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By –  Sonavi Desai

Religion influences every sphere of human life and brings about moral cohesiveness in social relations and interactions. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Prayer is the only means of bringing about orderliness and peace in our daily acts.” At a different level, religion shows the way to the divine and enables us to recognise our own divinity.

Religion goes through cyclical periods of vibrancy and lethargy; over time its practice is often lost through disuse. This brings to the fore the dichotomy between living a religious life through right action and the necessity of a place of worship to prove religious credentials. In Gandhi’s words “darshan is not a substitute for right action, it is an encouragement for it.” Worshipping in a religious abode is therefore an act of faith, an answer to man’s desire for the unseen. Today, in many parts of the world, a large number of people have rejected religion, or at least, the organized method of worship that envisages going to temples and churches. And this has led to what many see as the ‘corporatising’ of worship.

Modern religion is responding to the need for practical and user-friendly places of worship to attract worshippers. In the US, many churches are being managed on corporate models, providing techno-savvy amenities and services that include contemporary music, banks, pharmacies, martial arts, help with tax forms and even real-estate agents. The emphasis is on providing a high quality of service that will see members return on a regular basis. In India too, the concept of temples is changing, with huge complexes that include theatres, gardens, fast-food and child-friendly facilities. The results are encouraging, attracting more worshippers, especially young people.

Modern places of worship are packaging religion according to demand and reaching out to those who would otherwise have remained beyond their pale. Critics however question the content wrapped in the attractive exterior. The essence of religion is to guide a person towards spiritual development. It is for the individual to decide what he seeks and where he should seek it, for every one of us is responsible for our own inner growth or lack of it.


(Published in DNA, 20.04.06)

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