Outsourcing gets religion in India

Is nothing sacred? The hard-nosed commercialism that has spawned a boom in international business outsourcing is catching on in the religious world.

In the West, there is a growing shortage of holy men of all religions, and the costs of spiritual services are on the rise.

An opportunity, then, for India, where high-quality, low-cost “religious outsourcing” is becoming big business.

Catholics have led the way, but Sikhs and Hindus are catching on fast.

Blessed are the dealmakers

The main centre so far for religious outsourcing has been the southern state of Kerala, the stronghold of the Catholic Church in India.

A recruitment crisis in the Catholic Church in the West has led to an increasing flow of requests for intercessory prayers and special masses to be directed to Kerala, according to the region’s authorities.

Father Babu Joseph Karakombil, a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told BBC News Online that, while paid-for mass intentions have always been a tradition of the church, easier communications have led to a boom in demand.

“For some priests, foreign mass intentions have become a valuable source of income,” he said.

But despite the material rewards of selling their services to foreign clients, “99.5% of our priests are still performing masses for Indian worshippers,” Father Babu insisted.

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Far more potentially valuable is the growth of religious outsourcing among India’s bigger religions.

In the Sikh community, the practice of Akhand Path, a marathon reading of the holy scripture of Guru Granth Sahib to bring luck or overcome a problem, has been a boom area.

This is gruelling and highly specialised work.

A 48-hour reading in a Western temple can cost $1,000; in India, the cost is as little as 5,000 rupees ($108).

Hindu pujas, a form of prayer that varies from simple home worship to a full temple ritual, is also increasingly being outsourced.

Dot.com devotions

This year, a group of Hindus set up a website, puja.by-choice.com, to channel puja requests from the internet to Indian temples.

Pujas performed by high-caste “Pundit” priests, a rarity outside India, are seen as especially valuable.

The site has handled requests from 26 countries, only 10% of which come from non-resident Indians.

Fees charged are relatively competitive. A temple in India will charge up to 3,000 rupees for a full-dress puja of the finest quality; puja.by-choice.com packages start at $45, and range as high as $350 for the eradication of black magic, or the blessings of wealth.

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