Thursday, May 08, 2008


Religious and Spiritual Tourism …

It’s time that India should look forward to developing the concept of Religious Tourism and Spiritual Tourism. In India, we have too many Gods and their incarnations and too many temples for each of them. In addition to this we have a lot of spiritual gurus (with due respect, starting from Osho, Ravi Shankar, Ramdev, etc) … who are gaining momentum across the world for their teachings.

Last weekend, I was on a religious tour in Rajasthan, accompanied by parents. Some of the things really startled me were the way things got commercialized in last few years – within the temple premise and streets outside on the approach to the temple … in addition to the main temple, there are plenty of smaller temples of related stories (mythical in nature) and India being religious mind – praying to all possible Gods and Goddesses encountered with …

By liberal atheist in nature, it was just a break from my usual stuff … but it pained me a lot to see the abuse of the sentiments of people by the commercialization of the feelings and resources. The pandits within the campus directly ask you for money, having their minimum set (and won’t take less than that) and won’t serve you with the required task - giving Prasad, putting a tika (mark with roli/sindur on forehead), tying the sacred thread on your hands, etc … and on the streets … they’ll provide you with complete plate with all the required accessories for puja, flowers, coconut, incents sticks, cloths (if required), etc with a high price tag … to add woes, the moment you step down the stairs of the temple you encounter another breed … an army of beggars … and this time I found a totally new way … these are gang of ladies (normally street cleaners) and their kids … they’ll not just ask, they’ll almost pester you and follow you till your door steps … and if you get into a restaurant, they’ll wait for you to come out … (really frustrating) … then you’ll find streets filled with sweet shops, accessories shops, flower shops, and … shops with photos/idols, books, and music cassettes with so called bhajans (in fact most of them modified a film song/tune into a bhajan) … and these shops are competing each other by playing loud volumes (who’s is the loudest) … there’s no steps to ensure cleanliness – in fact most of the garbage is because of these shops who clean their shops and dump the garbage in middle of the path/street …

Now the idea of religious tourism came into my mind by seeing the devotees!!! … various types/ kinds … I could make out only 5~10% of the people visiting the temples today are serious devotees … the rest are there because some other person has been their or said 10 things about it or has to make a mark (of being religious) in the society … barely following the rules and decorum of the temple premise … and then trying to show that they are one of the most religious creatures of all the lot … interesting thing to note was the way these were dressed – especially ladies – as if they are attending the kitti party of the neighborhood … with kids perplexed as to what is happening and finding space to breathe – distract themselves and their guardians … (you can see a big Q mark on their face as why they are there and why/what they are doing of supposed to do and why they are missing their friends/fav cartoon show… )

Now if it is commercialized – the other tradition regional cottage industry would gain a lot from it … (like historic tourism – tourist guide, we can have an army of pujaris to do the pujas …). Given that a lot of today’s youth is becoming religious in nature – who have no idea of the historic background (let it be mythical) … need that kind of support infrastructure to build upon them … this would not only add some revenues to the state but also boost the local service (hotels and restaurants) and cottage industry (textile, handicrafts, art, …)

Comments welcome …

I think its already a cottage industry - what we need to do is to organize the sector - bring in a professional player like Raj who can take care of everything end-to-end from transport to stay to making the visit to the temple and then the tourist place next door :-)
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