If you thought that GDP in India stood only for gross domestic product, think again.
The new-age desi variant is Guru Darshan and Pravachan. Be it cosmopolitan Mumbai or a little-known village in Karnataka, don't be surprised to find billboards and newspapers carrying advertisements of Maha-McBurger's alongside that of discourses of Maha-saints and gurus.
Coming to the point, India's long-time affair with spirituality has taken a giant leap. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mata Amritanandamayi, Aniruddha Bapu and Asaram Bapu are few of the many spiritual gurus who draw huge crowds.
And it's not only the poor and the middle class who throng these discourses (pravachans or satsangs, as they are usually called). Scaling some of the big corporate names, the fan following climbs right to the top of the economic ladder.
Although Indian mythology boasts of several gurus, what has spurred this new bhakti-wave to follow these new-age gurus?
One of the main reasons is stress. While stress levels and economic prosperity in India may not be directly comparable to that in the developed countries, the unprecedented economic growth in India in the past 14 years (post-liberalisation) and the sudden coming of age of the Indian middle class have spawned many a source for stress in the typical Indian's life.
Financial insecurity, fragile relationships and increasing pace of life have been the primary fallouts.
Wondering whether stress-counsellors in India have finally made it to the phone books? Well, not yet. It seems desis still take pride in the leave-it-to-Him attitude.
Another reason why people look up to a guru or a spiritual mentor is the urge to gain knowledge about themselves and their own behaviour.
If you haven't been lucky enough to study behavioural sciences, conventional education rarely makes the individual study himself. Experts also agree. Suma Varughese, Editor-in-chief of the spiritual magazine, Life Positive, says: "We are living in such extreme times where there is so much conflict within ourselves, with others and with society that many of us are awakening to the truth that there is something wrong with the way we are living our lives and with our values and priorities. It is this that guides us to move into spirituality. Therefore, it is today's negativities that is provoking us to move towards positivities."
The revered gurus, who are held in high esteem as Gods, hold discourses that are not only attended by thousands of people from far-flung areas but also relayed on local and national TV channels like Astha, Sanskar, Jagran, Maharshi and GOD.
These discourses, bhajans and vedic recitals seem to have a soothing effect on people's anxious nerves and serve as a security fallback for them (as Karl Marx would put it, "the opium effect").
The emergence of spirituality on such a large scale has had both positive and negative impact on the society. On the brighter side, while people have become more tolerant of their brethren, a sense of giving has been inculcated in them.
No wonder the recent natural disasters in the country have seen scores of people rushing to help the hapless and the needy. Newspapers all over the country are giving full-page ads listing the donations of the public towards tsunami victims. Many of the spiritual gurus who have strong charisma over the public, like Aniruddha Bapu of Mumbai, have taken up causes like cleansing the society of orthodox practices like dowry deaths, women not attending funerals and female foeticide.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's famous Art of Living (AOL) programme has gained such importance, not only in the country but abroad too, that no longer is AOL an acronym just for America OnLine, the renowned US Internet company!
Mata Amritanandmayi, affectionately known as Amma to her followers, has taken up a novel cause of encouraging use of Sanskrit language. Her Web site claims that Sanskrit language is a constant part of the curriculum in educational institutions run by her trust.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa had predicted that the world would see innumerable fake gurus who would claim to be Bhagavat Avatara. Vivekananda also predicted the same. And they were not far from the truth.
Many phonies and cheats have ridden the bhakti wave to fool God-wary Indians. Some have gobbled millions of rupees in 'donations.' Under the pretext of running charitable trusts, these phonies not only earn a healthy profit by selling their 'holy' paraphernalia but also are attractive avenues for people to wash hands off their black-money. Although many such cheats have been stripped of their 'holy' masks, the business is very much alive and kicking.
So where does the Indian GDP go from here?
The pace at which Indians are being exposed to the pitfalls of liberalisation, they are fast catching up with stress levels of those in developed countries. Somehow, spirituality has taken the form of a medicine for a disease best described as stress. And if the life of the medicine is as good as that of the disease, Indian GDP will continue to grow.
The author is a Mumbai-based freelance writer and an admirer of Aniruddha Bapu.