Durga Puja Inc.

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Two gentlemen and a lady, all in their late 30s, dressed impeccably in corporate attire were waiting at the Board Room in a Sector V IT company. This was the marketing team of ABC Inc. Three gentlemen, not very conversant with power dressing, knock the glass door and enter in jeans and tees.

Raja Dutta and Ritwik Mukherjee have been organising pujo, rather Sarbajanin Durga Puja, for the past three years. All three men, including Suman Mondal, the sculptor, were in their 40s. While the first two years have been a moderate success, last year has been a blockbuster for “Teen-Para Pally Samaj Pujo” after they won the best puja award for their innovative theme of Egypt and Pyramids. People had come in thousands every day from far to visit the pandal. The rush was so much that there was almost a stampede, which was miraculously avoided. Small wonder, ABC Inc. has set its eyes on it. They are certain that this puja when rebranded to “ABC Inc. presents Teen-Para Pally Samaj Pujo” will give a great visibility to ABC Inc. corporate brand and that too amid right customers, especially now when the media has started taking interest in this puja after the award last year. It will be a win-win.

They started the initial discussion and offered a sum that they thought Raja and Ritwik could never refuse. To their surprise, it was declined. Ritwik said, “Sorry, we have been offered double of what your cheque says, by XYZ Inc.”

The marketing team was taken aback. While they thought they will catch them early to ride on its popularity, their competitor has already closed the deal in principle.

The next one hour went in negotiating and upping the number on the cheque. Finally, it was closed at three times the price that ABC Inc. had initially offered. It was still worth it, the management agreed.

“ABC Inc. presents Teen-Para Pally Pujo”…it is! The media will lap it up, given the sheer spend on the theme, which will be the USP. And so they are confident that they will again win.

Today companies are queuing up to associate themselves with Durga Puja to boost their own brand presence. Be it is tallest or the ultra-modern idol, brand synergy is established between the theme chosen for the puja and the title sponsor. It should give them a great return on their investment or ROI.

Puja themes are no longer decided in the “paras” or local clubs. They are now decided in Board Rooms. It is a strategic investment which, in most cases, runs in crores.

The rationale behind corporatisation of Durga Puja

Corporates are always keen on new and innovative methods for branding and creating awareness of their product or service in the right quarters. Initially, puja was considered to be a celebration for the masses most companies abstained from considering it as a potent branding tool for creating awareness. Now more and more companies are realising the power of this festival and how it can be leveraged to create brand awareness among potential clients. One great example is how a cement company received huge mileage with it tallest Durga idol campaign.

The moment you have a Durga Puja corporatised, it becomes a property. So an entire campaign is planned and strategies made to maximise the return on investment. The flavour of the celebrations changes.

Kolkata is still blessed to see a mix of pujas which range from Baro-Yaari or Sarbojanin to Corporate Puja. It is such an eclectic mix and very hard to find in any other city.

Puja is a great avenue for investment towards marketing and branding provided you are in the B2C space and you want to do a carpet bombing of your uniqueness to your potential clients.

For example, ABC Inc. wants to do a bio-degradable idol with a “Green World” theme as a CSR initiative and send a message that the company cares about the environment. They will do an entire campaign on that. It will take the message far and wide, how ABC Inc is a green company.

Big or small, most companies are making a beeline to make the most by associating themselves with the Durga pujas.

Durga Puja Inc. marks the onset of corporatisation of the puja.

Reaching beyond boundaries

While the proportion of corporate puja is rising with every passing year, if you want to still have a glimpse of pureplay Baro-Yaari or Sarvojanin Durga Puja, you will have to look outside the country. In the US and the UK, mostly, this festivity is celebrated with as much austerity as possible. They have been able to still contain the essence of how we knew Durga Puja when we were children– in its non-corporate or non-sponsored avatar.

From the dresses, to the bhogs, from the format of the idol to dhak is, every bit of the ritual is followed.

It is a heartening to see the youth, who unlike their parents are not born in Kolkata and have not grownup watching puja in this city, are excited to follow the traditions and uphold it for the future.

Durga puja has a great future abroad with its sanctity and essence intact.

A little background pre-corporatisation

The first grand worship of Durga in recorded history is said to have been in the late1500s. Zamindar of Dinajpur and Malda initiated the first Durga Puja. The origin of the community puja can be credited to the twelve friends of Guptipara in Hoogly, who collaborated and collected contributions from local residents to conduct the first ‘baro-yaari’ puja in 1790. The baro-yaari puja was brought to Kolkata in 1832 by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar.

The baro-yaari puja gave way to the sarbajanin or community puja in 1910, when the Sanatan Dharmotsahini Sabha organized the first community puja in Baghbazar with public contribution, public control and public participation.

By Mahul Brahma– Author of Decoding Luxe and Head of Corporate Communications and Branding, mjunction (a Tata group company)