Rise of the Pandal Enterprise


By Bikram Keshari Jena

The Rasulgarh Durga Puja Pandal inadvertently enjoys a vantage point with a large ribbon of concrete and asphalt running across its face. Seen from the Rasulgarh flyover bridge, the Pandal’s view is panoptic for the beholder and the vista is intriguing for the inquisitive. If the grandiose and craftsmanship of the Pandal as a finished product is jaw dropping, the enterprise that one can see in its rough-hewn state is gob smacking.

While clambering on the arduous gradient of the Rasulgarh flyover (from either sides), one cannot miss the sight of the Pandal taking shape inch by inch during the pre-Puja days. If you happen to cross the Pandal via the flyover; or during the pre-flyover days, you have snaked through all the possible roads in and around the Puja Pandal – sometimes due to bad weather, bad traffic, bad governance and sometimes by sheer bad luck with all the occupational hazards striking at once – it is hard to miss the place’s metamorphosis from being a barren patch of land used for parking trucks, to a carnival with blinding lights, deafening sound and asphyxiating gathering of devotees during the Puja season.

Take a visit to a Pandal ahead of the Puja, one can see the hands and torsos at work but; the naked eye may stay aloof of the organization behind it that sews the fibrils together into a canvas which expresses devotion and celebration at its artistic superlative. Setting up a Pandal is like running a big enterprise, even though it is too unorganized for a layman’s eye to pigeonhole it into a particular industry, sector or a corporation. However, it functions remarkably as a professional organization requiring clinical execution of all the functions of management that one might think of.

As required it starts with a plan and the current scale that the Pandals have assumed requires pre-planning much ahead. As the president of the Rasulgarh Durga Puja Management Committee Pradeep Barisal who seems to be already thinking about the next year’s Puja says, “As soon as we wrap up this year’s Puja we begin planning for the next year. Since there are a lot of things to look after, it requires an early start.”

Next in the line is the budget. A budget for the next year’s Puja Pandal is decided first and it is the pivot around which everything else revolves. Last year’s budget serves as a yardstick for the coming year. Because it is a religious activity, there are only voluntary sources of funding. Funding is raised through the collection of voluntary donations from the public, business and industrial houses of the Pandal’s locality. Moreover, the permanent members of the Puja management committee also voluntarily contribute to the corpus which eventually is the stepping stone for the rest of the activities.

Then follows manpower or in enterprise terms Human Resource. As Pradeep points out, “We don’t have the same set of artisans and designers working for us every year and not all the required manpower are available in the State. We have to source the skilled workers from outside the State.” This is when the management committee starts discussing about the design, theme, and model of the Pandal for the next year with the designers, artisans and tent decorators.  Design of the Pandal is very important to attract the people. Pradeep doesn’t shy away from mentioning that the available budget plays a critical role in the design and theme.

After finalization of the design and theme of the tableau (Torana) for the Puja, comes the organization part. The management committee sits down to bring men, material and ideas together at one place. Given the scale of the operations involved in managing a Puja Pandal, all the activities are divided and the management committee prepares various teams to look after different operations. The teams get down to work two months ahead of the Puja. After assignment of responsibilities, the teams manage their respective activities right from procurement to sourcing till the completion.

Making a Pandal may not be a going concern but it is more of a project-based activity which has to be completed within a time frame which requires strict control. On an average around hundred members of the committee ensure strict control over the activities and the Pandal is completed in time for the Puja– the deadline for which is non-negotiable.

If the Puja Pandals were about grandiose and craftsmanship, they have now become equally sensitive to visitor experience and engagement. It may not be strict customer relationship management, but what Pandals have been doing to provide an enriching visitor experience is no less. Visitors are now being provided parking facilities for a hassle-free commute to and fro the Pandal. Pandals are finding new innovative ways to engage their visitors apart from just worship. Now they offer specialized food courts, games and facilities for recreational activities.

Last but not the least the Pandal Inc. also does its bit to be a Good Samaritan in the way of creating public awareness and protecting various forms of art and culture.

Secretary of the Rasulgarh Durga Puja Management Committee Japan Routray says “Every Puja we try to come up with something innovative. Apart from the design, we have decided to launch new activities and services for visitors. This year during the immersion we will be showcasing ‘Santhal Dance,’ an endangering art form. Moreover, this year’s lighting around the Pandal will be displaying awareness messages on various forms of public ills.”

Durga Puja has begun in all earnest and the Puja Pandals have now sprung into life basking in pageantry. The Pandals are now teeming with devotees and beaming with incandesce. But behind this bedazzling spectacle lies an Enterprise, an ever growing one.  As the Puja draws to a close, the fireworks will lit up the sky and clear the grounds for the enterprise to rise again!

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