When the world went into lockdown last year, some thrived on the time-out while others struggled to deal with the colossal disruption. As they scrambled to deal with magnified stress, some like Noida-based Shirisha Jain Soni, turned to astrology and spiritual apps.
Soni, a 31-year-old content manager, was checking her horoscope regularly. “I’ve always been superstitious and have used websites that run horoscope predictions since 2007. During the lockdown, there was so much negativity. Horoscopes were a way to lighten the mood and get some guidance.”
While Soni sought answers in the alignment of the stars, a Pune-based real estate developer who wishes to remain anonymous, turned to tarot card readings. Though not a scientific practice, tarot card readings, or even astrology, are offering people a much-needed comfort in an uncertain world. “These readings allowed me to look at situations from a solution-based perspective. Tarot gave me guidance in the form of actions I can take for positive outcomes,” he said. He also learnt to read the cards over the past nine months and his morning routine now includes a quick reading for himself, and sometimes for family members.
Special educator Deenal Sampat, who does tarot card readings, describes the past year as “a time of great spiritual and emotional evolution”. While there continues to be an overarching anxiety about the future, most requests she received were for shorter, specific solution-based readings—tarot card readers encourage patrons to ask a question and then draw cards to formulate possible courses of action. “Many of these were from homemakers and members of joint families who were struggling with the ‘new normal’ of everyone being at home, which increases friction” she says. Businessmen and entrepreneurs, on the other hand, had questions about designing a better life, she says.
Tamanna C., who describes herself as a psychic and spiritual therapist, agrees. “I expected questions around work, but found that people were more concerned about health, personal relationships and self-awareness.” Tamanna’s circle of clients expanded from Mumbai and Delhi to Nagpur, Jalandhar, Chennai, Amritsar, Kutch and Indore.
Sampat says she’s also been getting enquiries about learning to read tarot cards, especially from teenagers and homemakers. “During the lockdown, my clients insisted I start a WhatsApp group where we engage in different daily mindfulness practices—meditation, gratitude journaling and affirmations.” Tamanna says she was flooded with requests for spiritual workshops. “These are intensive two-day, five-hour sessions on topics ranging from vibrations and frequencies to the law of karma. They are intimate group sessions conducted via Zoom, and I have had participants from not just India but Canada and Africa as well.”
Entrepreneur Siddharth Morakhia was already on a personal inward journey of finding ways to deal with stress when covid-19 was declared a pandemic. “People have always been receptive to spiritual solutions, especially in India. But the past year taught us to prioritise it, and revalue basics we had taken for granted,” he says. 2020 also served as the right time for him to expedite the launch of his app, The Diya Project, which focuses on using Indian spirituality to drive everyday goals and motivations. “We had already done our groundwork, but the lockdown was an impetus to launch faster. As the stress and uncertainty in our lives were magnified, there was a real need to find healthy forms of coping with it,” he explains. Morakhia’s app features mantras curated with the help of scholars, and catalogued to address issues ranging from career worries and insomnia to wellness and general relaxation. He says the most users have come from Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata.
Mridul Sawhney, the founder and creative director of AM Branding Co, admits that she was aware of being “out of sync with my spiritual self” even before the pandemic. “But the sudden lifestyle changes really took a toll on me.” She started using the Diya Project app early last year. “While these mantras can be found on the Internet, information online is very fragmented. The app has everything in one place. I use it about four times a week, generally before bed time.”
Radhika Chopra, professor of sociology at Delhi University, believes that it’s not necessarily the pandemic that has increased the proclivity for predictions and divination, but the increase in accessibility, apps and technology. “This has enabled the seemingly sudden interest in belief systems. There is not just greater investment but a greater visibility too.” Morakhia agrees that while these practices have been around for centuries, their seamless integration with tech was the missing ingredient. Chopra adds that it’s young working professionals who are more deeply invested in expressions of spirituality, contrary to the idea that older generations are more likely to believe in astrology and predictions.
With a renewed lockdown and a sense of having circled back to where we were this time last year, time will tell whether the inclination for spiritual solutions to pandemic-induced stress will only continue to rise.