Pragya Upadhyay has been dreaming of a trip to Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. She believes that blessings from the revered ‘remover of obstacles’ at the Bada Ganesh Mandir will set things right in her turbulent life. “I wish to offer a ‘Modak Chadhava’ at the Bada Ganesh Mandir. That’s my deepest desire,” says the Pune-based homemaker.
Like Pragya, there are millions of devotees in India who seek divine intervention, however, they’re faced by myriad challenges such as travel, logistics, health and finances among others.
Prashant Sachan, a second-time entrepreneur, recognised this huge, hitherto unmet demand vis-à-vis the spiritual and devotional needs of Indians. He founded Sri Mandir, an initiative by AppsForBharat - India’s first devotional app - in November 2020 to cater to this demand.
“As we are progressing, we are enabling more users to connect with national and regional temples, which are difficult to travel to on a regular basis,” says the Founder and CEO of the Bengaluru-based startup. The app has multi-language capabilities and the first set of regional languages released include Gujarati, Marathi, Bhojpuri, Haryanvi and Rajasthani.
India, a digitally native nation with over 600 million smartphone users, has more than 65% of its population under the age of 35. With healthcare, shopping, entertainment, and various aspects of life having moved into the online space, particularly since the onset of the pandemic, digital shrines are the next frontier.
“We, Indians, have a deep, personal relationship with our gods. Setting up personal shrines in our homes, workplaces, automobiles, and even wallets is an investment in our faith,” notes Sachan, an IIT Bombay alumnus. Sri Mandir has brought this behaviour online, with digital shines built into smartphones.
The app gives users a 10x better experience, claims the entrepreneur. It enables users to perform chadhavas, (offering), aartis, offer holy flowers, blow the conch shell, read their daily panchang. And that too from the comfort of their homes.
“Sri Mandir curates a customised user experience based on the choice of deity to support the users’ devotional relationship. This includes suggestion of bhajans, literature, aarti sangraha, stotra, and mantra features in the application,” says the entrepreneur, making a strong case for digital shrines.
There are about 10K temples in India with a keen regional or national significance. An average devotee visits 10-20 of these temples in their lifetime. “For temples that are located far away, a visit once or twice in one’s lifetime is the average. However, devotees aspire to visit these temples more often, to make offerings, participate in pujas,” he reasons.
Sri Mandir makes that possible. The app provides comprehensive services, such as information regarding puja vidhi, puja ka samay; literature on wide-ranging topics such as upcoming vrats, katha pertaining to the vrat, and so on.
The puja service, for instance, enables users to choose from a vast library of pujas for varied intents. On choosing a puja, the user is notified via the app. The user then receives a recording of the puja as well as the holy prasad at their registered address, seamlessly from the temple.
Sense of community
Traditionally, devotional practices are passed down from generation to generation. However, in contemporary times and nuclear families, staying connected with ancestorial wisdom and inculcating devotional practices can be a challenge. “Sri Mandir supports this process by providing in-depth and verified content on various practices and traditions that aid anyone with a curiosity to learn,” says Sachan.
The idea, essentially, is to encourage “togetherness in devotion” by creating engaging online communities. These communities receive latest updates from revered temples across the country. Whether it’s upcoming festivals and key practices or shubh muhurats and puja vidhis, Sri mandir offers a one-stop-shop for all things spiritual and devotional.
In two years, Sri Mandir has recorded steady regional growth, with 10 million+ Indians having set up digital shrines on their phones through the app. The company is now looking to foray into international markets. “Data clearly shows budding organic download numbers in the North America Canada region,” asserts Sachan. Sri Mandir aims to support each and every one of them in their spiritual journey.
Back home, Pragya Upadhyay is elated to make the ‘Modak Chadhava’ at Bada Ganesh Mandir at the click of a button!