Arun Kumar Somaskandan grew up in Mayiladuthurai in an atmosphere filled with vedic chants, temples and spirituality. With most of his male relatives being priests, he had little chance to pursue anything else. His father, who had been administrator for temples in Singapore encouraged him to break the norm and study engineering. Three years after working with Cognizant and toying with several ideas, Somaskandan, armed with technology, decided to go back to his roots. With Harivara, he brings together pandits, pujas and temple services on an online platform. Starting in a disorganised space, Somaskandan spent several months researching on rituals, religious months, various castes and communities and astrology. Starting out as a blog about religious ceremonies in mid-2014, Somaskandan saw enquires pouring in.
“Many houses have a family priest whom they consult. However, today, people migrate to new cities and don’t know whom to reach,” he said. From helping you fix the date of ceremonies to arranging for the items and the pandit, Harivara offers a one-stop solution for all religious needs.
He set up the website with various services and a payment portal. Starting with basic pujas like Ganapathy homam (Ganesh puja), Ayushahomam (1st birthday ceremony) and Grihapravesham (housewarming ceremony), Harivara now offers temple services too.
Bringing priests onto his platform was easy. “We know almost all the priests in and around Kumbakonam. Most relatives are in this profession. Their disciples automatically come to us,” he said.
A strict verification process is followed while onboarding them. Necessary documentation such as identity and address proof and a pathshala certificate is collected. All priests are thoroughly interviewed by Somaskandan’s father who has over 40 years of experience. Harivara offers its services across Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad and is now looking to launch in Mumbai. Coming from a south Indian background, Somaskandan now has one team member who is focused on serving the north Indian market. “You would think that the methods and rituals are very different. Some terminologies and methods differ, but they are broadly the same,” he said.
For those abroad, Harivara offers two options. “If they can come down, we arrange for everything and keep it ready. If they can’t, the ceremony is conducted here and they can participate through live streaming,” he said.
In 2016, Harivara joined a bunch of other starups being incubated in the Nasscomm warehouse in Chennai.Priests have welcomed Harivara ever since its launch.”Some of them are earning much more than they did before joining Harivara. My effort is to formalise the profession so they have access to loans from banks and insurance,” he said.