Mumbai: The inauspicious period of the year, better known as shraadh, ends today. While retailers who saw a 50% dip in sales brace and welcome festival consumption, some say the good times never stopped and, in a few cases, got better.
Traditionally, among Hindus, the two weeks that constitute shraadh are deemed a bad time to buy anything, from gold to cars to property. Even a booming retail industry didn’t do much to counter the slump, saying it didn’t want to offend anyone with discounts.
Yet, this year saw a marked difference among a small, but significant group, from devout Hindus to marketing consultants to consumers themselves.
People carrying out shraadh ceremonies on the banks of Banganga in Mumbai
Some Hindus say shraadh has been misconstrued to be inauspicious, while others say an evolving India is tuning religious orders on when it can and can’t do certain things. While more apparent during shraadh, the shift in religion tied to consumption has been felt for some time, from haircuts to newer economy quandaries?such?as?when?to?buy?cars.
Prosperity is changing the way Hindus practice religion and relate it to their daily lives, says brand consultant Harish Bijoor. “The new generation of Indians is a 24/7 shopper. They don’t understand shraadh. And this is the generation that will be taking spending decisions in the future.”
It is a recurring reference: new shoppers don’t let religion inhibit buying. At the Mango showroom at the Atria Mall, salespeople are excited because they have already surpassed expected October sales.
“People who come to shop here are very classy people who don’t believe in such things,” said one woman who wouldn’t be named, citing company policy.
Country head for Mango, Nine West, Aldo and many others, Suresh D. Bhatia of Major Brands (India) Pvt. Ltd, confirmed her assessment; sales have risen 18% in the shraadh. “Traditional Indian women prefer not to shop for clothes, home decor, utensils, etc., during the shraadh period. Usually, Mango does see a dip in sales during shraadh,” but the stores, he says, “have not seen this dip”.
Also, shraadh witnessed two events that threw religious caution to the wind: The Bombay Stock Exchange’s Sensex roared past 17,000, and then five days later, past 18,500. Many investors consult astrologers and numerologists, basing decisions on good numbers and auspicious timing.
Shraadh saw a similar appetite for gold, despite a more superstitious clientele.
Tribhuvandas Bhimji Zaveri, one of India’s largest gold retailer, says customers have been attempting to bypass the rules by booking gold, with its price falling right during shraadh. “But buyers will pick up their gold only during festive times, like Navaratri, when it is auspicious to bring home the gold,” said the firm’s marketing head Kiran Dixit.
The issue of consumption in spite of religious caution has support from one unlikely corner—the religious themselves. “Where do the Vedas say that shraadh is inauspicious?” asked numerologist Sanjay Jumaani, consultant to film star Mallika Sherawat, and cricketers Rahul Dravid and Irfaan Pathan. Outside his office last week, men and women waited to make changes to their names. They said the emphasis on remembering forefathers—some Hindus cook special dishes their deceased relatives relished—actually made it an important time.
Shraadh stems from shraddha, or belief, explains Pandit Dinu Shankar Shastri, a Vedic expert from Chanod, Gujarat. It is supposed to be a time of prayer and contemplation of life, but “superstition came in and people began to think that if they bought anything new or started something new, it would bring the wrath of god on them”, he explains.
Still, those who believe will not buy under any circumstances. “We typically see a drop of 50% in sales across India during these days,” said V. Ramachandran, head of sales and marketing at LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd.
Firms say they don’t fret too much about shraadh because they know what follows it—a surge in sales during Navaratri, Durga Puja and Diwali. “People buy so much after the fall that this dip is easily compensated for,” said Ruchika Batra, a spokeswoman for Samsung India Electronics Ltd.