Religious Business Ceremonies in India
Religion is a way of life in India, and religious business ceremonies are common occurrences. Everything a Hindu does is an act offered up to God, and emphasis is placed on the acts themselves, not rewards for the acts. So each new beginning is dedicated to the Gods to seek their blessings, and new beginnings associated with business in India are no exception.
Two of the most common business events that include religious ceremonies are the opening of new offices and the breaking of ground for new facilities. These ceremonies are very important and can be quite lengthy. Indians appreciate your participation, but don't feel that you have to be present for the whole show.
Indians don't take offense at being asked for the time of the muhurat, or finale, of a business-related religious ceremony. Show up for just that portion of the ceremony and you can satisfy your colleagues without conceding a large chunk of your time.
Food is always served after any ceremony, so expect plenty to eat.
Office prayer ceremonies
Another common religious business ceremony is an office puja, or prayer ceremony. At a puja, stand with your palms folded in front of your chest. If lighted camphor is brought to you, hold your hands palms down over the flame for an instant and then gesture as if you're touching your closed eyes. Watch how others do the action before you, or ask for help if you're unsure. Indians take your interest as a compliment.
Holy water or fruit may be offered at a puja, and if it is, keep in mind that refusing it would be rude. Sprinkle a few drops of the spoonful of holy water on your head, letting most of it run to the ground discreetly. Raise the food in your cupped palm (right hand only or right hand supported by your left below) toward your closed eyes in a gesture of reverence before you eat. If you don't want to eat it, put it away discreetly after the gesture of reverence.
Remembering a goddess
On special occasions such as Ayudha Puja, which is celebrated with verve and style in southern India around September, Indians show respect to tools of trade with a unique religious business ceremony. At such a ceremony, it's customary to place an auspicious dot of sandalwood paste and/or kumkum powder on doors, computers, and other equipment as a sign of respect for the Goddess Saraswati, the muse of learning. Respect this tradition but remember that it's okay to ask your Indian staff to go easy on the placement of the dots. If necessary, the next morning you can quietly ask your maintenance staff to do a thorough clean-up job.