Did you know that on Vata Pournima, married women worship the Banyan tree and pray that they get the same husband in every life? Or that on Narali Pounima fisherfolk offer a coconut to the sea Gods to appease them?
“Kalnirnay has become the foremost emotional symbol for Indians anywhere in the world,” says Jairaj Salgaonkar, the publisher of the popular calendar-cum-almanac which was launched a quarter of a century ago, as an alternative to the Sanskrit panchang. Today, it is the largest selling publication in the country, and a vital membar of Indian households.
Jayantrao Salgonkar, an astrologer, and his son Jairaj started the Marathi edition of this ‘calmanac’ as it is now called, in 1973. “The idea was to simplify the panchang which was difficult to comprehend for a lay person. I was curious to know more about the contents of the panchang and that’s how I designed our product. It gives information about all the important days, dates or tithis according to the Hindu calender,” says Jairaj Kalnirnay literally means taking a decision (nirnay) according to the time, or the position of the planets (Kal).
The publishers brought out just 10,000 copies of the first edition, each priced at Rs. 1,25. “When we launched our calmanac, people did not believe in the concept of buying calendars – they were used to getting them free. So we had a problem marketing the product. One of my shopkeeper friends at Dadar refused to display Kalnirnay on his shelves, because he was very sure no one would buy it. People would just pick up copies and refuse to pay,” says Jairaj.
The company pushed its product with aggressive advertising, first on radio and then on television. A few good reviews in leading Marathi newspapers also helped. And after the initial hiccups, the Calmanac took off in a big way. Today, it is published in nine Indian languages – Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and English, and has a circulation of nine million copies per year, priced at Rs. 12 each.
But Jairaj’s sound marketing mind kept thinking of ways to make his product more user-friendly. “After a while we realised that we could use the rear space on each page for disseminating information. My father used to write astrology for another publication called Nirnaysagar. Once product, he started his monthly forecast column on the back of each page,” he says.
Today, Kalnirnay carries, besides the panchang and the forecast column, artcles on various subjects from fiction to medicine to recipes, and even useful information like an index o important telephone numbers, a classifieds section for local listings, and even a railway time table. People need to refer to that more often than the panchang. And we are honest enough to understand the needs of our customers,” says Jairaj.
The Calmanac is specifically targeted at the ladty of the house. It’s no wonder then that women take the printed word in Kalnirnay as the gospel truth. “It is extremely reliable, and gives accurate information about dates according to the Hindu calendar. Besides I get recipes, medical tips, and views of litterateurs on various issues. One seldom gets such a mix in a single package,” says Swati Sawant, a housewife who has been using Kalnirnay for the last 10 years.
D Shubhada, a housewife from Dombivli, has had Kalnirnay at home from the time it hit the market. “From recipes, to articles, to auspicious dates and marriage mahurats, we refer to it for everything. Then there is a section called ‘Try this out’, which has some interesting ideas. And there are tips for solving minor household problems. Like there was a write-up on how to sort out the base of a pressure-cooker which has turned black. It has a lot to offer and what you get out of it depends on how much you use it. I preserve my copy at the end of the year and make sure I haven’t missed anything before disposing it of,” she says.
Apart from the general utility Calmanac, the company has also introduced three other specialized products called Aarogya Kalnirnay, which gives all kinds of information about medicine, articles, by doctors, and specific details about various illnesses. Swadisth Kalnirnayis a food and recipe special which caters to those who want to use the Calmanac like a cook book. Kisan Kalnirnay has been specially designed for farmers from the sowing to the harvesting season for the agricultural community. “Keeping the same core, we’ve given these products different dressings to suit the requirements of different groups of people,” says Jairaj.
A year and a half ago, the Salgaonkars put Kalnirnay on the net. The idea occurred to Jairaj When travelling through Russia. He found a photocopy of an issue in an Indian household, in a small town, a six-hour drive from Moscow. “Initially we put it on Indiaworld. But later we grabbed a franchise for a site called Commercenet. Now Commercenet opens with Kalnirnay like every web-sites opens with Calendar,” says jairaj.
And while the expansion of business brought in money to the family, the Salgaonkars are more pleased with their brand’s popularity. “The name we have earned in the business is far more important than the money we have made. Finally our aim is to give people their money’s worth in terms of information,” he says.
And as long as there are marriages and mahurats to be chosen, this Calmanac will stay close to the Indian woman’s heart.