Facebook and Google Maps are fast replacing road maps and puja publications in magazines in helping enthusiastic Kolkatans firm up their pandal hopping plans this year, with the puja organising Internet campaigns to attract visitors. Back in the day, puja organisers were content to have people from their immediate vicinity gather at the neighbourhood pandal during the four days of Durga Puja, but those days seem to be long gone.
‘30 to go days for Mahalaya,’ reads the latest Facebook post by the Ballygunge Cultural Association puja committee, which has received greater limelight than before, with the Vidya Balan starrer, Kahaani, topping box office charts last year. The climatic ending of the thriller was shot in the midst of the crowds at Ballygunge Cultural. “We keep posting the latest details on our Facebook page, along with photos of our puja and different news clips. We’ve already posted this year’s theme. This cyber promotion has become a necessity these days as the world has become smaller and faster,” said Anjan Ukil, general secretary of the Ballygunge Cultural Association.
Each puja website has Facebook and Twitter tabs, and viewers can navigate directly to social networking sites to check out the latest post and even send their feedback. Arijit Moitra, former general secretary of Samaj Shebi said, “Besides announcing the time for anjali on loudspeaker, we’re tweeting about it! It helps cyber junkies stay connected and turn up at the pandal on time, and our neighbours abroad can also know what's happening at the puja, when.”
On their personal websites, organisers have uploaded every conceivable detail, from khuti puja to bishorjon. “The first Kolkata Durga Puja site, www.naktalaudayan.com, was launched in 2006, and is getting tremendous response from people across the globe. Durga Puja is moving beyond the boundaries of West Bengal, and we get many NRI sponsors. "Many of our members have kids abroad and through our website they can catch a glimpse of our puja,” said Bappa Dasgupta, general secretary of Naktala Udayan Sangha puja committee.
“Our site www.bharatchakra.org has all the information about our puja. Viewers want to check out our archives full of pictures of previous years' pujas. The website helps us with promotion and publicity,” said the joint secretary of Dum Dum Park Bharat Chakra Puja, Pankaj Paul.
Kumartuli Park, one of the best-known pujas in north Kolkata, will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and organisers are trying to promote their puja via the Internet. “We have more than 30 pages on our site where you can see more than 1,500 pictures of our pujas, right from the start. We’ve already recorded several hits from viewers,” said Subir Chatterjee, club member, Kumartuli Park Puja.
In order to revamp their websites, some organisers have started SMS campaigns. Puja committees send their location, theme, photos and other details via text messages from websites like ‘way2sms’. “Bulk SMSes are being sent to our advertisers, sponsors and well wishers, and we keep posting updates on our Facebook page,” said Sandip Chakraborty, general secretary of Badamtala Ashar Sangha.
“You can locate us on Google maps and check out nearby pujas, as those have been flagged in the map. We have a video of last year’s puja on YouTube and on our site,” said Dilip Banerjee, member of Sanghasree puja committee.
Websites offer a host of photos and videos of Pratima, the pandals, inaugurations by celebrities and dhaak competitions. Sometimes crowd records and award lists are also published.
This virtual revolution has web designers on their toes, with the arrival of the goddess looming in the near horizon. “Puja organisers are coming to us with different demands, a simple, smart website with lots of information, and brilliant navigation is the main demand in the market,” said Debanjan Roy, city based web designer.
Chakraberia, Tridhara Sammilani, 22 Palli and other pujas in town have launched websites made this year. “We made websites for 5 for reputed pujas in Kolkata this year. We’re making blog-structurebased sites, which are flexible and you can upload videos, photos directly,” said Kaushik Chaudhury, a web designer from Web Strategy. “The websites don’t cost much, if you pay R20,000 or R30,000 you can have a good website,” he added.
Organisers believe that this cyber boom has proved beneficial in terms of collecting revenues. The virtual promotion of pujas helps sponsors contact puja committees more easily than was imaginable a few years ago. “It’s a great means of building a network between sponsors and puja committees. Now the sponsors can check out our sites online and contact us directly for advertisement and other promotion purposes, the work has become much easier. Jeet Ganguly composed our puja theme song, it’s on YouTube,” said Raja Sarkar one of the organisers of Suruchi Sangha.
The virtual world has worked wonders on the ages old tradition of Durga Puja, making the festival smarter, wealthier and more spectacular, drawing larger crowds and generating more excitement about each event with the abundant online publicity.