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The gurus in business: Spiritual heads and their empires

While they already have millions of followers, our spiritual gurus have proven their acumen when it comes to business as well. By using their presence and fame, and by launching products which are marketed as Ayurvedic and organic, they have managed to build business empires which have a widespread reach. These gurus and religious heads have tapped into the millions of followers they have, and the country’s growing obsession for swadeshi products, to run companies that are giving multinationals a run for their money. For a country that till recently wore its foreign brands and products with pride, going nationalistic is the latest trend, and, criticism over mixing business and spirituality aside, these spiritual heads are proving that they can run their business as well as their spiritual organisations.

We take a look at these Spiritual Gurus who are making their mark in business:

By Asish Maitra – Baba Ramdev calls on PM, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36706828

Baba Ramdev: One company that has been giving large multinationals the jitters is Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved. The company announced a turnover of Rs 10,561 crore for the year, a jump of over 100 percent from Rs 5,000 crore, the previous year. This has made it the second largest FMCG company after Hindustan Unilever, and the third largest by FMCG business. While Baba Ramdev is the face of the brand, he does not own any stake, and all business decisions are taken by his disciple, and Patanjali’s second in command, CEO Acharya Balkrishna. The FMCG currently employs 1,00,000 employees, and plans to take this number up to 5,00,000.

A large part of Patanjali’s success has been due to the positioning of his brand – aimed at the masses rather than the classes. The products are priced much lower than those of Patanjali’s competitors. The brand, which keeps reiterating its traditionalist and swadeshi views, has around 500 products under its belt, and is in the process of moving beyond just Ayurvedic consumer goods. Last year, it had announced plans of launching desi jeans, which would be “in line with Indian culture and tradition, and similar to Indian clothing,” as Ramdev put it. This raised quite a storm on social media with many wondering how jeans could ever be made to look desi. The Haridwar based company also has plans to go after restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and KFC, by launching its own chain of nutritious fast food restaurants. Balkrishna had also recently announced that the company had plans to produce electricity using bulls. The research for this, headed by Balkrishna himself, has been on for the past one and a half years, and would involve generating electricity with help of a bull’s pull power. This, in turn, is aimed at saving bulls from getting slaughtered.

By Ceeabraham – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24642543

Sri Sri Ravishankar: Where Patanjali appeals to the masses, Sri Sri Ayurveda headed by Sri Sri Ravishankar, the spiritual head of the Art of Living Foundation, has a more class and youth appeal. Though the company was launched in 2003, Sri Sri Ayurveda was a relatively unknown entity till recently, when it started upping the marketing and promotions of its brands. The company has around 35 products in its kitty, which include Sudanta, their toothpaste, shampoos, soaps, foot creams, scrubs, balms, syrups, tablets, and many other consumer products.

The company is now looking to scale its product offering by launching masalas, home care products, organic food, cookies, breakfast cereals, among others. While the company has mostly relied on the pull of Sri Sri Ravishankar, who has around 370 million followers across 155 countries, it recently roped in badminton star PV Sindhu to endorse its health drink brand, Ojasvita.  Sri Sri Ayurveda products are mostly sold through its 600 franchise stores, its e-commerce site sattvastore.com, ‘Divine shops’ which are set up at Sri Sri gatherings, and through various other online portals. The company has not been able to emulate Patanjali’s success till now, due to limited distribution and brand visibility, however, it is scaling up its operations and in the pipeline are 2,500 stores across India.

By JLA974, Audebaud Jean louis from casablanca (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Mata Amritanandamayi:
Known as Amma to her followers, Mata Amritanandamayi, the Kerala based spiritual leader and head of the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, has a huge business empire under her name, primarily in the education and health care sector. Apart from that, the Math also runs a TV channel – Amrita TV, and has a line of Ayurvedic products under the brand name Amrita Life. These include Ayurvedic, eco-friendly and organic house hold products, medicines, eco-friendly cosmetic products, health supplements and other organic food items.

By Auroraaddy – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19223567

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh: The flamboyant leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, which is headquartered in Haryana, is already known as an actor, producer, director and singer, with quite a few films in his kitty. Last year, he launched his own line of swadeshi and organic products, with many calling it a move to take on Patanjali. The products will be manufactured by the sect’s firm, MSG All Trading International Pvt Ltd. In the pipeline are 151 products including basmati rice, bottled water, pickles, tea, pulses, biscuits and organic fertiliser. The company plans to open outlets across the country, and its products will also be sold through its website, and mobile Apps. The products have been launched in the domestic as well as international markets.

By Isha Foundation – http://sadhguru.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Sadhguru-Jaggi-Vasudev-Public.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29446012

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: The head of the mystical Isha Foundation, based in Coimbatore, may not have made as much of a mark in the business circles as his other competitors Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar, but Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has also lent his name to a range of consumer goods. These are primarily sold on Isha Foundation’s e-commerce site, ishashoppe.com, by the Isha Business Private Limited. Their e-commerce website sells a number of items including Isha branded yoga gear, meditation DVDs and CDs, puja items, food, body care, books, Isha craft items, photos and mugs.  The company has also ventured into construction and architecture.