A spiritual theme park named “Sagar World”
set on a 10 acre site near “Karjat Phata” (fork of Karjat Road and Mumbai-Pune highway), outskirts of Navi Mumbai at a distance of 67 kilometers from Mumbai targeted towards the city of Mumbai and the tourists it brings. Mumbai is India’s largest metropolis with a population of over 18 million. It receives 10 million domestic tourists per year. It also receives 1.35 million foreign tourists per year.
Sagar World will have an animated mythological museum, themed rides, central park, temple city, amphi-theatre, Dr. Ramanand Sagar Museum, food & beverage, merchandising of souvenirs and a 50 room 4-star hotel and spa. The concept is of “Fun with Wisdom” or “Edutainment”
where children are able to enjoy while they soak in the knowledge from the various stories of Indian mythology. The Sagar software of 2,000 hours based on their television serials such as Ramayan, Shri Krishna, Jai Ganga Maiya, Alif Laila (Arabian Nights), Jai Maha Laxmi, Vikram Aur Betaal etc. will be incorporated into the park in various forms.
The Sagar Group of “Ramayan” TV serial fame. Ramayan is estimated to have been seen by 650 million people world-wide according to BBC.
The Mumbai project is only a “seed” project. There are plans to cover 9 ‘Worlds’ for example Sagar World in Haridwar, Krishna World in Mathura and Shiv World in Benaras, Ramayan World in Delhi. These places account for 50% of India’s total domestic tourist population of 250 million people. The last phase of expansion is in International Tourist Destinations such as Bali, Mauritius, Trinidad, and London etc. There are over 25 million NRI’s around the world. There is a tremendous interest in Indian culture and religion such as Yoga, Ayurveda and Meditation etc. which can be tapped through such venues under the realm of “spiritual tourism”. There are an estimated 25 million people practicing Yoga in North America.
has been formed consisting of Mr. P.K. Kaul (Ex-Ambassador to US), H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati Maharaj – “Muniji” (President, Parmath Ashram, Rishikesh – Chief Editor of the Encyclopedia on Hinduism project), Mr. Anupam Govil (President of TIE in Austin, Texas), Dr. Vijay Mahajan (Ex-Dean of Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, presently John P. Harbin Centennial Chair in Business - Marketing Department, University of Texas, Austin), Braham Agarwal (Chairman – Hindu University of America) and Dr. L. M. Singhvi (Member of Parliament and former High Commissioner of India to U.K.)
Sagar Theme Parks has already raised close to $ 1 million in private equity from many prominent NRI’s including Mr. Braham Agarwal from Hindu University of America in Orlando, Mr. Anil Deshpande from Orlando and others. Other non-Indian investors include Alice Coltrane or Swamini Turiya Sangitananda – wife of the Jazz Legend John Coltrane who runs the Sai Ananta Ashram in Los Angeles. Investments for this prestigious project have poured in from NRI’s from all over the world including countries like Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam and Canada. The project has been written about by the leading press of the world including BBC, Washington Times and Business Week (USA) other than the local Indian press.
The Economic Times (please use a different font)
INDIAWEST [SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 05, 2004 01:07:06 AM]
A hi-tech ride with Hanuman? Skeptics may have their doubts, but if anybody can make it happen, it’s surely the Ramanand Sagar family of Ramayan fame. And he is getting jazz legend John Coltrane’s wife, Alice Coltrane, a musician who now runs the Sai Ananta Ashram in Agoura, California, to help him do this.
People rolled their eyes when writer and filmmaker Ramanand Sagar announced in 1987 that he had an idea for a TV show based on the Ramayan.
But television was still an unproven medium then, and Sagar was seen as taking an unwise gamble.
It was a gamble that paid off handsomely for him—Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, in 78 weekly half-hour episodes, broke world records and until last year remained the world’s most-viewed mythological serial. For years, on every Sunday morning in India, life came to a standstill as fans massed around television sets to catch the latest episode.
Sagar’s 27-year-old grandson, Shiv, is impressed too. “Six hundred and fifty million people saw The Ramayan,” Shiv Sagar says. He was in San Francisco last week to spread the word about the Sagar family’s latest venture, which may be its most ambitious one to date.
Sagar Theme Parks Pvt. Ltd is planning to bring Krishna, Hanuman, Ram and the rest of the Hindu pantheon to life by building the world’s biggest mythological theme park in Haridwar, on the banks of the river Ganga. To be called Sagar World, the 25-acre park will feature high-tech rides recreating great moments in Hindu mythology, an animated mythological museum, food courts, a “temple city” that will show different architectural styles, a sound and light show, a petting zoo and a center where visiting NRIs and others can set up remote poojas and other rituals over the Internet.
The park was the idea of Prem Sagar, Ramanand’s son and father to Shiv. Shiv explained that the family had been thinking about it for over 10 years but now that the business plan is in place, Sagar World is close to being a reality. Shiv said: “It’s taken time, but now it’s at the concrete stages”. The park could be completed in as quickly as 18 months’ time, he said, at a project cost of Rs.29.5 crore ($6.4 million).
The holy city of Haridwar would seem to be the perfect place to create a destination like Sagar World. The town, where Vishnu is said to have left his footprint, attracts between 23,000 and 66,000 visitors per day. It is situated in the newly formed state of Uttaranchal, whose Congress-led government is aggressively courting tourism projects by providing a 100% income and entertainment tax exemption. The state’s chief minister ND Tiwari is an old friend of Ramanand Sagar, said Shiv. “The state wants to attract tourism, more than other industries like manufacturing, because it’s such a beautiful place,” he says.
Should the project work out to be a success, the company plans to open eight other theme parks in places like Ajmer (Alif-Laila Museum), Mathura (Krishna ham), Kolkata (Durga Dham) and Tirupati (Balaji/Vishnu Dham).
The family, still led by 87-year-old Ramanand Sagar, has far-reaching interests that include everything from filmmaking to business to high tech and the visual arts. But Shiv Sagar has found his niche in the hospitality industry. Educated at the Les Roches Hotel Management School in Switzerland, Shiv spent time managing Sagar-owned properties in Haridwar and Manali.
He notes that the existing ashrams and low-budget hotels in the Haridwar area have served pilgrims well until now, but have not offered much in the way of attracting new visitors. “The tourism infrastructure is not so good. It’s been neglected by the big international hotel chains,” he said. Shiv Sagar’s latest visit to the US has already borne fruit – he’s met with members of The Indus Entrepreneurs in several cities, and he’s secured a $1, 00,000 investments from spiritual teacher Alice Coltrane.
Though the park will incorporate religious themes, it is meant as an educational, rather than religious, center, said Shiv. “We’re not doing this as a religious project,” he told India-West. “It’s not propaganda. We want to make it fun, a place where people can learn the Indian stories.
” Plans are in the works to donate a portion of the proceeds to charity, but Sagar World will be aligned with no one religious organization in particular. Sagar World, said Shiv Sagar, is purely a business proposition, because that is the best way to maintain a transparent and sustainable project.
The company will build on India’s trust and familiarity with the well-loved Ramayan TV serial to create awareness for Sagar World, though Shiv notes with a smile that “no one has a copyright on Krishna!”
“Mythological tales such as the Ramayan and the Mahabharata are a very integral part of Indian culture and ethos and very little needs to be said about their penetration to the grass roots level in India,” he adds.
“Sagar World will be an ‘infotainment’ destination where families are able to show their children the rich cultural heritage of India in an entertaining fashion that is fun for the entire family.”
World's first Hindu theme park By Kathleen McCaul
Its backers describe it as the "world's biggest ever mythological theme park". Hindu gods such as Ram, Hanuman and Krishna will be the central attractions for a 'Disneyland on the Ganges' in India.
The aim of the 25 acre park, called Sagar World, is to recreate great moments in Hindu mythology through hi-tech rides, an animated mythological museum, a "temple city", food courts and a sound and light show. The park is to be on the banks of the Ganges, in the north Indian pilgrimage town of Haridwar.
It is where the Hindu god Vishnu is said to have left his footprint. The town attracts more than 18 million visitors a year.
"There is a huge amount of pilgrim traffic in Haridwar," says Shiv Sagar, the project's chief executive.
"People come to take a bath on the bank of the Ganga River because it is a Hindu belief that this cleanses a person."
"But after they take a bath there is nowhere for the pilgrims to go to learn about Hindu stories.
"Sagar World is a spiritual theme park where children and families can go and have a good time, while learning about stories from Hindu mythology," Mr. Sagar says.
Construction of the park is due to start later this year. Mr. Sagar hopes it will be ready by 2007 - in time for the next Kumbh Mela. This huge religious festival will take place in 2010 and is forecast to attract up to 50 million people.
Although the mix of religion and entertainment may seem unusual, Shiv Sagar is no stranger to the combination. His grandfather, Ramanand Sagar, produced and directed the hugely popular TV serial Ramayan.
The dramatizations of Hindu mythology were broadcast around the world in 60 different languages. An estimated 650 million people tuned in to watch.
"Sagar World is based on the work of my granddad. The idea has been so popular because people already know Dr Sagar's work and know he shows the Gods in a respectful and devotional way," Mr. Sagar told the BBC.
People come to take a bath on the bank of the Ganga River because it is a Hindu belief that this cleanses a person
Sagar World Chief Executive Shiv Sagar
Shiv has also enlisted the help of Alice Coltrane, the wife of legendary Jazz musician John Coltrane.
"Alice is a very spiritual person and runs an ashram in [Los Angeles]. She knows our family well and stays with us when she is in India. She is one of the main investors in the park," he said.
Mr. Sagar argues that Hinduism is a religion versatile enough to adapt to theme parks and TV shows.
"The Hindu religion is well suited to something like this, religions like Islam are not allowed to depict forms but we have many different forms and representations of Gods," he said.
But Sagar World does have its critics. Some say making the Hindu Gods into figures of fun is disrespectful.
Devas Samaroo, a Hindu priest and doctor based in London, disagrees.
"If a theme park means to expand on the pantheon of Hindu philosophy, to bring understanding to people within a limited area, to spread the knowledge of so many deities and aspects and qualities of god... I don't think there is anything wrong with a theme park," he said.
Other people criticize the park for being built on the Ganges - there are strict regulations to prevent building on the banks of the river in Haridwar.
The aim of the project is to build on 25 acres just by the river.
"We have the full support of the government of [the state of] Uttaranchal in terms of all the regulations and other such aspects. They are very keen that this project comes to Haridwar," Mr. Sagar says.
The park is not only aimed at domestic tourists. Shiv realizes the park's potential in attracting the 25 million Indians living abroad.
A centre is also being planned that will enable Indians living abroad to set up remote pujas and other rituals over the internet.
News of the park caused excitement at the Eelapathhswarar Hindu temple in Wembley, North London.
"This project sounds unique and I would like to go with my family. If I am alive I will definitely be there for the Kumb Mela!" said Bahi Jayadeyan, chairman of the temple.
Although the park is rooted in Hinduism, Mr. Sagar wants to attract visitors of other religions too.
If the project takes off, it will move on to an international level. The plan is to open parks in Trinidad, Bali, Fiji and Thailand - and perhaps even Orlando, Los Angeles and London.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/04/28 17:02:37 GMT
© BBC MMV
Business Week Online
NEWS & ANALYSIS By Nandini Lakshman
Dubbed "Disneyland on the Ganges," the pet project of Bollywood's first family will celebrate history, religion, and entertainment.
The tree-lined streets of Bombay suburb Juhu is Bollywood country, home to many of India's cultural glitterati. Big homes are the norm. Shiv Sagar, the grandson of a fabled Indian film producer and media mogul, greets a visitor in a spacious room that could pass for a film set. It's decorated with a gargantuan painting featuring Hindu deities. That's fitting. After all, the Sagar clan is Bollywood's first family of Hindu mythical drama, a hybrid of solemn pageantry and entertainment that has shaped Indian popular culture for decades.
Throughout much of India 's early post-colonial era, family patriarch and film director Ramanand Sagar, who founded production company Sagar Arts in 1950, turned out a string of films, mostly historical dramas and love stories. He's best remembered, however, for a hugely successful TV series in the late-1980s called Ramayan, based on the Hindu god Ram.
The elder Sagar passed away in late 2005. And now a new generation of family entertainment entrepreneurs including Shiv, 28, wants to make its own mark by building what it says will be, "the world's first spiritual theme park." It will be called Sagar World. "We are positioning it as a fun place with wisdom and trying to make it cool," explains Sagar.
SACRED AND PROFANE.
Construction on the first phase of the planned infotainment park (costing $6.5 million) is expected to begin later this year, and the Sagar family hopes to have the theme park up and running by late next year or early 2008. It will feature high-tech rides, knowledge centers about India's spiritual heritage, food courts, and other attractions.
Sagar has already secured a 25-acre site along the banks of the Ganges River in the northern holy city of Haridwar. This is a revered pilgrimage spot for Hindus and attracts 18 million visitors every year, some of whom, in accordance with Hindu legend, take a dip in the Ganges to cleanse themselves of sin.
On top of that built-in potential audience, Sagar World would also surely see a huge influx of visitors in 2010 during a Hindu festival called Maha Kumbh Mela that takes place in Haridwar only once every 12 years. That makes for a big incentive to see the project through. "They are expecting 50 million people for the Kumbh, and that's a huge number," says Sagar.
This Disneyland on the Ganges, as it has been dubbed, isn't just a commercial proposition, though making money is clearly a priority. The park's design will feature replicas of ancient Hindu temples, and theaters in which actors representing major Hindu deities such as Krishna, Ram, Sita, and Hanuman will impart cherished spiritual wisdom.
The park will also include entertainment and retail outlets. Every evening there will be a Disney-style parade, complete with fireworks and music. But the characters will take the form of Hindu religious figures instead of Mickey and Donald. "It definitely is for the masses," says Homi Aibara, partner at consulting firm Mahajan & Aibara, which worked with the Sagar family on the park's design.
Sagar and other park backers have been careful to stress the educational aspect of the park so as not to offend devout believers or the powerful Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi. So far, the reaction has been cautious, but not hostile.
"The merchandising of religion is happening all over the world to a certain extent. Since it is an issue of beliefs, it has to be done with restraint," says Vinay Sahasrabudhe, director general of Rambhau Mhalgi Prabhodhini, the training and research Institute of the BJP.
Indeed, the Indian state government of Uttaranchal, the site of the park, is backing the project and has even provided tax breaks to the Sagar family. "This is not propaganda, but a place where young and old can learn about their heritage through our stories," insists Sagar.
Raising financing has also been tricky, though Sagar says that, thanks to funding from private investors, his family, and bank loans, he has secured the $6.5 million needed to kick off the project.
Sagar won't say which individual Indian investors are backing the park, though he did confirm his family last year approached well-heeled experts in the West including Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, founder of telecom switch maker Sycamore Networks (SCMR)
; Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of Web e-mail service Hotmail, which was acquired by Microsoft (MS)
; and Mohan Mittal, father of global steel baron Lakshmi Mittal. Alice Coltrane, the wife of the late jazz legend John Coltrane, has publicly disclosed her role as investor and adviser to the Sagar World project.
THEME PARK GROWTH
From an investor's point of view, the Sagar family certainly has a solid track record delivering the kind of entertainment the public loves. The 1980s TV series Ramayan drew massive ratings at home and was syndicated in 100 countries abroad, including Pakistan.
Capitalizing on this success, the Sagars churned out a number of other popular epic dramas with good-conquers-evil plot lines. What's more, as India prospers and living standards rise, the country's $752 million theme park business is now growing at about 25% annually, according to the Indian Association of Amusement Parks.
The younger Sagar, Shiv, also points out the park's backers can draw on "2,000 hours of television software, which we can leverage" to develop characters and sell video entertainment. Sagar is a graduate from the Les Roches School of Hotel Management in Switzerland and also holds a management degree from the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. Yet part of his motivation is living up to the religiosity of his family. He practices yoga and meditation daily.
WHY NOT AMERICANS?
Another target market for Sagar World is the 25 million Indians living abroad. "When they come to India, a visit to the temples is mandatory to acquaint their kids with their heritage. So we are trying to make it cool for even a teenager," explains Sagar.
Some foreign tourists without family ties to India might be lured into coming as well. Josephine Troy, a music teacher from Minnesota currently visiting Bombay—who spends three months every winter practicing yoga in the Himalayas—thinks that "visiting the park and attending the discourses would only enhance my India experience."
If Phase 1 of the park succeeds, Sagar says he will move ahead with a $5.4 million addition to the site that would include a 100-room hotel and spa offering yoga and Ayurvedic healing treatments. He doesn't rule out expanding the concept to other parts of India or even overseas. Will Sagar World click with Indian consumers? Perhaps only Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god of prosperity, knows for sure. Yet Shiv Sagar definitely likes his odds.
Lakshman covers India business for Business Week