Thursday, January 21, 2010

Worship is work

If you haven't been to the Kapaleeshwarar temple for a few years, you will be surprised to see how this establishment has grown - literally. What I remember as being a ground-and-first floor agraharam-kind of shop is now a three storeyed modern building. That's reflective of how Giri Trading Agency has itself grown, especially in the past decade or so. Considering they have been in Chennai for just about thirty-four years now, their growth has been quietly phenomenal.

The organisation is itself older, going back to the 1950s. But it began in Bombay, not in Madras, though it did have very strong Madras roots from the day it was born - or even before. Like many others of his generation, TVS Giri Iyer had moved from Madras to Bombay, looking for work. One day, he wanted to gift a friend's son a sandhya vandanam book for the boy's sacred thread ceremony. Not finding any such publication catering to the Madrasi's need for specific religious texts and puja material, Giri Iyer sensed a business opportunity. On his next visit to Madras, he bought several such books and started selling them at the Matunga railway station. It was certainly not roses all the way, but believing that he was on to a good thing, he had all his nine children help him with the business. The boys were based in Madras to source the material and transport them to Bombay, while the girls handled the sales and distribution there. In 1976, they opened a 200-square foot showroom right at the entrance to the Kapaleeshwarar temple.

That decision coincided with a rise in the demand cycle for religious items - and the nature of the items also began to diversify. Apart from the books, devotional music casettes began to rise in popularity. In the early 1980s, they began a separate division to cater to the music business. From that time on, there has been no looking back; with increasing global mobility, the demand for pre-packaged puja items and quasi-traditional merchandise like bharatanatyam costumes began to come in from around the world. Today, many of Giri Iyer's grandchildren are active in running the various businesses, through their showrooms as well as their online portal (where you can even download a religious ringtone for your mobile phone!). All those businesses add up to an annual turnover of around Rs.20 crores - all of which has grown from the Rs.300 worth of books that Giri Iyer took with him to Bombay!

No comments: