Rising costs fail to dampen fervour

Durga Puja organisers in West Bengal are sticking to the usual grandeur

Rising costs fail to dampen fervour

Narrow and dingy by-lanes of the artisans’ district in the middle of Kolkata,  its dimly lit studios and workshops and the gigantic idols in various stages of completion are somehow not enough to express the grandeur of it all. Neither are the glitz and the glamour seen during the five days of festivities that capture Bengal in all its glory and more.

The annual Durga Puja festival, which has become the signature image of Kolkata, is at the heart of it and the industry, in monetary terms, valued at a bit more than a whopping Rs 25,000 crore. If that is not all, it is set to touch Rs 40,000 crore by 2015, points out finding of a recent study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).

“Despite the falling rupee, rising inflation and slowdown in the economy, the large business 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 per cent,” the study said. According to the survey “West Bengal cashing in on Durga Puja celebrations”, the industry is growing at 35 per cent of its current size. 

The rate factors in the increased price of raw materials. It is estimated that the cost of organising Durga Puja has increased by 30 per cent this year. In fact, the individual stream of building decorative marquees or pandals, which house the idols in individual thematic patterns, is expected to touch Rs 500 crore in 2013, a rise of Rs 150 crore since last year.

“The total expenses have increased by 20 per cent due to appreciation in all expenses from artists conceptualising the theme to labour constructing the pandals to cost of idols, transportation, price of Puja offerings and charge of “dhakis” (drummers),” the survey said.
The figures have been arrived at taking into consideration the opportunities the festive season offers, particularly to the micro, small and medium entrepreneurs, in the form of ancillaries, including food and beverages, entertainment, lighting and decoration.

Even the companies see more than 35 per cent growth in total turnover compared to other times. The food and beverage industry is anticipated to do an additional business of Rs 50 to 60 crore during the festive season. The demand for items for Puja such as lighting fittings, flooring mats and flower has already started increasing and is expected to
increase by 20 per cent this year.

The work always starts with a basic straw skeleton, around which the idols are developed, putting in layers the best alluvial soil from the Ganga. With items like straw, wood, river clay, colours, garments and costume jewellery becoming slightly expensive, the artisans have jacked up the prices of the idols. Every year, artisans in the city make between 20,000 and 30,000 idols, whose prices have skyrocketed.

According to artisans, organisers this year will have to shell out more money and the amount could be anywhere between Rs 60,000 and Rs 5 lakh because of the inflation and rising cost of raw materials. Mintu Pal of Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samity, an organisation of idol makers at the artisan’s quarters in north Kolkata, agrees that the prices are moving northwards. According to him, bigger Durga Puja organisers are sticking to the usual grandeur and paying but the smaller ones have been forced to cut corners.

“Some have asked for smaller idols but most organisers are not ready to compromise on the quality when it comes to Durga Puja,” he said.

Mintu is best known for the fibre glass idols he gets commissioned for from Bengali associations celebrating Durga Puja in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

“Usually these committees place their order and use the idol for a couple of years in a row before ordering a new one. This year, however, international orders have gone down. It must be due to the economic scenario in the US. The local scene is better,” he said.

Trinamool Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee has been the driving force behind the popular Durga Puja of Ekdalia Evergreen near the bustling south Kolkata neighbourhood of Gariahat.

Although he did not put a value to the total worth of the festivities, he agreed that the sum quoted by the study is not way off the mark. Once the Mayor of Kolkata and now a state minister, he has seen first-hand how the industry has grown surrounding the annual festival.
“Prices have definitely gone up but no organiser will consider compromising on finances for the goddess, whatever be the state of economy. Also, one has to consider not just the money spent by Puja committees but by revellers during the five days of Durga Puja and the festive shopping. There is also money spinning through tourism, be it tourists coming to the city to witness the festival or locals travelling to escape the hustle bustle,” he said.

Added to all this is corporate spending not only just in terms of advertisements during the five days of festivities but also promotional activities by all sellers, big and small, hoping to make the proverbial hay while the festive sun shines. “One just needs to look at the number of festoons, danglers, standees, posters, glow signs, billboards, gates; advertisement in every avatar in and around pandals to get a feel of what it involves,” said city-based brand consultant Dipanjan Banerjee.

Even as the country trudges through a phase of poor economic growth and nerve-wracking market index, like every year, this year, too, for five days Kolkata will come out of the rut of all that is dark and gloomy and participate in revelry that is only parallel to the wealth it spins. While this can be measured in cold numbers in difficult times what probably matters more is the gross happiness index.

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