Rath Yatra and Marketing of Tourism Events


Drawing by Vikas Kamat

Dec 02, BADASANKHA, PURI, ORISSA (SUN) — Rath Yatra is a traditional festival carrying a thousand year legacy. It is well within the tradition. There is an existing strategy for marketing and more emphasis may be put forth for its promotion from tourism point of view. Festivals are part of our rich cultural heritage and uphold age-old tradition in its living form, which is otherwise known as intangible heritage. Tourism is regarded now as a promoter of cultural heritage, a medium of cultural conservation and a source of revenue and employment generation. As a major economic activity, particularly, for revival of intangible cultural heritage, Tourism is considered as a driving force.

From ancient times, pilgrims from all parts of India, even from Nepal, used to come every year in order to witness the Car festival of Lord Jagannath. These pilgrims have close relationship with the Sevayats and the Pandas of Sri Jagannath temple. Since the 14th century A.D., these temple servitors of Puri have been attending the pilgrims and making all sorts of arrangements for convenient Darshan of the deities and the festivals.

Traditionally, the Pandas have followed a system of promotion of Sri Jagannath Dham. The Brahmin Priests (Pandas) of Puri were deputed to different areas of India in order to preach glory of Lord Jagannath. At the same time they were given responsibility to look after the incoming pilgrims of different parts of India. To this day, the priests continue to be the Panda for various Indian states. This is a strategy for spreading the glory of the destination. They would also persuade believers to make a pilgrimage to Puri, from that place.

Occasionally pilgrims are astonished to see the name of their forefathers in the Panda's records, as confirmation of their pilgrimage to Puri. Pilgrims from various parts of the country thus arrived at Puri in groups. There are separate Pandas, such as Lal Moharia Panda, responsible for the pilgrims of Nepal. They were visiting these areas and also guiding them during their visit to Puri. In fact, these Pandas were well-versed with the language of their assigned territory.

Similarly, Manipuri and Assamese Pandas are also there at Puri. As late as 1700 A.D. King of Manipur, Chud Chan Maharaj, gave recognition to the then Panda of Manipuri. A number of Nepali Panda and Manipuri Panda work together as Pandas for the state of Assam. All other states like Gujrat, Maharastra, Rajasthan, Punjab and Chattishgarh, apart from Bengal, have their own system of Panda's assigned duties. All the native Pandas with this pilgrim business would regularly visit these areas and promote Jagannath cult as well as the destination. This is a unique system by pilgrim promoters only available in the established pilgrim cities like Gaya, Banaras, Haridwar, Ujjain etc. This system is deep rooted as part of Indian cultural heritage.

In the modern times, particularly after 1980, a number of new systems developed, with more and more organizations and Government Departments involved in the destination marketing. Marketing helps to create new customers by way of first identifying their needs and then trying to satisfy these. Customer satisfaction becomes a crucial part of travel sales.

The first task of the travel marketer is identification of the customer's needs in order to guide the development of suitable products and services. The second task is to motivate all the potential customers, through various means, to purchase these products and services. The objective of marketing in tourism could, therefore, be stated to be as attracting and motivating all the potential customers or users of tourist services to a particular destination or event and not to other.

Since Sri Jagannath Temple Administration, with the District Administration and State Administration as a whole, organizes the Car Festival as a mega event, State Tourism Department, India Tourism and various other Travel and Tour Operators try to market the Event at various level. The following key organizations have their strategy for marketing. Let us discuss few of them.

Sri Jagannath Temple Administration

Sri Jagannath Temple Administration is an autonomous organization set up under a special Act of the Orissa Government. It has a Managing Committee and an Executive Body. The Executive Body is headed by a Commissioner rank officer designated as Chief Administrator, and the Managing Committee is headed by the Gajapati King of Puri. The Managing Committee is the policy maker and the Executive Body is the implementing agency.

Since the Car Festival is a living and a mega traditional event, it is the tourism product of the state itself. The Temple Administration wholeheartedly organizes the event and takes care for its publicity. In fact, Temple Administration has produced the chronology and sequence of the Car Festival well in advance and circulates it to all outlets set up in India. They also send the details of the event through their website - www.jagannath.nic.in. The event is documented and widely circulated through video cassettes and CDs. It is circulated to all Jagannath temples set up in foreign countries and Indian cities. There is provision for interaction and inquiries through telephone and E-Mail.

The State Tourism Department and Orissa Tourism Development Corporation are major sources for marketing of the mega events under the heading of "Fairs and Festivals". Although the activities of the organizations are well planned, they are not perceptible at the state level. The unique fairs and festivals are documented and the Car Festival, being such a large event, is only next to Kumbha Mela.

So far as wide publicity is concerned, it needs combined effort to market the destinations as well. Puri is the destination and the event is the product. The product has been taken as a medium for marketing total Orissa and its culture. Accordingly, the Tourism Department has brought out beautiful posters, CDs, and write ups and distributed these through Tourist Offices of India and abroad. The Tourism Department participates in different tourism promotional events, workshops and forums such as TAAI, SATTE, TTF, PATA, World Travel Mart, etc., and distributes widely the literature about the event and destinations.

From time to time, different workshops are also organized by State Tourism with different tour operators of India and abroad. They are apprised about the potentialities and facilities of the destinations as well the standard of accommodation facilities available, etc. It is a regular and routine venture of the Tourism Department and Tourism Corporations. Private organisations like different tour companies organize road shows and market the event to lure more and more tourists. The domestic tour operators such as Swosti Travels, Thomas Cook, Sita Discover Tours, Heritage Tours, and others market this event in a big way. They sell packages for the Car Festival in national and the international market. They have also tie-up's with other International Tour Agencies even different Airline companies to show the Car Festival as a mega event.

The traditional religious organizations like mathas (monasteries) of different sects, like Ramanandi, Sankaracharya, Chaitanya, Sri, etc., also popularize the event through their organisations all over India.

The marketing strategy of the Car Festival taken up by different organizations and agencies is really a matter for study. As the event has been already popularized internationally, it requires some detailed marketing strategy, like more and more visual presentation in different countries. The Cultural Exchange Programmes of India and other countries must have some kind of performance on the Car Festival, so that more and more exposure of the event ought to be made.

Since the Car Festival is a traditional festival having rich history, cult and culture, it should be packaged in such a manner that the tourists get to know all about the way of life and cultural milieu of the state as well as the country.

As the date of the festival is almost fixed, a separate arrangement is required to be made exclusively for the tourists. Since it is a community festival, the tourist can't enter in the ocean of people. There necessitates specific guideline by Government. If it will be done, then more and more tourists may come to see the festival.

The accommodation facilities should be upgraded and expanded. At present there are 50 thousand beds available and more than 50 thousand temporary sheds made for the tourists, which is meager as it receives about 8 lakh visitors, pilgrims and tourists. All the accommodation units should sell their packages well in advance, keeping eye on the Car Festival.


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