Slowly but steadily, the festival so close to a Bengali’s heart, has become a mega corporate event.

Half a century ago Durga Pujas were held only at a few places in Kolkata and its vicinity. Most of these were held in the ancestral homes of the affluent in the city and in the palatial mansions of the zamindars (the landed gentry) in rural areas. As their fortunes declined, a phenomenon called baroyari (literally meaning 12 yaars or friends) pujas came into being and these community pujas attracted large crowds.

There was pomp and gaiety at these pujas depending on the budget of the organisers and their ‘patronage.’ In those days, individual subscription was a main source of funding for most of these pujas, barring some of the big ticket ones. But not any more.

Slowly but steadily, the festival so close to a Bengali’s heart, has become a mega corporate event. And with each passing year the commercialisation has become starker. The religious fervour, the sombreness of the occasion and its traditional gaiety have been relegated to the background. Now market forces come into play.

It is now more a battle of brands as corporates take it as a marketing opportunity. Jostling for space in this bandwagon are not only fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies but telecom service providers, banks and financial institutions.

The trend started with awards being given to puja organisers by corporates for excellence in various fields. What was then only a zephyr has now become a maelstrom of sorts with an award being instituted for every category. This year Birla Tyres has announced a Rs. 7 lakh prize money. A major award triggers a multiplier effect with spikes in footfalls at the mandap, which in turn increases the puja organisers’ ability to attract big sponsors.

The pathway to the puja mandap is lined thick with festoons, banners and buntings each trying to capture the revellers’ mindspace. Even a fleeting glance from the lakhs who throng the pandals will do. The challenge for the corporates now, is to be different.

Multinational Standard Chartered Bank has joined hands with the police to support the volunteers who are roped in by the city police to help manage the traffic and the multitudes which throng the 2000-odd pujas in the city and around. The bank will provide T-shirts to the volunteers. Says Dheeraj Ahluwalia, General Manager, Marketing, India and South Asia: “This will provide visibility for our brand as the T-shirts would sport the bank logo.”

Some firms like FMCG Group Emami decided to adopt a direct approach to both product and brand promotion. It will sponsor the oil required for cooking the bhog (rice offering made to Goddess Durga and her children) at a few pujas at the housing complexes. “With this unique 360 degree communication plan, we hope to gain an instant emotional connect with our target group of Bengali mothers,” says Debashis Bhattacharyya, General Manager, Marketing, Emami Biotech Ltd.

The media houses too try to promote their brands. Their focus is on the pujas at the several housing complexes that now dot the city and its suburbs. There is never a moment to spare as loads of competitive activities like conch-shell blowing, dancing with incense pots and quiz contests are sponsored through the day.

The over three centuries-old metropolis gets a magical makeover during these few days as incredible innovation and exquisite craftsmanship are on display at the mandaps. Till now the craze for sponsorship has stopped short of reaching the feet of the Goddess. With each passing year that is becoming a distinct possibility. But no one is really complaining.

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