For the very first time, UNESCO recognised the iconic Durga Puja of Kolkata now available at your figure tips by the name of “MetaPujo” for pandal hopping. Ahiritola Sarbojanin, Deshapriya Park, Ballygunge Cultural Association, and Tala Park Pratyay are creating virtual versions of their pandals that people can visit through mobiles, laptops, and wearables. This puja organisation will have its metaverse 3D twins created which can be accessed in real-time for an immersive walk-through by a visitor’s metaverse avatar to get the actual thrill of pandal–hopping from anywhere in the world.
What is Durga Puja?
Durga Puja is the annual religious (Hinduism) festival that is celebrated in India and Bangladesh. The festival is observed for ten days and culminates on the tenth day, which is known as Vijaya Dashami. Durga Puja is celebrated to mark the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon king Mahishasura. The festival is observed in the Indian calendar month of Ashwin, which corresponds to September–October in the Gregorian calendar. Durga Puja is a ten-day festival, of which the last five are of the most significance.
In Bengali and Odia traditions, these deities are considered to be Durga’s children, and Durga Puja is believed to commemorate Durga’s visit to her natal home with her beloved children (Lakshmi, Ganesh, Saraswathi, Kartik). The festival is preceded by Mahalaya, which is believed to mark the start of Durga’s journey to her natal home. Primary celebrations begin on the sixth day (Shashti), on which the goddess is welcomed with rituals. The festival ends on the tenth day (Vijaya Dashami) when devotees embark on a procession carrying the worshipped clay sculpture-idols to a river, or other water body, and immerse them, symbolic of her return to the divine cosmos and her marital home with Shiva in Kailash.
Durga puja in Kolkata has been inscribed on the Intangible cultural heritage list of UNESCO in December of 2021. In recent years, Durga Puja has become a popular tourist attraction. Visitors from all over the world come to India (mainly West Bengal) to experience the festival.
Suveer Bajaj and Sukrit Singh, co-founders of Metaform and XP&DL, to understand the vision behind blending technology and festivities.
Metaform, a Delhi-based experiential and community management platform, took the initiative to create a dugout experience for Gujarat Titans, the first IPL team to have a metaverse presence. The company has chosen Durga Puja for its pilot project in the devotional space. Sukrit Singh, the co-founder of Metaform, gave the statement, “After the UNESCO recognition, this will be another big step forward into the future for the Puja. Digital and real life are colliding and we will constantly toggle between real and metaverse worlds in future”.
What is the concept of “MetaPujo”?
MetaPujo will be going to the virtual recreation of the pandal, instead representing a shared social space where people can explore and interact together with their avatars.
“We didn’t want to chase a trend that fades out. Durga Puja is a culture that has existed for centuries and will continue to do so. Families and communities have always enjoyed pandal-hopping together. We live in a world where families are scattered, but this social space will allow the community to get together, just like they always have,” Suveer Bajaj said.
“Durga Puja is one of the largest mass social gatherings in the world and we have always believed that the Web 3.0 revolution will bring a future where people will socialise inside the internet. We thought bringing it to the metaverse would be a great way to unite devotion, culture and society,” Singh said.
Not only the pandal hopping, but it also provides the entry pass to the pandal for Anjali. The family members who are staying outside of Kolkata (as well as India) can attend the biggest festival through the Metaform. Even click photographs and selfies and even give donations through NFTs.
“We started working on this campaign in March by reaching out to our friends and family who understand the pulse of Durga Puja. They helped us identify the four pandals who wanted to collaborate. The support of such well-known pujas has also worked as a stamp of approval. When your family has been visiting pandals for generations, there are emotions attached to it, and we hope the MetaPujo brings back those emotions,” said Singh, explaining how the 3D animated renders were done to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort to the people.
Sayan Kumar Daw from Tala Park Pratyay is happy with the association, “This is the first time that Kolkata’s Durga Puja will be accessible on such an international scale. We want all our close ones who haven’t been able to visit the pandal in the last two years to socialise with us through MetaPujo.”
Debashis Datta of Ahiritola Sarbojanin also welcomed the initiative. “This blend of religion and cutting-edge technology will revolutionise festivals. It will make the celebration of not just our faith, but also our art much grander,” he said.
What is the scenario between Metaverse and Reality?
Metaverse is the super key which will open the doors of all Durga Puja Pandal to all from every part of the world. Still, there are some differences between “Metaverse” and “Reality”.
MetaPujo will not be the exact replicas of their physical counterparts. However, care has been taken not to tamper with the Protima, which will be loyal to the original one in the pandal.
“I grew up with physical telephones, which rang perhaps only four times a day, then came mobiles that keep us engaged all day. But it hasn’t replaced all the other things we do. Similarly, the metaverse isn’t a replacement, but a complement to our reality,” Singh said.
“Our platform is the only one in the world that allows people to access the metaverse from their mobiles. We understand that many people might face friction in adopting this technology, but our goal since Day I have been to make it as accessible as possible,” Bajaj said.
What about the donations for Puja?
Four unique NFTs have been introduced for each pandal, with free drops for each visitor. XP&DL are looking to give away around 5,000 free NFTs per pandal this year and also help visitors with creating a Web 3.0 wallet.
“This initiative gives Maa Durga an enhanced address on Web 3.0 where the devout from across the world will be able to enter a three-dimensional recreation of the pandals and take part in darshans from the most popular pandals of Kolkata. In future, we hope the tokens will have real-life benefits and become an additional source of revenue for organisers” Singh notes.
Amitava Sinha of Ballygunge Cultural Association said, “NFT is the new digital currency and all big pujas would want to be present on metaverse to open another income source. This platform seeks to harness technology to take Kolkata’s Durga Puja beyond geographical confines. Our puja has always had a knack for introducing many ‘firsts’ and MetaPujo is a huge step towards the future”.
Sujoy Moulik of Deshapriya Park affirmed this belief and stated, “While we would still like people to visit our pandals in person, this is a great way for more people to celebrate with us. We are glad to have been associated with this”.
After this year, they are planning to bring 100 pujas to Metaverse. “The worlds of digital and real life are colliding, where we will constantly toggle between the real and metaverse worlds in the future. This is the first time in history that such a massive festival of devotion has been twinned in the Metaverse. We are piloting it with four pandals this year, with over 100 next year, and shortly, every single pandal on the ground will have a metaverse twin for people to experience and enjoy. Over time, we want to bring the revenue models that pandals use, both with donations and advertisements, to the metaverse. In the future, we will give people NFTs against their donations. Since these will be on the blockchain, there will be complete transparency in what the funds are used for. In 1000 days, every single pandal should have an easy path towards the metaverse,” said Sukrit Singh, co-founder of Metaform & XP&DLand.
Visitors may register for non-fungible tokens (NFT) stored on the blockchain, a digital ledger, that the creators will drop at each pandal at free of cost for this year.
Waiting will be over very soon. The MetaPujo pandals will be unveiled on 29th September.
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