Economic impacts of festivals: A case study of Durga Puja in West Bengal

The economic worth of creative industries around this Durga Puja was estimated at Rs 32, 377 crores; it has sizeable shrunk due to COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan

By Chaitali Sinha, Shrabani Saha,
Published: Monday 15 November 2021

The story of Indian goddess Durga is that of a woman’s power to conquer the evil. The Durga Puja festival is one of the most popular festivals in India, but of late, the economy around its celebration has shrunk. 

The authors of the article did a survey to study the economic impact of Durga Puja festival on several communities involved. They did so via findings of the ongoing primary and secondary survey of their team on Durgotsav in Kolkata, West Bengal.

The festival has caught the fancy of both multinational and regional big houses. In July 2018, a memorandum of understanding was signed between British Council and the Government of West Bengal to improve people-to-people interaction between United Kingdom and the state.

The British Council, in consultation with the Tourism Department, West Bengal government, was assigned the responsibility to map the creative economy around the festival.

The Queen Mary University of London was supported by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur; West Bengal government; and Smart Cube, Bangalore to carry out the research programme. The team focused on 10 specific industries around this festival.

The industries that flourished around this festival ranged from pandal and idol-making, lighting and illumination, publishing houses, food and beverages, retail, advertisement, tourism industry, etc.

However, due to the unavailability of consistent data on the festival’s economy, estimating the actual business was harder than anticipated. A 2013 report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) was among the very few reports that showcased the Puja economy sensibly.

The size of the economy was estimated at around Rs 25,000 crores in 2013, with a 35 per cent compound annual growth rate, according to the study. In 2019, the economic worth of creative industries around this festival was estimated to be Rs 32,377 crores.

Informal workers carrying clay from different rivers for idol making. Photo: Shrabani Saha and Chaitali Sinha

The year 2020 was marked by COVID-19; so the economy around the Puja was curtailed to many folds. To revive the situation, the West Bengal government announced a grant of Rs 50,000 to each Durga Puja committee.

Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi announced a 20 per cent discount on the power tariff for Durga Puja committee that year. Durga Puja organisers in West Bengal must spend 75 per cent of the state government’s grant according to the guidelines.

The survey along with secondary data sources found that most artisans engaged in idol making came from rural or semi-urban areas from different parts of West Bengal for better wages. These included East and West Midnapore, South and North 24 Parganas and Nadia districts.

The work of idol-making goes around the year. They get a break during Puja days, after which their craftsmanship starts for the next year. Most artists engaged in idol-making inherited this craftsmanship from their ancestors and try to hand it down to the next generation, despite several odds such as financial crunch. The young pursuing degree from art colleges also participates in clay modeling.

Pandal making is also a part of the extravaganza associated with this public art show. According to the British Council (2019) report, the economic worth of Durga Puja pandal is Rs 860 crore.

The British Council project team divided Kolkata Puja pandals as super mega, mega-sized, large-sized, medium-sized and small-sized. The amount spent on each registered Puja pandals in Kolkata per head for the respected categories is Rs 1.5 crore; Rs 40.5 lakh; Rs 15 lakh; Rs 5.4 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh.

In total, the amounts for these pandals are Rs 7.5 crore; Rs 18.22 crore; Rs 22.50 crore; Rs 27 crore; and Rs 22 crore respectively.

Idol makers of Bengal, known as the Pal community, have their origins in Nadia's Krishnanagar. They branched out to Kumortuli, the traditional potter’s colony near Shobhabazar in North Kolkata, from rural / semi-rural areas. The history of clay modeling artists in Kolkata dates back to the 17th century; the Kumortuli artisans are engaged in the profession since 1950s.

These artisans, both skilled and unskilled, mostly come from rural Bengal. The art of clay modeling of different deities starts in March. Primary survey done by our team in the Kumortuli area shows that the making of Lakshmi and Kali idols starts first, before being shifted to other parts of the studio to create space for Durga Puja.

There was a massive decline in the sale of these idols in 2020; but 2021 saw a marked turnaround in sales. Yet, some small artisans faced losses as they lost contracts. Improper contracts also increase the transaction costs of making idols.

Interestingly, we found that despite the dominance of men in idol making, the number of female artists (mainly following their family business) has been on the rise.

In addition, these idol-making hubs act as the well-established supply chain industry.

Our survey showed that following the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan, most big puja committees reduced their budget spending on the festival. Much of the budget amount was spent on social causes: Relief to those affected by Cyclone Amphan, providing masks, sanitisers and face shields.

Overall, Durga Puja celebration in Bengal is deeply connected with the economic survival of a large fraction of people in the state. The state government has also purposely promoted celebrations.

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