Indian spiritual network to air hymn-singing reality TV show

Indians will soon compete in a new reality TV show, in which pop songs and cash prizes will be replaced by hymns and a pilgrimage.

Indians will soon compete in a new reality TV show, in which pop songs and cash prizes will be replaced by hymns and a pilgrimage.

India's largest spiritual TV network, Aastha, will begin scouting for young participants across India later this month, the company's chairman and managing director, Kirit Mehta, told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

However, the channel scrapped plans to call the reality show Religious Indian Idol. It settled on Swar Adhiraj, or Master of Music, so the program does not conflict with the successful Indian Idol show based on the American Idol format that was launched three years ago.

"First we thought we were taking a risk, but it should pay good dividends. We are already being approached by advertisers," said Mehta. "This is different from the American Idol format because there is no prize money. One of the top prizes will be a trip to a religious destination."

The reality contest is among the most prominent of several attempts to reel in younger audiences. India is one of the world's biggest entertainment markets, with 55 per cent of the population — 550 million people — under the age of 25.

Religious songs performed in Bollywood movies will be allowed.

"There are so many Hindi-movie devotional songs that are well-known. Contestants can choose what they want in some rounds," said Mehta.

The Aastha channel says it reaches 20 million households in India, the United States, Britain, Canada and the Middle East.

Hindus make 84 per cent of India's more than 1.2 billion population. Religious songs from Buddhist, Sikh and Jain faiths will also be performed in the contest.

Over the past three years, 14 spiritual channels have hit TV screens across India, featuring health programs on meditation and yoga and live coverage of important religious events.

Original advertisers have included garment and joss stick makers. However, airlines, jewelry and cosmetic companies now vie for space.

"Religious channels are doing well because Indians are extremely religious-minded," said advertisement producer Prahlad Kakkar. "A pilgrimage is not a dream prize, but the young will definitely want to be seen here."