Many years ago, I happened to be in Nanded in Maharashtra, and went to the Hazur Sahib gurdwara to pay homage to the last Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who was assassinated there in 1708. There I came across something that baffled me. There was a row of cabins separated by thin walls of plywood in which akhand paths (non-stop reading of the Granth Sahib by a relay of paathees) were taking place with no one listening to them. I sought an explanation from the head granthi. He told me that people from India and abroad send money for akhand paths, to be followed by guru-ka-langar as thanksgiving or wish fulfilment. I could not comprehend how prayers recited by someone else could benefit a devotee who payed for them.
However, I found such practices prevalent in other communities as well. Hindus have havans performed in distant places; Muslims pay the expenses for people going for the Haj, hoping that the benefits will accrue to them. What came as a big surprise to me was the discovery that Europeans, Canadians and Indian Christians are also into outsourcing their prayers.
Somehow, it also reminded me of this great fortune quote I get often:
“His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god. Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be of any benefit.
Silence, though, could. It was in the days of the rains that their prayers went up, not from the fingering of knotted prayer cords or the spinning of prayer wheels, but from the great pray-machine in the monastery of Ratri, goddess of the Night. The high-frequency prayers were directed upward through the atmosphere and out beyond it, passing into that golden cloud called the Bridge of the Gods, which circles the entire world, is seen as a bronze rainbow at night and is the place where the red sun becomes orange at midday. Some of the monks doubted the orthodoxy of this prayer technique…” — Roger Zelazny, “Lord of Light”