Millennium Post

In the city of autumnal Goddess

In the city of autumnal Goddess
Durga Puja, the most happening festival of the Bengalis, can be felt with its spurt of fanfare on all four days of the festival. This autumnal festival, popularly known as Shardotsav, celebrates the power of Shakti, symbolised by the Goddess Durga, who slays asura to re-establish peace and sanctity on earth again. Bengalis all over the world during these days rejoice to their heart’s content, reconnecting with friends and relatives. Durga Puja is an occasion when the familiar sound of dhak, dhunuchi nachh,the mild fragrance of shiuli, give a familiar tug at every Bengali heart.

The origin of public celebrations of Durga Puja can be traced back to the 16th century. With the ascent of the Mughals, Durga Puja became more of a status symbol. The annual festival soon became the most celebrated. It was an ocassion to make merry with friends, relatives, neighbours and acquaintances. Hosted for over a week, Durga Puja is considered one of the most expensive festivals of India. The social and ritualistic significance has also been modified to a certain extent.

Spread over five days, multiple rituals are performed, though vermilion play (sindur khela) –  probably four-century-old and perhaps the most glamorous – captivates Bengalis like nothing else. As per mythology, since on Vijaya Dashami evening, goddess Durga returns to her husband’s home, hence all married women, mostly in white or yellow sarees with red borders, are seen honouring the goddess and each other with ‘sindur’. This ritual is all about  resplendence accompanied with sweets and the sound of drums and cymbals.

The festive mood in the City of Joy starts from two months in advance when people usually start buying new clothes, shoes and accessories. The Gariahat and the New Market are the most crowded.  The restaurants are full till the time they close, traffic is in a mess due to the large number of people and one can hear hawkers selling their wares on streets with the loudest of the dins.  Once the Puja starts, for five full days roads are decked with lights and one can hear sound of drums and cymbals emanating from every big or small Puja pandal that one may cross.   

For corporate India, Durga Puja is a gold mine of sorts. With sponsorships being passé, one can now find Puja-specific advertisements and marketing strategies, which run into a few crores. According to industry sources, such branding not just increases brand visibility but more often than not translates into higher sales. ‘During Durga Puja, pandal hopping is the favourite activity and our marketing strategies would be done accordingly,’ says an employee of the Emami Group.

The company has earmarked Rs. 50 lakh towards marketing and advertising initiatives for this year’s Puja. Tunnels in different pandals are built with ad- campaigns stretching from the entrance to mandap where they display information about various products. Food stations and live cookery shows also form a part of the marketing campaigns. Thums Up- which had initiated the trend of Puja specific advertisements, normally launches its new advertisements during Durga Puja. The company undertakes ground activation from its teams spread over 100 pandals across Kolkata.

Consumer durables as usual remain the top grossers. Samsung that witnesses nearly 35 per cent rise in sales during the festive season, has targeted sales figures of Rs. 2,500 crore. ‘Sales from eastern region during Durga Puja account for almost 16 per cent of our total sales,’ said an official of Samsung’s home appliances division. Sony India too  is eyeing around 48 per cent growth in sales during September-October this year. The company is aiming to do business worth Rs 245 crore and is expected to invest nearly Rs 15 crore for marketing in the season. ‘Nearly 35 per cent of our total sales in West Bengal are achieved during this season. We are targeting sales worth over Rs. 200 crore,’ says an official from Sony India’s sales division. For some telecom operators it is an extension of their value-added services like traffic updates or Puja specific song downloads or an increase in talk time. Tata Docomo and Idea Cellular have launched extra talk time offers on small-ticket recharges for pre-paid customers. To make the most of the festive season, they have decided to sponsor bhog or prasad offered to Goddess Durga.

Prominent oil companies have tied up with more than 100 pujas pandals  in Kolkata where their edible oil will be used in preparing the bhog. Similarly beverage, cosmetic and electronic companies have their own strategies to boost sales during this period. 

Fine dining chain, Speciality Restaurants is sponsoring prasad at seven of the biggest puja pandals in the city. However, the company doesn’t intend to brand the bhog with any of the names of its restaurants. The more old-style forms of branding, including stalls, will still have a substantial presence, promoting products ranging from food and beverages to apparels, household products, insurance companies and even tyres and banks. With brands going gung-ho over the Durga Puja, there will be for the first time, decor for the deity at Kolkata’s Sreebhumi Sporting Club this year. Tanishq will adorn the goddess with jewellery worth an estimated Rs 5 crore.

According to president of Forum for Durgotsav, a  body comprising many puja committees, puja budgets are down 20-30 per cent compared to last year majorly due to the Saradha scam for the group gave enormous donations. There are approximately 3,400 pujas in Kolkata and South 24 Parganas alone and budgets for these pujas run into crores. Ahiritola Sarbojonin Durgotsav Committee, which organizes one of the biggest pujas in the city, has cut its budget this year by 30 per cent. Tridhara Sammilani, another puja in South Kolkata echoes similar sentiments. ‘We have a 15-20  per cent lower budget this year due to scarcity of funds. Many of our regular advertisers did not participate in any kind of sponsorship this year, so we had to look for new ones,’ says L. Mukherjee, organising secretary of the committee. Singhi Park Sarbojonin, Mominpur Sporting Club, Pati Bose Sarbojanin Durgotsav, Pataldanga Mahapuja and Nalin Sarkar Sarbojanin have also pruned their budget by 20-30 per cent.

Analysts foresee a trickle-down effect as cut in budgets will ultimately impact the artisans who earn their annual income during the pujas. ‘Few pujas in Kolkata had phenomenal budgets and it is a fact that they had to compromise a bit this time around as their usual funding sources have not exactly dried up, but have become a lot smaller. These sources, having come under the scanner are functioning more cautiously and participating in sponsoring pujas this year,’ says Dipankar Dasgupta , a former professor at the Economics department at the city’s Indian Statistical Institute. This year, however, the tourism department, with the help of Forum for Durgotsav, is setting up stalls across 54 pujas in the city where state handicraft products would be exhibited. The department is also organizing baul and chau performances across 10 pujas to pull the crowd. The total money spent by the department in this initiative is close to Rs 20 lakh against last year’s Rs 50,000.

Kolkata Police is also taking several measures to boost security during the Puja. It will unveil a fleet of eight patrol vehicles on the lines of Delhi’s Police Control Room vans to tackle street crimes and deploy more personnel, including policewomen, on the streets. The new patrol vehicles will help respond to a crime in the quickest time possible and act as the facilitator between local police and the victim. For now, each police division will get one such patrol vehicle with the numbers increasing over time.  ‘The patrol vehicles have been asked to follow a dedicated route and serve key areas like Bowbazar, New Market, Shakespeare Sarani, Park Street and Bhowanipore, which are traditionally thronged by women,’ says an officer. The control room will directly monitor the movement of these vehicles. In addition, over 500 extra cops will be deployed all across the city.

The Chandni Chowk-Park Street stretch alone will see an extra deployment of over 100 cops day and night till the end of the entire festive season, starting from September. The Reinforced City Patrol (RCP) with  women cops only patrol vehicles was inaugurated by police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha.

Lalbazar sources say they will now deploy more policewomen after stand-down- that is, after 11pm. Headed by DC (Women Police) Debasree Roy, three ‘women-only’ vehicles have been launched initially. These will be manning three spots in the city — J L Nehru Road, Rashbehari Avenue and near Akashvani Bhawan. Police say they have also made elaborate arrangements for technical surveillance at Esplanade. ‘We had approached several private companies, five-star hotels and shopping centres in the area and requested them to realign their CCTV cameras. Many of them, like the Oberoi Grand, CitiMart and Peerless Inn, have responded favourably.

The cameras that were previously capturing images of the entrance to these buildings are now facing the pavements. As a result, all pavements on main roads and entry points to the business district have come under surveillance,’ says a top officer of central division. Police have also decided to use the video cameras provided to each police station to maximum utility. The traffic police have also identified 20 spots that are prone to jams during the Pujas. ‘We will ask 4,000 traffic cops to be on the streets in three shifts on each Puja day,’ says an officer. Another 2,000 home guards will also be posted during the Puja.

People in West Bengal celebrate Durga Puja with deep fervour and traditional rituals. A large number of ardent devotees worship goddess Durga in makeshift temples. ‘These rituals are performed because the goddess destroys demon King Ravana and that is the reason people come here and worship the goddess,’ says Prasun Chakrabarty, a priest at the Kalighat temple. Heavily garlanded and decorated idols of goddess Durga are worshipped for five days under large marquees that are thronged by thousands of devotees. The idols are later taken out in grand processions for immersion in the nearest water bodies.
Puja Banerjee

Puja Banerjee

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