As a Marketing Communications professional, I have found 'religion' to be a well oiled marketing machinery that has built some of the most powerful brands in the history of mankind. It involves all elements of Marketing communications; for example: very strong brands with clear brand messages, icons (or idols), rituals, brand ambassadors, activation programs, ambient advertising, merchandising et al. With changing times, they have also embraced online and digital communications.
Binding faith or brand loyalty is the hallmark of the brands that are active in this industry - with the 'marketers' and brands literally taking to fight wars for market dominance.
However I have not been a great endorser of the expositions conducted by many these brands. Over time, most of these 'marketers' have moved beyond their raison-d'etre and as a Hindu loyalist, I could not help but cast my critical eye on some of the activties by my own faith. While most of the religions have their own brand book or code of ethics, over time, the loyalists and practioners have given their own interpretations to these philosophies thereby stretching the liturgies far from the realms of reality.
A case in point is the Ganesha Festival. It is a yearly activation program of brand 'Ganesha', held for around 10 days and usually falls between August and September. One of the largest of the Hindu festivals, it makes it to the Top 3 in terms of inconveniencing vast swathes of people.
Gaining popularity as a community program during India's freedom struggle, the festival has continued, more as a symbol of entrapment of India's middle class and milked by political affiliates.
One of the highlights of this program are Ganesha 'Pandals' - temporary structures that are erected right in the middle of the road. While they tend to cover the potholes that exist as a portraiture of the exchequer's apathy, the festival widens its canvas as well as the coffers of civil contractors- thereby living up to its reputation of ushering prosperity to its believers. In front of these pandals, many of the brand loyalists, known as 'bhakths', bow their heads in shame for mouthing expletives when the Sewage Dept. bariccaded the same spot for an emergency work a few months back.
The processions for ushering the Ganasha idol to its temporary abode and its farewell on the day of immersion are a sight to behold. This sight is captured best in the expressions of passengers stuck in road for hours, most of them caught unawares in the unfortunate coincidence. If calculated, the combined cost of the fuel burnt in these jaunts can easily make it to the 'Ripleys - Believe it or not' series.
Another spectacle seen during the festival is when a few chosen ones especially from the community of the elderly & the sick get a chance to go to hell (and sometimes back) as there is no way to reach a hospital even to get emergency first aid. The festival makes special provisions to make even the dumb and deaf citizens jump to popular Bollywood Chart busters which are played right next to their ear drums.
Owing to the vast popularity and following of this festival, other religions have also adopted certain best practices. Brand loyalists point this out as an example of "universal appeal" at the "All Religion Nuisance sweep-stakes" and is lauded at various award shows.
A popular dish that is enjoyed after the festivities is called "PoP flavoured Ganesha Dumplings". The preparation of this delicacy starts with immersing 1/3/5/7 or 11 day Ganesha Idols in the sea along with other offerings. Once the sea is polluted and the marine ecology asphyxiated after ingesting the poisonous mix of Gypsum or Plaster of Paris (PoP), many of the fishes die. The surviving ones can be bought off fish markets along the Mumbai coast. These fishes are then cooked and served according to ones preferences. Many term this experience as a very fulfilling one.
With revenues in excess of 20,000 crs, the campaign is highly effective with a YoY increase of 30%. That is approximately 4 times the budgetary allocation for poverty eradication in just 10 days!
But if the poor gets eradicated and their basic needs gets fulfilled, who's left to beg for prosperity?
Looking forward to another 10 days of chaos.
Disclaimer: The autor is a practicing Hindu and celebrates religious festivals as an occassion to rekindle bonds with divinity. He abhors all public expositions that pauperise this belief.