Published in Corporate Dossier ET, April 27, 2012

In Puri Temple, Orissa, every year when the chariot is made from the wood of a sacred tree, worship is offered to the tree, the instruments that will be used to carve the tree and the carpenter who will turn the tree into the chariot. Even in household rituals, before the deity is worshipped, prayers and offerings are made to the implements of worship like the bell, the pot, the conch-shell, and the lamp. Thus every link in the chain is worthy of worship. Does this make Hindus monotheists or polytheists?

This question confronted 19th century Orientalists when they first translated Vedic hymns. They noticed that each hymn of the Veda evoked different gods, like the Greeks, but each time the deity being invoked was being treated as the one supreme god, like the Christians. This confused them.

Some suggested Hindus were henotheistic; they worshipped only one god but acknowledged the existence of others. Max Mueller came up with the term kathenotheistic, which means every god was treated as the supreme god turn-by-turn at the time of invocation. In other words, context determined the status of the god. In drought, Indra who brought rains was valued. In winter, Surya, the sun, was admired. In summer, Vayu, the wind, was worshipped. So it is in business. Everybody we deal with in business is important. But importance soars as our dependence on them increases. Importance is a function of context, which makes all businessmen followers of kathenotheism.

Sivakumar owns a small company that makes spare parts for cars. The business has been growing well. Sivakumar allocates one day a week with every department. Monday is for sales & marketing, Tuesday is for logistics, Wednesday is for production, Thursday is with finance, Friday is with human resources, Saturday is with admin and all contract workers. When asked by his secretary why he scheduled his day so, he said, “Each one of them contributes to my success. So I give each of them value by devoting an hour each day for each department. Every department matters, and every department is special. If I focus only on one department, the others will feel neglected and even negative, which I do not want. By valuing all of them, I ensure no hierarchy is created. Each one is important in their own way. The business depends on all of them.”

Rakesh who is Sivakumar’s main rival in the market, has a different strategy. For him customers are god and everything and everyone in the company is geared to satisfy the customers. He values the customer-facing department more than the rest. This ensures great revenue and clarifies the value of customers.

Both Sivakumar and Rakesh do well in the market. Both make profits. But their approach to managing their teams is very different. Sivakumar follows the model of katheotheism: there are many gods, each valued depending on context. Rakesh follows the model of monotheism: there is only one God, the customer.