Concentrating on two of the biggest religious organisations in contemporary times, in terms of followership, economic and political clout, media visibility and popularity, Patanjali Yogpeeth and Art of Living Foundation, this book will examine the deepening bonds between religious ideology, globalised markets, nationalist politics and the discourse of development.
One part of the study is about the growth of the abovementioned organisations, with beginnings in specific methods of practising yoga, pranayama, ayurveda popularised by two Hindu gurus Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar. This helped create a niche clientele in the urban-middle classes which later proliferated into membership in other classes also. With heavy media support since the turn of the millennium, the study attempts to show how these movements quickly became organised in corporatised structures, making huge ashrams near Haridwar and Bangalore respectively with help from the government, offices and shops in almost every city.
Another part of the study is about negotiations of dichotomies of tradition and modernity, old and new, self and foreign, religion and science and the meanings these take in organisational endevours like the Art of Living and Patanjali Yogpeeth. On the one hand pranayama courses and mass yoga camps for mental and physical well-being had all the elements of a product in a capitalist market; it is time-bound, fixed price, standardised. On the other hand the gurus frequently invoke tradition and heritage of a pre-capitalist era in referring to Vedic and Upanishadic morality and rituals and use Hindu symbols. How far does the resolution of these dichotomies contribute to identity assertion, particularly a single Hindu identity, and help mobilise people for nationalist politics and campaigns? This question is especially pertinent given the widespread influence of figures like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the role they played in the 2014 General Election campaign in India.
The organisations also take up developmental activities from education to healthcare, to environmental concerns and peace-keeping in conflict zones in India and abroad. These ventures are, according to the gurus a continuation of the Hindu/ Indian heritage of seva or spiritual service and purushartha or the relentless pursuit of righteous conduct. The study tries to look at the alliances between religious organisations, government and non-government bodies, international funding and policy making bodies for successful execution of these campaigns. The study problematises notions of development, health, aid in conflict areas that are being pushed in the name of philanthropy and organised Hinduism’s participation in global neo-liberal politics.
Srirupa Bhattacharya was awarded a PhD in 2016 from Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. I was an Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) Doctoral Fellow from 2013 to 2015 and I have taught undergraduate Sociology from 2016 to 2021 in Delhi University. During my term at IIAS I will be working on turning my doctoral thesis into a book, likely to be published by Cambridge University Press.