From the Kumbh at Allahabad to the Nauchandi fair at Meerut, religion and Reebok, ritual and Ray Ban seem to mix ever so naturally. But you wont see any of that here at the Godavari pushkaram. Refreshingly so, one might say.
Apart from the sundry hoardings of Telugu-heartthrob Chiranjeevi promoting Thums Up (theres no place here for Salman Khan), the inevitable Airtel, and the odd Sunil Shetty displaying his pearly dentures next to a bottle of Colgate dantmanjan, you wont even see posters or banners. No jingles, no commercials blaring from locally assembled loudspeakers. The only sound in the air is holy chants of Om Namah Shivay. Mystical!
State finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu seems unapologetic that corporates havent bitten in the Rs 100-crore extravaganza. We are not seeing it (the pushkaram) from a business point of view. So there is no question of any revenue figures, he says. Asked why chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu thought of promoting the pushkaram on such a grand scale, Mr Ramakrishnudu says the boss wanted to facilitate more and more pilgrims come and take a dip in the holy Godavari. Unlike other events where the first thing to do is to scour for sponsors, the state government claims it consciously decided to keep religion and business apart.
City Mayor Mr MS Chakravarthi he conceptualised the event says fifty per cent of the funds (Rs 50 crore) came from the Planning Commission. The rest were coughed up by Mr Naidus government.
Andhra Pradeshs fiscal deficit of Rs 7,343 crore a figure Mr Ramakrishnudu is wary about confirming since he doesnt want to associate anything to do with money and figures with a religious event did not deter the state government from keeping corporates as far away as possible.
So, one saw price controls on everything. Round-the-clock mobile price control squads kept an eagle eye on profiteers. From rates of hotel accommodation, milk, fruits and vegetables to the prices of puja kits (Rs 7), for pinda pradanam at Rs 15 per kit and coconuts at Rs 4.5 apiece, the prices were fixed. No room for profiteering.
Result? While any similar event with an estimated footfall of 25 lakh per day would have been sufficient to raise many a corporate antennae, at the pushkaram they refrained from grabbing attention in any covert manner.
Their logic was simple. As Goli Ramarao, owner of a Titan showroom put it, pilgrims coming here (mostly from Bengal and Orissa) didnt carry much money any way. In fact, local sales of Mr Ramaraos showroom which averaged Rs 1.5 lakh per day actually fell to Rs 50,000 during the pushkaram. But Mr Ramarao wasnt complaining. He hoped to gain from the exposure. The next pushkaram is scheduled at the Godavari 12 years hence. One wonders where the corporates will be in 2015.
(Travel for this story was sponsored by the information and public relations department of the government of Andhra Pradesh)