Exploring the Market of Hindu Religion
BY: ISHITA DATTA RAY & TUHIN K. DAS
Oct 10, WEST BENGAL (SUN) Paper presented at
Ishita Datta Ray*
American Academy of Religions Conference
Research Scholar, Department of Economics
Kolkata 700 032
West Bengal, India
Tuhin K. Das#
Professor, Department of Economics
Kolkata 700 032
West Bengal, India
Karl Marx (1844) in one of his essays described religion as the opium of people and according to the eminent sociologist Gerhard Lenski (1963), religion was bound to fade out with the advancement of science and general enlightenment. But with the advent of time, the manifestation of religion has changed, and there entered into this arena various groups of religious intermediaries and institutes specialized in catering religious services to the individuals. Now it is believed that there would be no decline of demand for religion in general; although with the advancement of scientific knowledge the demand for certain religious products would decline.1
Moreover, in the present days, technology has contributed immensely to popularize re ligion. A new world has emerged where spirituality and religion adopt state-of-the-art technology to garner devotees. There exist various television channels, Internet sites and animation and robotics shows to fascinate people towards religion. In case of Hinduism, the religion has gone high -tech like other religions too. The Internet swarms with information about puja (worship), and a variety of sites are offering different long -distance puja packages on behalf of their customers at different places of pilgrimage. All payment transfers are managed by reputed international payment gateways like Click Bank (clickbank.com) and ICICI, maintaining cyber payment laws.
The growth of these newly emerged markets of different religions shows that
there exists a substantial demand for religion throughout the world.2 It has, therefore,
been felt that systematic studies of the consumers’ behaviour in all religions are
highly needed. National Science Foundation (NSF), Virginia, in a workshop held in
1993, recognized the necessity and urgency of scientific studies of religious
behaviour in different countries including India (NSF, 1993). They laid importance on
the research on the relationship between economics and religion in different nations
in order to keep track of the rapid and dynamic changes in the socio -economic
feature that is linked with religion-related events. A number of works on this subject
have been published during the last two decades where the issue is addressed from
different points of view, namely, “religious economics” and “economics of religion”. It
should be noted here that there is a clear distinction between “religious economics”
and “economics of religion”. The former attempts to study the economic system of
the countries and economic policies of the respective governments that are
influenced by particular religious thoughts.3 But the later tries to analyze the religious
behaviour of the individuals in the light of the rational economic behaviour (Kuran,
1994). To be more specific, economics of religion attempts to explain religious
behaviour of the individuals with the help of various theories of economics like theory
of utility-maximization and rational choice theory. There are other approaches too in
economics of religion where researchers aim either to measure the impact of
religious expenditures on different economic components like income, production
etc., or to assess the nature of the services provided by the religious institutions
assuming religion as one of the large service industries (Old s, 1994). All the
discussions in the present article are in the light of economics of religion, as the
objective of this study is to understand the Hindu religions’ market with special
reference to West Bengal.
West Bengal Scenario
Economics of religion re mains almost an untouched subject of research in
India (Das and Datta Ray, 2004). This happens possibly due to the preconception
among the scholars here that religion has nothing to do with economics and can only
be associated with the areas of interest of sociology, psychology and history. But
religion in India with the presence of an ever- increasing number of temples,
mosques, churches and places of pilgrimage cannot be isolated from the country’s
economy. The number of places of worship in India increased from 1,782,873 in
1991 to 2,398,650 in 2001, having a growth rate of 34.54 per cent (Census 1991,
Census 2001a). Most of these places of worship are frequently visited by a
considerable number of devotees and tourists as well. They also spend both time
and a substantial amount of money at those places. Their spending in turn generates
income at the religious places, and therefore religion-related activities have become
alternative employment opportunities to many people. Perhaps this is one of the
reasons behind the positive growth rate in the number of places of worship that has
been observed in different states of India. In this paper, however, we have restricted
our study within the state of West Bengal. The percentage growth rates of the places
of worship in different districts of West Bengal are presented in Table 1.
An increasing trend in the number of places of worship has been witnessed in
all the districts of the State. However, the rate of increase was not uniform in all the
districts. In some districts, it was less than 1 percent (viz., Puruliya), whereas in
some districts the growth rate was more than 10 percent (viz., 24 Parganas (N)). In
order to explain this phenomenon (i.e., variation in the annual average growth rate of
the places of worship), a weighted least-squares regression model has been applied.
The dependant (i.e., explained) variable in this model is the annual average growth
rate of the places of worship. The independent (i.e., explanatory) variables are the
annual average growth rates of income, decadal change in urban-rural population
ratio, and decadal change in male and female literacy rates in different districts of
West Bengal during the period 1991-2001. A dummy variable “Border Districts” have
also been used in the regression model as one of the independent variables (Border
district = 1 and Non -Border district = 0).4 Annual average growth rates of the places
of worship, decadal change in urban-rural population ratio, and decadal change in
male and female literacy rates have been calculated on the basis of the Census data
(Census, 2001c). The annual average growth rates of income have been computed
on the basis of the Net DDP (i.e., District Domestic Product) at constant prices
compiled by Bureau of Applied Economics and Statistics (2003). The results of the
weighted least-squares regression model are presented in Table 2.
Results in Table 2 show that the intercept in the weighted least-squares
regression model has a positive value, which implies that independent of the given
socio -economic factors, religious activities through the emergence of new religious
places has an inherent nature to grow. But the economic development of the districts
(i.e., annual average growth rate of DDP) has a negative influence on the growth of
religion’s market in West Bengal. Similarly, increasing number of male literates has a
negative influence on the explained variable. On the other hand, the parameter
associated with the decadal change in female literacy rate is positive, though it is not
significant (t-value being very low) in explaining the growth of religion’s market.5
According to the results of the model, border districts have experienced an increase
in the number of places of worship. This positive impact is in accordance with the
recent observation regarding the increase in the number of places of worship in the
border area (Ganguly, 1998 and Islam, 1999). Lastly, there is a positive impact of the
change in urban-rural population ratio in the districts of West Bengal on the annual
average growth rate of the places of worship. Here it should be taken into account
that most of the variables (except the “intercept” and the dummy variable for “Border
district”) are not significant in explaining the religion’s market in the State. The overall
fitness of the model, however, is satisfactory (R -Square being more than 0.7).
The above empirical results indicate that a market of religion exists in the
State, and this market is not significantly (in terms of t-values) influenced by the
economic health, literacy and urbanization. It means that there always exists a
demand for the religious services in the State, which are provided by these evergrowing
places of worship. But at present no database on religious expenditures is
available in India so that the demand for religious services could be estimated. For
the need of data, therefore, a field survey was conducted in the year 2002 -03 to
collect relevant information regarding religious behaviour of the people belonging to
Hindu religion. The survey area was restricted within the Kolkata metropolitan area
and its suburbs in West Bengal. A purposive sampling technique was used for the
collection of data encompassing (almost) equal proportion of the male and female
respondents belonging to various income groups with different education levels. The
number of households surveyed was 536 among which the response rate was
around 83 percent. They were surveyed through personal questionnaire method.
Pattern of Religious Expenditures
The survey provided evidence that both male and female respondents
incurred religious expenditures both at home and outside home, mainly temples.
Expenditures for performing religious rite at home was made by 89 per cent of the
respondents, and that for performing religious rite at outside religious places were
made by 84 percent of the respondents. 79.66 percent of them were observed to
spend money for performing religious rite both at home and outside. 7.26 percent of
the respondents did not incur any religious expenditure at all, but the religious
expenditures either at home or outside places were made by 13.08 percent only.
Respondents perform religious rite at home and visit outside religious places for
various reasons. The major reasons behind their religious activities are “to obtain
mental peace”, “to improve state of health”, “to attain financial affluence”, “family
tradition” and so on. A number of respondents also believe that they achieved the
desired goal by performing religious rites both at home and outside places.
Percentage distribution of respondents according to their purposes of visit outside
temples and their perceived outcomes are presented in Table 3. It is interesting to
observe that less than 10 per cent of the devotees strictly believe that they did not
achieve the desired results.
Generally, individuals belonging to Hindu religion spend money, or time, or
both to perform their religious rite at home. They also visit outside religious places,
namely temples, places of guru (god man) and places of pilgrimage. At home, the
religious rite is performed as a household activity, where one or more family
members take active part in it. Therefore, religious activities performed at home are
not the result of an individual’s decision-making process; rather it often is a collective
decision of the adult members of the household. At home the religious activity is a
day-to-day affair, and sometimes, special religious performance is observed once or
twice a year in the presence of the family members and close acquaintances.
Another head of religious expenditures of the households is the contribution
to religious festivals. Annual religious festivals like Durga Puja and Kali Puja have
some significant role to play in the socio-economic life of any Hindu household, not
only from the social, ethnic and cultural point of view but also from the economic
viewpoint. Generally, a group of individuals of the locality organizes these festivals
collectively and there is always some social pressure to join the celebration.
Contribution to these religious festivals consists of a substantial part of the religious
expenditures of the households of the respondents. Also the individuals often donate
money to various religious organizations and this donation is the result of an
individual’s decision -making process. The annual average religious expenditures
incurred by a household at home and annual average religious expenditures incurred
by an individual respondent at different religious places outside home are presented
in Table 4. The average time (in hours) spent per annum by a respondent who
performs religious rite at home along with the average frequency of visits per annum
to different outside religious places are also shown in the same table.
Contrary to the religious activities performed at home, visiting the place of a
guru or a temple is an individual’s decision. In this study, the temples have been
classified, for the sake of analysis, into three broad categories, namely, C-I, C-II and
C-III. The temples of category C-1 are the newly emerged small temples, which are
usually built on the side of the road, practically having no space to accommodate the
devotees. So, the devotees of these temples are mostly the pedestrians and some
women of the locality. The people who run these temples generally belong to the
informal sector, or unemployed persons or petty traders who collect money
contributed by the devotees as homage. These sorts of temples are more or less
unorganized and, generally, no financial records of the income and expenditures of
these temples are maintained. As for the case of the second category of temples
(i.e., C-II), some of them were built ages back, whereas some of them are recent
phenomena. A significant number of devotees gather in these temples to pay their
homage and donate money and other articles. These sorts of temples are organized
to some extent and somehow maintain their accounts. The temples belonging to the
third category (i.e., C-III) attract a very large number of devotees even from long
distance everyday, and these temples ha ve almost been turned into places of
Regarding the environment of the temples, C-II temples are considered to be
best, since they are less crowded than C-III, and more spacious than roadside small
temples (i.e., C-I). Examples of the C-II temples are Lake Kalibari (on Southern
Avenue), Tripureshwari Temple (at Garia), Bipattarini Temple (at Rajpur), and so on.
Examples of the temples of the third category are Kalighat Temple, Dakshineshwar
Temple, Tarakeshwar Temple, etc. These temples, especially the C-III temples,
collect huge sum of money donated by the devotees as homage, and act like an
organized economic sector that contributes to the economy by providing
employments, paying taxes to government, etc. They also generate subsidiary
employment for the petty traders having shops in the vicinity of the temples, and by
stimulating various small-scale industries that manufacture different articles used for
the purpose of worship.
The places of pilgrimage enjoy some distinctive character. There exist some
places that attract a regular flow of devotees throughout the year and a micro
economy always originates around these places of pilgrimage. Often these places
become places of tourism that are visited by the devotees and by the tourists as well
(Chattopadhyay, 1995). Interestingly, these pilgrim centres cannot always be
separated from the temples of category C-III. There exists another category of places
of pilgrimage that are seasonal in nature, i.e., devotees congregate there during a
particular time of the year. Examples of this type are the Gangasagar Fair and the
Kenduli Fair where religious fairs are held at some auspicious time of the year.
The respondents of the survey made the largest amount of their religious
expenditures at home. The expenditures incurred at home consist of 2.61 percent of
the total religious expenditures (including all religious and secular goods and
services) by households in a year. In Table 5, the religious performances at outside
places are treated separately as the visit to outside religious places is not the
decision of the household but of an individual. The table shows the distribution of
average religious spending by the individual respondents at different religious places
outside home. Here expenditures incurred at the places of pilgrimage have been
omitted as in most of the cases spending on tourism and pilgrimage cannot be
dissociated from each other.
The expenditure pattern presented in Table 5 is more or less in accordance
with the findings of other studies mentioned earlier. The average expenditures
incurred by women for almost all sorts of religious activities are usually higher than
the religious expenditures incurred by men. It is also interesting to observe that the
average expenditure for all types of religious activities, in general, increase with age
for both the male and the female respondents. However, women’s religious spending
was found to decline with increasing age at some religious places like temples of
category C-1 and C-III. This happens because aged women prefer those religious
places where they can spend more time in peaceful ambience. But these types of
temples either remain crowded or have little space to accommodate them. Generally,
elderly women prefer to perform religious rite at home than going to outside religious
places except temples of category C-II. Results in Table 6 also confirm this aspect. It
is observed in Table 6 that the female respondents of age higher than 40 years had
spent more time at home compared to the younger women, and their frequency of
visits to almost all categories of temple was less too.
For male devotees, the maximum religious expenditure was observed at the
places of Guru, where they possibly enjoy the peaceful environment and the
companionship of the persons belonging to the same socio-economic strata. From
the information provided by Table 5, it is clear that the concept of the qu ality of the
religious services like “club goods” prevails among the respondents (both male and
female). People are now demanding not only religious services but also that type of
religious services, which possess the quality appropriate to their socio -economic
status. This hypothesis can also be justified if we look at the regression analysis
between different components of religious expenditures and different socio -economic
features (Tables 7 and 8). It is observed from the econometric analysis that “family
income” has a positive influence on all religious activities of the respondents, and it is
a significant variable (observing t-values) in explaining their religiosity.
It is also evident from the results that the behavioural pattern of the male
respondents is different at the “places of guru” (although with very low significance
level of the associated parameters except “age”). Their expenditures at these
religious places are not influenced negatively by the socio-economic variables like
“age”, “education” and “family income”, however, which is not true for other religious
activities. In other religious activities, education has always a negative impact. In
some cases, the variable “age” has also a negative impact. So, it appears that the
male respondents (particularly, the elderly persons) assume the “place of guru” not
like just another religious place, but more like a club, i.e., a place of gathering where
they can meet people belonging to the same socio-economic strata. Such distinctive
behaviour is ob served too for female respondents in the case of temples of category
C-II. Three explanatory variables including “education” have positive influences on
their expenditures at these religious places, but with low significance level. Unlike
male respondents, old age, generally, excludes female respondents from going to
outside religious places.
Substitutability and Complementariness
The information provided in the above tables and the results of the
econometric analysis show that there exists a demand for religious services in West
Bengal. This demand sequentially stimulates the growth of the market of religion in
this State to cater people from different socio-economic backgrounds. In this market
there are a number of suppliers whose religious services vary in quality (viz., some
religious firms try to offer clean environment and controlled crowd to the worshippers,
whereas some other religious firms try to offer services in a fashion so that devotees
need not spend much time for paying homage). It is, therefore, logical to assume that
there exists a sort of competition in the market of religion to draw devotees with
discrimination. But due to lack of information from the suppliers’ side, it is difficult to
capture all the aspects of this competitive market. Alternatively, an attempt has been
made in this study to observe the nature of substitutability and complementariness of
different religious services through a bivariate correlation matrix among the pattern of
expenditures of the surveyed people at various religious places.
Table 9 shows the correlations among the pattern of expenditures incurred by
the respondents at different places of worship. It is observed from the correlation
matrix that temples of category C-II (for the female devotees) and “places of guru”
(for the male devotees) are becoming substitutes of the C-III type temples (having
negative correlation). Similarly, C-I type temples are competing with the “places of
guru”, and also with the temples of category C-II as revealed through the negative
correlation between the expenditures incurred at these three places. Contrary to this,
temples of category C-I and C-III are supposed to be complementary to each other.
Especially the female devotees, who spend money at the C-I type temples, also
spend at the temples of type C-III (possessing high positive correlation).
From the nature of substitutability and complementariness of different
religious services, therefore, it may be concluded that there prevails a competitive
religious market as far as Hindu religion is concerned. For example, the traditional
well-known temples, which were patronized once by rich aristocrats, are now facing
competition from the religious services offered at the places of guru. On the other
hand, newly emerged roadside small temples are now becoming competitors of the
well-known local temples. Possibly because of this competition, a new trend in
providing services by the religious firms has been observed in this State through the
assurance of safety, security and clean environment (viz., insurance of the devotees
at Dakshineshwar temple). In near future, one may expect that religious services in
this State would not be different from the other secular services, and will be
integrated with the economy very well.
1 Nowadays, nobody approaches the priest for the explanation of natural phenomena like
earthquake, flood or volcanic eruption; therefore, the scope of religion is limited in this aspect.
2 The world is experiencing a resurgence of religion in almost every country for the last few
years. The increasing number of church attendance and religious contribution in developed
countries; the break-up of Soviet Union and emergence of independent religious states like
Tazikistan, Kazakistan, Uzbekistan; the rising of various fundamentalist groups in Central
Asia; the formation of government in India by political parties guided by religious thoughts -
all indicate to the same phenomenon. Today religion is, no doubt, playing a dominant role in
human society and exerting significant influence on the socio-economic life of any country.
3 The works of Max Weber (1956) actually belong to religious economics rather than
economics of religion. He initiated the study on the contribution of religious thought on the
economic policy and achievement of a country.
4 Border Districts are the districts adjacent to the international borders, i.e., border between
India and Bangladesh, and border between India and Bhutan.
5 A survey in the European countries exhibited that women demand religion more compared
to men (but it is independent of age and education). Jagodzinski and Greeley discussed in
detail the results of the survey in a website named www.agreeley.com.
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on the order with Bangladesh has Doubled since the Demolition of the Babri Masjid”, The
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Deutsche - Franzosische Jahrbucher, 1844), Reinhold Niebuhr composed Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels on Religion, New York: Schocken Books, pp. 41.
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Massachusetts”, Journal of Political Economy, vol. 102, No. 2.