In India, we wear our hearts on our sleeves and our religions, on our wrists, around our necks, on car dashboards, dangling from rearview mirrors, perched on our work desks, what have you. Mere minutes after meeting a stranger, one knows what God she/he prays to - a thread here, a smear there, a glint of metal somewhere... the clues are everywhere.
When out on the streets, it will be seconds before you come across an eatery or shop named after a deity. Just take a walk or, for now, open Google Maps and check the number of God related buildings that jump out at you as you navigate. I don't mean places of worship, mind you; I mean restaurants, stationery shops, photo studios and such.
Let me illustrate - here is my list as I open Maps and look around the area - Narayan Pujari Nagar, Mahalaxmi Race Course, Haji Ali Juice Centre (okay, these two are because of the physical proximity to the temple and mosque, respectively, but still), Mumbadevi Biscuit Mart, Venkateswara Wines (true story), Shiv Sagar Pao Bhaji Centre, Hari Om Barber Shop, Namaha Photo Studio, Sai Tea Stall, Moses Art Gallery, Vaikunth Udipi, something-Kripa, Shri-something, Dutta-something... all this in and around one busy junction in Mumbai.
This got me thinking - has our endearingly frank religiosity impacted the way we name our brands? Can you think of an Indian brand named after something in the holy texts or someone divine? Titan? It's the name of one of Saturn's 60+ moons; divine, yes, but not quite what I was looking for. There are many non-Indian examples - French luxury brand Hermes is named after a Greek God, chocolate brand Mars is named after a Roman God, Versace's logo is the head of Greek monster Medusa, Nike is a winged Greek Goddess, I'm pretty sure the lady on Starbucks' logo hails from ancient Greece... but where are the desi examples?
I pondered this all morning and the most fitting answer hit me like a speeding truck at lunchtime. A successful Indian automobile brand is named after a central character from the Ramayan. This four-wheeler brand is so well known that the fact that it's named after a deity is something of a blind spot. If you haven't guessed already - it's Maruti, another name for Hanuman. With good reason though, the company has never marketed its cars on the back of this fact. There was plenty of scope to do so, come to think of it; Hanuman was but a messenger, always on the move with important items (like the Dronagiri mountain laden with Sanjeevani herbs, and Ram's ring at a later point in the story) and information (he was tasked with telling Sita about the rescue plan).
So thrilled was I to make this connection that I started looking for more Indian examples. My favourite Kailas Jeevan came to mind but the connection between the ayurvedic cream, Mt. Kailash and Lord Shiva is not as strong. Besides, it's sold only in Maharashtra. I just can't think of any more pan-nation Indian brands that share names with Gods. Can you?
This was where my LinkedIn post ended yesterday. Then, some of the calls and comments I received after publishing the essay threw up more examples – like Balaji Wafers (named after Tirupati aka Venkateswara, a form of Vishnu) and Meru Cabs (named after Meru Parbat, a mountain that has special significance in Hindu and Budhhist mythology). Someone claimed HUL’s cosmetics brand Lakmé is named after Goddess Laxmi (I wasn’t aware of this), and an adman (Naresh Gupta) pinged me on WhatsApp saying Ambuja Cement is named after Goddess Amba Devi… if this is true, I share his confusion regarding the overtly masculine positioning of a brand which apparently has roots in divine feminine power. Post work, a friend brought up Siyaram’s – while the iconic ‘Coming home to Siyaram’s’ line played in my head automatically, another part of my brain wondered how am I possibly going to resist the temptation to keep updating this article as I come by more examples.