The wedding season is on in full swing and 38-year-old pandit Shantaram Joshi is working hard these days. He has to perform wedding rituals at more than 14 nuptials in the city this month along with other miscellaneous pujas. Business, as you can see, is booming. And this is partly thanks to the fact of his being a registered pujari with Muhurt Maza, a startup that lets people book customisable puja packages online.
Reaching out to both a new generation of young tech savvy priests plying their trade on the virtual bazaar and people desperately trying to find reliable pandits on short notice — the venture currently has more than 300 registered priests and have a 10-member team, who oversee operations in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Nagpur, along with Pune.
The platform lets you select from more than 140 types of pujas like Griha Pravesh a ritual to drive away evil forces from the house), Kanak Dhara Anusthan (worshipping the goddess of wealth and prosperity) and Bhadra Janan Shanti (performed to overcome hardships in life). These packages cost anything between Rs 1,000 to Rs 30,000 and can even be customised. For instance, customers have the option of procuring their own samagri (materials necessary for performing the puja), or they can leave it to Muhurt Maza to do the needful.
Once a particular puja is selected from the list, the team contacts the most suitable priest for performing the ritual. Their services can be availed by logging to www.muhurt.maza. com, or by downloading their app available on both iOS and Android platforms.
Pandit Pramod Thosar, 36, was trained in the ancient tradition of Hindu priests. He left his home in Kothrud at the age of eight to study Sanskrit at the Barshi School for pujaris in Solapur. He spent almost five years there studying religious texts, far removed from the trappings of modern society. Reared in such an environment, the pujari wasn’t too familiar with modern technology, but his life was set to change when 36-year-old Sughosh Sowale, founder of Muhurt Maza, contacted him to join his venture seven months ago. “I thought it was an excellent idea to be part of an initiative driven by the Internet,” says Thosar.
Likewise, other pujaris like Shantaram, Prasad Mone and Shreeprasad Joshi also immediately realised the viability of connecting with people through the Internet. The priests were fairly tech savvy at the time of registering with the online venture, using modern necessities like laptops and Android phones. Besides, the fact that the priests are in their 30s and share a similar mindset to reach out to the masses via technology is the common thread connecting them.
Although it’s just been five months since Muhurt Maza started operations, the priests are excited by how quickly the venture has reaped results.
“Earlier, I was performing 15 pujas in a month and earned Rs 15,000. But now, I perform close to 20-25 pujas every month and earn Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000,” smiles 36-year-old Mone. The figures are uniform for the pujaris. “With the windfall in pujas, I am earning an additional Rs 10,000 over the Rs 20,000 I was making earlier,” echoes Shreeprasad.
As the rate of the pujas are fixed, there is no haggling involved over dakshina (offerings). “We get Rs 500 and above as dakshina. If people are happy with our services, the dakshina can go up,” shares Shreeprasad. The rise in his income has given Thosar the confidence to buy a flat in Mulshi. “I am also saving some money to plan for my children’s future,” he says.
Apart from the growth in income, the venture is also helping them connect with a hitherto untapped customer base. “We are now able to reach out to people who aren’t native residents of Pune. Such people generally have a tough time finding priests in a new city,” says Shantaram. Their regular customers are generally busy working professionals who are in their 30s.
What is really clicking with the clients is also the access to well-trained professional priests.
Says Dr Priya Dhokte Gumaste, a Mumbai resident, who got to know about Muhurt Maza from a booklet given to her by the builder from whom she bought a flat in Hinjewadi: “I wanted to host the Vastu Shanti puja at my new flat on November 18, but I didn’t have much time to search for a pujari. I downloaded Muhurt Maza’s app to book a puja online and promptly got a response. On the day of the puja, the pandit arrived at 7 am sharp. He was young and well-versed in the mantras — everything went smoothly without a hitch”.
Anand Choudhari, a marketing professional who also lives in Mumbai, was impressed by how the pujari was forthcoming in explaining the significance of the puja to him. “I hosted the Satyanarayan puja five months ago. A priest in his early 30s arrived to do the puja. He was courteous enough to explain the significance of the ritual and the meaning behind the mantras he chanted,” he shares.
City-based IT professional, Deepali Kotwal, on the other hand was impressed by the online venture’s services when it was still in its beta phase. “I wanted to perform the Vastu Shanti puja last year in November, but didn’t have much time to look for a pujari. I came across Muhurt Maza, which wasn’t officially launched back then, but as promised, they sent a pandit to my place at 8 am sharp. He was a young pujari who took the time to explain how the ritual worked and was very efficient,” Kotwal recounts.
HOW IT WORKS
The idea behind Muhurt Maza was born five years ago. “I was recently married and wanted to host the Satyanarayan puja at home, but finding a priest turned out to be an arduous task,” Sowale recollects. Added to that, he had a difficult time buying the right materials needed to conduct the puja. As he mulled over the experience, the thought of starting an online venture for organising pujas seemed like an excellent idea.
But it wasn’t so easy. “Starting my own venture was a risky proposition,” says Sowale, who was working as a marketing executive then. He didn’t give up on his idea though and worked on it for four years while still continuing with his day job. Finally in October 2014, Sowale, along with his business partner Nilesh Gudhe, quit their jobs to start experimenting with the venture in November 2014. After a successful trial run that lasted seven months, Muhurt Maza was officially launched in July this year.
The pujaris have to go through a background check before they make the cut. “According to tradition, those who are chosen to become priests have to leave home between the ages of eight and 12 to study at special schools for five years. During this time, they have to master Sanskrit and learn to chant mantras perfectly. All these things have to be taken into consideration before a new pujari is registered,” explains Shantaram, who helps Sowale choose the priests.
The company’s revenue model works on commissions — they get a 5-10 per cent cut from every puja booked on the platform. Till date, the online venture has organised more than 150 pujas with the help of priests who are willing to embrace technology.
Reflecting on the flourishing partnership, Shantaram sums up his good fortune: “The Internet is a powerful tool that is helping us connect with people like never before and we hope the business will continue to grow.”
Source : Pune Mirror , 13 Dec,2015