Saturday, November 29, 2003

Partying with God, too!
Vimla Patil

More and more young people — achievers and wannabes — are leaning towards religion and spirituality. From film stars and artists to finance and management whiz kids, all seem to swear by prayer, meditation and religious rituals!

"In this age of stress and cut-throat competition, every young, ambitious person needs to have clear goals," says Vishal Salgia, the scion of a wealthy family, which owns an upmarket store in Mumbai. "And God is one of the most desirable goals! Once the path to Him is set, all paths become crystal clear automatically. In our culture, every child is aware of the existence of God. Today, when young people go to sleep every night, sweating with worry about the next day, their self-esteem touching rock bottom at every small failure, God has become an absolute necessity. The fear of not achieving one’s goals, not coming up to the expectations of one’s parents or teachers or employers — or not finding a successful place in the competitive world — haunts every young person today. I myself could dispel all my fears by hitching my wagon to the Divine Being, who guides our destinies. My experience is that one finds instant direction in life by doing this. In my goal-oriented life, I need discipline desperately. My devotion to the Divine Being gives me this discipline. It gives me values, concentration, clarity and total freedom to achieve my business goals or personal goals and helps me enrich my relationships with people."

Vishal is quick to add that religion or spirituality cannot be forced on anyone. "The devotion to God must come as a self-engendered experience," he says. Vishal is a ‘staunch Jain’ and observes Paryushan every year. He lives by the rules of his religion though Hazratbal and the beautiful churches of Goa are an equally divine experience for him. "My religious journey began as a child when my grandmother took me to the pathshala attached to a Jain temple. I am now heading a fashion business. Socialising with celebrities and living in tinsel town are part of my life. Stress is also inherent but I am able to deal with all these because of my spirituality. I know what is temporary and what is permanent! I agree that I am part of the MTV culture. I work hard and party hard — but most of all, I party with God every day!"

Bhavdeep Jaipurwale is at the other end of the spectrum. He lives and breathes music. He directs pop groups with as much elan as he performs classical music concerts. In appearance, he is a young member of the MTV brigade. But he has another side to his life. He says, "My grandfather, the famous vocalist Pandit Laxmanprasad Jaipurwale, lived in an ashram. He used to sing there every Sunday. When he died, we lost touch with the ashram. Only on his death anniversary, I would sing there. In those days, with my large family, I lived in a small house and felt insecure about the next day. My income was not regular and I wasn’t certain about finding work. I had a family to support. One year, my grandfather’s barsi fell on a Sunday and I sang at the ashram. The ambience was so wonderful that I began to sing there every Sunday after that. As if by magic, my life changed for the better. I got work, both in the classical and pop music fields. I bought a house. Now I lead a more settled life. I believe the blessings of our elders and the grace of God is absolutely necessary for finding success and peace in life."Bhavdeep is today a busy music composer, singer, arranger and musician. He trained the Times popstar group this year. He may be seen with his long-haired, jean-clad buddies who sport earrings and tattoos and play percussion instruments and magical keyboards but he is also into spiritualism, devotional music and regular religious rituals.

Mayuresh Pai sings with Suresh Wadkar. "I am a devoted Hindu," he says, "Because I am proud that my religion says jano while other paths say mano. I want all young Hindus to be proud of their culture and religion because that is the fountain of our awareness, our civilisation, our personal and social values and our happiness. I perform pujas or rituals with an open-minded attitude. I can pray in any shrine. Following a path of devotion is a deeply felt need for me."

These are but three examples of modern young people, all of them busy racing down the path of success and self-worth. But on a larger scale, there is a huge trend among the young to find spiritual anchors to stabilise their lives. It is reported that lakhs of young people visited Kumbh Mela in Nashik this year. Joining sadhus and mahants, the page-three people from various cities of India sought their own brand of Nirvana in the holy city. Similarly, many thousands travelled to Ajmer for the Urs and participated in the Mount Mary Church fair in Mumbai.

Why has God suddenly gained phenomenal popularity among the hi-end urban youth? There are several reasons for this renaissance of spiritualism. Internationally, life for young people has become extremely stressful. Relationships, considered sacrosanct hitherto, are sacrificed on the altar of a selfish, fast-track lifestyle. The greed for money and success — as well as every luxury that money can buy — is so all-pervasive that there is no time to stand and stare. At the end of this greed for acquisition, there is no peace or happiness. Young people find that even the most hedonistic lifestyle needs an anchor. Alok Kejriwal, the super-successful CEO of contests2win and mobile2win, puts it as: "My ideal lifestyle is to live for the moment. I dream of having a home in Tuscany, cracking new deals every day, listening to the best world music live and — more importantly — meditating in an ancient temple."

Top celebrities in metro cities have proved the truth of this axiom. They work hard to earn their luxuries. But they are also addicted to spiritual pursuits. The innumerable ashrams, gurus, spiritual programmes and discourses are peopled with lakhs of devotees. Celebrity leadership has helped new spiritual brigades to seek greener pastures for the soul. The Art of Living movement founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has gained lakhs of followers after Rhea Pillai Dutt, Vijay Mallya and others became part of the movement. The number of foreigners coming to Prashanti Nilayam of Sathya Sai Baba, Mata Amritanandmayi’s ashram, ISKON temples and other spiritual centres has grown phenomenally. The sprouting of luxury yoga centres, meditation centres in countries which have a large number of people of Indian origin proves that spiritual path is attracting millions. Regular discourses by authoritative orators like Morari Bapu, Assaramji Bapu, Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj, Ramesh Oza, Jaya Row, Swami Parthasarathiji and scores of others are attended by huge gatherings. Additionally, India has traditionally been known for its spirituality. It is once again attracting success-fatigued seekers to a lifestyle of simplicity, devotion and rootedness. Young men and women who have everything they want, still find a vacuum in their lives when their relationships become traumatic, when there is confusion in their priorities and when new values are found wanting in relation to old values. No wonder, for India, spiritual tourism has become a big industry.

Add to this the fact that television shows enduring relationships built on firm cultural tenets and film stars swear by their devotion to God and their families, and you have millions of fertile young minds ready to accept that going back to the basics is the best way to find happiness in life. The newfound success of television channels like Sanskar and Aastha, have added a new dimension to the renewed popularity of spiritualism. Not only do they feature discourses of the orators mentioned above, but they also present armchair pilgrimages to the most beautiful temples and religious sites in India. Programmes like Yatra are an added bonus.

The breakdown of personal lives in the din of building public lives has driven millions to spiritualism. Even the most beautifully sculpted body needs a beautiful mind and soul to survive the ups and downs of life. As one rich, erudite young man says, "There is a desperate need in us to feel rooted. We can’t float around with western thought patterns for long. The western world-view is no doubt important to us. Technology and the miracles it can bring are a must for our progress. Money is extremely important. Success is imperative. A hedonistic social life is attractive. Partying and merry-making as if there is no tomorrow is our compulsion. So I say, why not party with God too?"