ASSOCHAM has estimated West Bengal’s Durga Puja as an industry worth Rs. 40,000 crore in 2015.
Releasing its recent paper based on survey and market research, “West Bengal Cashing in on Durga Puja Celebrations”, the ‘Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India’ (ASSOCHAM) has said that the cost of organizing the Durga Puja in Bengal has grown as much as over 30 percent compared to last year due to the steep rise in the materials used.
“Despite falling Rupee, rising inflation and slowdown in the economy, the large business and industries are targeting high profit margins during Durga Puja in West Bengal which is growing at a ‘Compound Annual Growth Rate’ (CAGR) of about 35 percent,’ revealed the latest survey by the apex body.
It has elaborated: As per the estimates, the Pandal (marquee) industry touched Rs.500 crore in 2013 from Rs.350 crore in 2012, by growing at the same rate of 35 percent this year.
“About 10,000 Durga Puja marquees come up every year in Bengal. The average expenditure of organisers is expected to go up by 20 percent this year owing to the surging inflation,” says the ASSOCHAM finding.
“The total expenses have increased by 20 percent due to appreciation in all expenses from artists conceptualizing the theme to labor constructing the Pandals to cost of idols, transportation, and price of Puja offerings and charge of Dhakis (the drummers).”
The entertainment industry and the professionals, as well as the industries involved in the lighting and decoration business, seize the opportunity and see more than 35 percent growth in total turnover, while compared to the earlier times, according to ASSOCHAM.
The food and beverage industry was also anticipated for an additional business of Rs.50-60 crores during this Durga Puja season.
Obviously this survey report has not included the big growth in the apparel/fashion, footwear, accessories, jewellery, FMCG, Automobile and travel industries, during the Durga Puja season. The buying and booking spree start as early as in the month of August itself.
And mind it, among the metros, the number of Pandals are around 5,000 in Kolkata, 140 in Mumbai, around 380 in NCR. It Patna or Bhubaneswar, they are in hundreds. In a small place like Dimapur in Nagaland, there are around 50 Durgotsavs!
Each Pandal costs in the range of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 50 lakh. Bigger Pandals in Kolkata such as the Ekdalia Green or Madox Square are believed to spend in the region of Rs 1-1.5 crore.
These days, almost 90% of the revenues the Puja Committees earn, are generated through corporate sponsorship and outdoor advertising, the rest comes from the traditional means like individual contributions(Chanda) and advertising in the Puja souvenir.
Puja As A Brand Building Excercise
Naturally, the new-age Durga Puja is an efficiently marketed mega festival that boosts various brands.
Why this is a big business opportunity?
Look at the fact. According to the Marketing companies’ estimate: Footfalls are 200,000-300,000 per day per Pandal in Kolkata. Its 100,000 per day in Mumbai and 500,000-1 million over 5 Days in Delhi & NCR.
So, Branding rights are the key words during this Durga Puja.
A South Kolkata Puja Committee has now sold “all branding rights” to the US-based media company, ‘Manhattan Communication’ , which incidentally is an Indian owned Company.
A media sponsor means better and more planned publicity and extensive coverage. “It frees us from commercial worries and gives us time to concentrate on making the Puja better,” said Sibsankar Basu, the treasurer of the Maddox Square Puja Committee.
‘Zee Bangla’ had stationed its outdoor unit outside a particular Puja venue and brought all the actions live from the Puja grounds. Right from Anjali to Bhog ceremony, Aarti to cultural programmes. There were special Addas, which drew best of the young talents and the glamour from Kolkata.
Among the big Pujas of Kolkata, at least 10 of them got the patronage of “sole sponsors”. In the last year, the figure was perhaps seven. So the “Sole Sponsorship” trend is growing.
Though , not everyone is happy with this trend.
Sometimes, the sponsor interfere with the Puja Committee’s plans and actions, to conform them to their publicity interests. Also there are restrictions for the local, ‘Para’ people, and when you tie up financially with a company you are to bound to follow their instructions.
So now many Puja Committees preferring to have multiple sponsors who pay for the entry gates ,stalls, hoarding or background advertising and banner rights.
So various FMCG Brands, Banks, TV Channels and FM channels were part sponsors at many Pujas across the city.
There are unique ways too. In a big exercise of Brand Building, ‘Tanishq’ , the well known branded jewellery company adorned Goddess Durga’s idol, with jewellery worth an estimated Rs 5 crore, at Kolkata’s ‘Sreebhumi Sporting Club’!
The Pujas have grown big. A well known Puja in Kolkata started with a budget of Rs. 20,000- 25,000 years back. Organised the Puja in a local temple compound. Now in its silver jubilee year, it has an estimated budget of Rs.2 crore! Where the money will come from!
So, the stamps of the sponsors are distinctly visible on every Puja Pandal. Their Banners or hoardings are up there everywhere. Right over the idol’s head or near the Puja alter. At the entry gates, or as background of the stage for cultural programmes.
Putting up a banner ensures money, depending on the ranking of the Puja and the footfalls.
Because, these days the local Shamiana arrangers or the decorators are out of the scene. The decorator now is the Creative Director, who spends 6-8 months in advance, planning the Pandal, visiting the original site in far off Karnataka or Nepal with crews for photo shoots, involving, or even importing tonnes of rare materials for building the Pandals. Hiring the trained artists and workers from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Kerala or Assam, is quite normal.
In the last few years, even the Truck Painters from Pakistan, US Installation Artists or Mural Artists from France are coming to Kolkata to involve into Pandal making.
City-based major public relation companies like ‘Carpe Diem’ also having a distinct role this festive season.
The firms are using every trick in the book, to make sure that the targeted Pujas “are a grand success”.
Success though, does not always mean big footfalls, but also the number of potential Corporate Sponsors who will make a beeline for the venue.
“When a Puja budget goes up, the organisers generally don’t make a big profit out of that. It’s the economy around the Pujas which gets a big boost. Be it the Pandal makers or the idol makers. The people who put up their stalls there, the sponsors, everyone”.
Bigger the Puja, the better is the business potential. Commented a PR Company head.
The PR package includes, Big star inaugurations, the leading Stars of Bengali Film industry, or the Sports Stars like Sourav Ganguly or Bhaichung Bhutia, Mumbai heartthrobs, even the Bengal “Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee” inaugurating the Puja. Music Companies may launch Puja Albums in the venue, or the most popular brands including Coca Cola, Sony, Lenovo, Honda or Emami may sponsor some of these activities.
This year, the legendary Footballer Pele has inaugurated the Puja in Kolkata. Flanked by Sourav Ganguly and surrounded by his security and paparazzi, Pele launched the Chetla Agrani club’s marquee.
There are the leading Media Partners too.
Then the Best Puja Awards sponsored by big brands.
Shalimar Paints, the third largest Paint company in India, and Mysore-based N R Group, which owns the popular ‘Cycle Brand Agarbatti’( incense sticks), promote the Dhakis (the Drummers) through competitions. The winners are given big cash prizes.
Even there are companies who sponsor ‘Bhogs’ (Prasads) for every particular day!
And there are Awards not just for the Best Pandals, Best Lighting or Best Idols, there are sponsored Awards for the best Asura and best Lion too!
In the “Earlier days, it was the ‘Parar Pujo’ (community worship)”. Later it became the Club’s Puja, and now it seems like the “Sponsors Puja”. Exclaimed a veteran market watcher.
Pujas are definitely becoming corporatised.
In those days, the local businessmen were too scared of Chandas, which were actually ‘extortions’, by local toughies and political musclemen, who were also the main patrons of such festivals.
Today Subscriptions or Chandas amount to only 10-15 per cent of the total budget in cases, and sometimes even less.
“Our budget amount mostly come from the sponsors. Today, it is not practically possible to organise a big Puja solely based on Chandas or personal contributions,” said Bikash Majumdar, the General Secretary of the College Square Puja Committee.
Also these days, really there are dearth of dedicated young men who would volunteer to go out in groups to collect Chanda. They are too busy in their profession, studies and in other engagements. The number of dedicated volunteers during the Puja is going down every year.
Conducting a Puja is almost like conducting a business, these days.
Many well known Puja Committees have their own website. The sponsors and the donors have the facility of electronic transfer of money into their accounts. Some even have tied up with the banks, and it is possible now to donate or pay through credit or debit cards.
“The Pujas today are an event for brand building. And the media and corporate houses are the face of the event. Even game shows or sit-and-draw competitions for kids at apartment blocks during the Pujas are media driven, so you can’t have the community feeling without them,” says Tapati GuhaThakurta, the historian and Director of ‘Centre for Studies in Social Sciences’, who has recently written a book, “In the Name of the Goddess: The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata”, based on her research on Durga Puja.
Most of the Puja celebrations in Kolkata and its suburbs are a far cry from the traditional ‘Bonedi Bari’ (Aristocrat Zamindar type family) celebrations. The ‘Barowari’ (community Pujas) celebrations which started literally by 12 friends at Hooghly in 1790 and after independence they took the name of ‘Sarbojanin’ (for all). Pujas are gradually becoming fond memories, with the advent of big budget, big publicity Pujas.
The most visible aspect of the Changing times in Durga Puja is the standout art and décor, which is simply incomparable. So much time and money is spent on painstaking research, planning and implementation, was unheard of in earlier days.
It is getting better and better. Attracting foreign tourists and international media in Kolkata, these days. In the line of Rio Carnival or Mardi Grass.
And growingly there are the ‘Theme Pujas’, which are replacing the traditional fervour.
The social structure has changed. Homely Puja tradition is gone with the joint families.
More and more intellectuals, artists and global inputs are getting into the whole affair, making the Pujas a mix of everything: Tradition, Social Gathering, intricate and sophisticated Creative expressions, Cultural Outlets, Food Fiesta, Tourism Hub and Big Business opportunities. All in one.
According to historian GuhaThakurta, the ‘urban festival’ has metamorphosed into a “template” for all other festivals and has “secularised” over the decades.
But, according to eminent Indologist and Social Historian Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri , there is nothing to worry. Because the worship of the Goddess still continues in the same way, maintaining all the rituals, notwithstanding the multiplicity in social and cultural celebrations.
“In fact, now there is a healthy amalgamation of Western ideas and Indian culture,” Bhaduri confirmed.
A Global Affair
So when American artist Tracy Lee Stum, who is globally acclaimed for her 3D street painting installations, joined hand with Kolkata artists to put up a nostalgia of the 1960s Kolkata , it only extended the cultural connect. Pakistani artists Haydar Ali and Mamtaz Alam came here to paint during Puja season. So are the French artists.
So amalgamation is a good thing, which is extending the horizon. This year, a syndicate of Travel writers and documentary film makers, from all over the globe arrived in Kolkata, during the festive season, to cover the unique event from a global perspective.
According to Dr Shefali Sengupta, a cultural historian: “Durga Puja is different because it is not only a carnival, it is a spiritual, social, and philosophical journey with a lot of mysticism into it. In the contemporary days, it has become a massive centre for creative art.”
The Canadian Travel writer Dominic Merle is simply amazed. “At midnight I saw people standing in a queue for two hours to have a look at the idol. I can’t imagine it’s happening in our part of the world”!
Anais Fardel, a Travel Agent from Paris, is now planning to plan some Indian tour package around Kolkata during the Puja season, next year.
Veronica Devesa who is a lead writer in Conde Nast Traveller and Mujer Life , the popular Spanish travel magazine, Presenter- Actor Bruno Blanchet from Evasion TV, a French-Canadian Television Channel were also in Kolkata during Durga Puja.
Jaydeep and Swaguna, the India born owners of a Montreal, Canada based Travel Company came to Kolkata in 2011, to capture the mother of all festivals in a documentary.
Later they had screened the documentary at the ‘Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal’, an Association of Businesses Bodies, that included several Fortune 500 companies. The delegates raptly watched the documentary compared it a more socially, artistically and culturally vibrant event in comparison to Rio Carnival and Oktoberfest!
Inspired by the Canadian response, they approached India Tourism Board, to arrange and finance Road shows during next Durga Puja in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax.
But according to Jaydeep, the Tourism Board Babus, though liked the idea initially but gradually lost interest and later not responded to their queries!
Durga Puja or Pujo, as Bengalis call it, is distinctly different. One of Goan, who lived in Kolkata and who is also an organiser of Goan Carnival now, visited Brazil on a few occasions during the Rio Carnival, told that the Durga Puja is not just any Carnival. It’s a much bigger social event, quite profound and inherent.
As Vir Sanghvi, the eminent journalist and editor narrated it in his blog, in this way: “To understand Puja, you must understand Calcutta. And to understand Calcutta, you must understand the Bengalis. It’s not easy. Certainly, you can’t do it till you come and live here, till you let Calcutta suffuse your being, invade your bloodstream and steal your soul.
But once you have, you’ll love Calcutta forever. Wherever you go, a bit of Calcutta will go with you. I know, because it’s happened to me. And every Puja, I am overcome by the magic of Bengal. It’s a feeling that’ll never go away”.
By Deep Basu
Images are the author’s self-contribution.