Religious organisations are also relying on YouTube, Instagram and Zoom to broadcast their content, as most places of worship are closed. Live-streaming of festivals, recorded sessions of church services and daily meditation and yoga classes on WhatsApp and Facebook are becoming popular.
Delhi-based Rgyan, an app that focuses on spiritual content, has seen the count of its daily active users increasing by around 7,000 since March, as people shared content on health and meditation. Astrology has also picked up on the platform during the same period. “Seeing the demand, we started paid live sessions,” said cofounder Debjit Patra.
ShareChat recorded an increase in devotional content in March and April. The platform saw a 43% increase in April, a month dotted with religious events like Ramzan and Easter, and local New Years in several states. “More than 40% of content were videos in the devotional category,” said a ShareChat spokesperson.
Gaana said Indians were exploring new genres. “There has been a notable rise in podcast streams on spirituality, and a 14% increase in devotional music playlists during April-May,” chief executive Prashan Agarwal said. Gaana is owned by Times Internet, a part of the Times of India Group, which owns also The Economic Times.
Professor Arun Bhana of Polytechnic College in Rajasthan, who runs around seven Facebook religious groups, said in one such group called Guru Siyag, participation of the members increased from 50,000 to over 200,000 on a monthly basis after the pandemic. Also, the group gets more than 300 posts every day now, compared with 100 earlier.
“We conduct two hours’ live-streaming on Facebook every day. On an average, around 2,500 devotees attend these sessions which includes mediation, yoga and spiritual discussions. On Sunday, we have a question and answer session,” said a spokesperson from Kolkata-based Ramakrishna Seva Mission Newtown.
Lack of social meet-ups, loneliness, and stress are among the many reasons why people are increasingly looking up for these topics online, say experts. Papiya Ramanujam, a professor at North-Eastern Hill University in Meghalaya, said with free time in hand, she now dedicates three hours daily for meditation, yoga and a live-streaming class on religion.
Not only elders but young netizens in the age group of 18-25 years also actively participate in these discussions. Foreigners from the US and UK too are showing interest.
Plogy Nainan, a co-pastor of Highest Praise Church in Mumbai, has been relying on social media and YouTube to broadcast church services. Apart from Sunday services, the church also broadcasts recorded sessions twice weekly. Zoom meetings are being held for children as part of their Sunday School while for toddlers, videos are shared on WhatsApp. This trend has picked up across the country, she said.
WhatsApp is another popular platform for sharing content. “I run three WhatsApp groups with over 200 members in each. These groups mainly share daily motivational posts, instructions on special religious days or occasions. The senior citizens find WhatsApp easier to communicate,” said Revered Swami Divyaswarupananda, the assistant secretary of Shillong’s Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Cultural Centre.