purchase of an expensive gold or silver memento. Till now, the temple used to sell ceramic and marble figurines. While they used to have on sale small coins with the Ganesha figure on it, setting up a dispensing machine is a first. I only wonder if the purchase of a god-themed gold or silver coin from a vending machine can by any stretch of the imagination be construed as a sign of piety. But then we are living in a fast-changing, tech-savvy material world. We collect our Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, every week from an inanimate machine, the ATM. So why not a coin with a Lakshmi impression on it? Those of you who have been to Las Vegas would have been fascinated by the array of slot machines that greet you at the airport. So here is a suggestion, how about a Venkateshwara coin vending machine at Tirupati airport, just in case you forgot to pick up a coin for your friends at the temple! If crystals are already here, can luxury watches be far behind?
Century, a luxury brand from Rodeo Drive, has launched a Lord Venkateshwara watch and here are its specifi cations: red gold 18 carat; white dial set in diamonds, rubies and emeralds; Swiss movement/automatic; leather strap; gold deployment clasp; and limited to just 333 pieces; price available on request.
While Hindutva activists are quick to raise a red fl ag against Valentine’s Day, they seem to have no qualms with a Ganapati that is probably handcrafted by a beef-eating Spaniard.
The market for luxury goods with a religious-theme is going to explode in India and Lladro seem to have latched on to an early trend. When Indians want to indulge in luxury goods, it is likely that they also look for some indication of value. So a premium watch which is silver or 18 carat gold gets better acceptance. By bringing in a religious angle, luxury marketers can bridge this value chasm in the mind of an Indian consumer.