In the last decade technology has improved so much that we are literally connected to our family, relatives and friends living across continents with just a touch. It is the age of Skype, Whatsapp and cheap air-tickets. One doesn’t need to live in America any more to see how magnificent the Statue of Liberty is, or how beautiful Paris looks from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The world has shrunk, literally. But in-spite of this, How connected are we to each other? A startup with greater desire to giving back an important problem solving services to the Indian community. We are discussing about India’s first uniquely organised Asthi Visarjan and after death rituals service.
When as a child we are told the stories from Ramayana and the Mahabharata, we are also told that Ram and Krishna are the avatars of Lord Vishnu. Our mythologies are laced with stories of re-incarnations and re-births. The soul is considered very important in ancient Hindu traditions. It is believed that the human body dies and decays but the soul lives on, as energy, and if rites and rituals are not followed properly and according to traditions then the soul suffers in the afterlife. The onus of the soul getting “mukti” in Hindu traditions lies totally on the family of the departed. It is believed that if one dies in Kashi, he attains salvation and is freed from the cycle of re-births. And if someone has not died in Kashi, but his Asthi is immersed in Kashi, he will still attain salvation.
Hinduism is the oldest known religion or way of life. Unlike other religions, which has just one holy book or text, Hinduism has a rich knowledge bank of Puranas, Vedas, Upanishads and various other books on various subjects including science, medicines, and traditions. The basis of the teachings and thoughts of these books are still in practice even after thousands of years, although there are variations in the methodologies prescribed in these books.
Diverse culture, various languages, different food and distinct habits- all of these together make the demography of India. And with the advent of technology and exposure, people from different regions have now set-up homes not just in various parts of India but across the globe. Inspite of minor changes and at times some very major changes, the basis of the religion remains the same. Traditionally, Hindus are cremated and their ashes are immersed in a few holy places in India, as a mark of respect to the soul, and to untie the soul from all earthly memories.
How Holyvoyages was Conceptualized
The Founder, Mr Kumar, has been a resident of New Delhi since the last 30 years. In these thirty years he has seen various Indian families living in different parts of India, struck by the tragedy of death of a loved one. And in each of these tragedies, the one thing that has consistently plagued the family of the deceased is questions and clarifications related to the last rites and rituals that are followed as per Hindu traditions.
Not only does an NRI living abroad has to endure the pain of losing a loved one, but they are also at various times disillusioned by the lack of knowledge regarding the rites and rituals that are to be followed. Unlike other religions, Hindus follow some strict codes of conduct even after the body of the deceased has been cremated so that the soul can leave for the heavenly abode without any earthly yearning holding him back. These rituals also help the family members of the deceased go through the mourning process.
But, a lack of knowledge amongst the population makes it difficult for them to come to terms with the death, and at times, they are consumed with a lot of guilt for staying so far away in their own country where they are unable to perform the rites and rituals as per the tradition. This gap led Mr. Kumar to conceptualize the idea of Holyvoyage. The idea has been taking root in his mind since last 5 years. And he and his team have been working on this idea for the last two years. Mr Kumar remarks, “Over the years I have observed family members making efforts to go to India to immerse the ashes, including my known friends, to disperse the ashes of their loved ones. Sometime back I lost a friend, and when his wife brought back the ashes along with her, her 32 year old son remarked, that she should instead put the ashes in the thrash. It is not the lack of respect for the father but rather the lack of knowledge that prompted him to say so.”
In the last many years Mr. Kumar has observed that families go through extreme amount of difficulties to go to Kashi, especially managing time to Immerse the ashes of their deceased family members. “I have always wanted to do something for fellow Indians. Giving something back to the Indian community across the world, motivated me to come up with concrete solution to these concerns with the help of Technology” says Mr. Kumar, founder, who heads the overall operation of the website in India and also supports team which is based out of India, Mumbai. Expecting a great response, Mr Kumar adds, “Before starting this project we asked almost 10000+ people who we did not know, to validate our idea.”
Various other incidents like this prompted Mr. Kumar to hasten the process of building Holyvoyage.com. “Our Technology office is based out of Varanashi where 10 guys are working at present,” remarks Mr. Ramesh, the Project Manager operating out of the Delhi office. He ensures that the site is secured from hackers and unwanted intruders. Mrs.Preet is the curator. She ensures that all the rites and rituals mentioned in the site a properly scanned before it is uploaded. “I am continually working to match the expectations of our members by communicating effectively. This includes being coherent, transparent and appreciating the responsibility that comes with handling such an emotional issue. We also believe we are the first company of its kind in India to provide these services,” he quips.
At the moment what is most admirable is the fact that two parallel teams are set up in New Delhi and Mumbai (India), to deal with this visionary project, New Delhi being the headquarters. Delhi office will collect, verify, and send the documents along with the Asthi Box to Kashi. While the Mumbai office which is headed by Mr. Ramesh, the project manager, will ensure the perfect functioning of the web and Mobile applications and ensure everything is running smooth for the world class user experience for AsthiVisarjan. Ramesh is also the founder and CEO of definite which provides out of box security solutions to big and midsize companies all over the world. In 2015, Ramesh met Mr. Kumar, while he was on a Business trip to New Delhi. It was during this meeting that the first phase of the collaboration took shape.
Currently their tech team is in the process of doing feasibility study for live streaming at the time of performance of these rituals. Sharing his future plans, Mr. Kumar says “At this time we are concentrating initially across India. Once we are at the comfortable level we will study the need in other countries and work accordingly.”
The various challenges faced by the team
The most unique challenge faced by the team is obviously handling the sensitive issue of immersing the ashes of the demised. It is important to ensure that local sensitivities are also taken into account while handling the same.
It was not easy and there were many ups and downs and various challenges along the way. However once the team got to work, they built a site that will not just provide the desperately required Asthi Visarjan and Pind Daan services to the Hindu community residing in India but will also make the younger generation aware of tradition and rituals. It was challenging to get appointments from scholars and learned men in India.
At present the founders are funding themselves, and have not sought help from anyone else. Going forward they might seek help from venture capitalists or perhaps even from friends and families.
At the onset one must remember that a death of a near and dear one is an emotional issue and along with the Asthi Box, two other documents are collected-(1) Death certificate (2) Funeral home certificate. After this, the Asthi Box is shipped through a carrier to Varanasi or any other place that the member has selected out of 14 places mentioned on the site, to complete the ceremony with utmost respect. After all the Rituals are done as per prescribed Vedas, they perform various rituals like Brahman Bhojan along with various other Donations. Once all the rituals are completed, the family can also donate for causes like feeding cows in India along with feeding Slum Children in Rural areas or Poor Urban Families. All the rituals are captured by Professional Photographers and Videographers. After processing the same it is uploaded on the Personalised Mobile Application via which one can see the complete coverage. They also have an option via which one can view the same through an Web application Interface. Mr. Ramesh said, “we are in process of building a technology via which this can be streamed Live for the members who wishes to see all the Rituals while it’s being performed in India.”
These Rituals are followed by an annual reminder to the family who want to conduct religious ceremonies and/or charity work to be performed on behalf of their deceased loved ones. All the Monetary charities are 100% tax deductible in India, which should give a tremendous amount of encouragement to NRI’s across US to help needy people in the country which they Originally belong to.
The idea is to provide Asthi Visarjan and Pind Daan services in India through people who have been offering these services for more than 10 centuries with professionalism and efficiency. The family gets the same experience, almost like they would if they were present. “I hope our service will be a desperately needed help to our community”, remarks Mr. Ramesh adding, “The service is presently open for the entire Hindu Community in India, and we plan to gradually expand all over the world.”
But there are challenges here again, since internet connectivity in the interiors of India is an issue.
How this works
A client who is in Tripura watches the last rituals of his/her loved ones being performed via streaming application. This is now available on IOS/Andorid devices as well as desktop. The client can offer Pujas, Pind Daan, Shraadh, Asthi visarjan and other rituals as per his/her family tradition, sub caste and Gotra. This service is presently available for Varanasi specifically, but plans are on to extend this service with time to all 12 places including Gaya, Pushkar and Prayag, which are the best places for Pinddaan. Asthi rituals have mentors who comprise of Religious Pandits and Experts from each Hindu subcasts. They also have a set of 10 to 15 groups to handle all kind of on-ground situations in India as well as in the USA. These groups have technicians, management experts, pandits, co ordinators, helpers, guides and on ground support systems, which includes volunteers and even relatives in certain cases.
Most ecommerce or technology based business today deal with products or services, but holyvoyage is unique in the sense that it caters not just to a niche segment but also offers a service that was much needed by the Hindu community living abroad. The idea of creating this site is about catering the richer heritage of Hinduism to the people who have not been fortunate to enjoy it up close. Keeping this in mind Mr. Kumar has taken the task of launching a chaos free service which will usher the much needed peace of mind to millions of Indians living abroad. It will also guide them through their own spiritual journey and concepts, that so far have been unavailable to them. The idea is to provide a quality reliable and efficient service not just to Hindus but to anybody who wishes to pay homage to their departed near and dear ones.