Sustainable Tourism: Learning from Indian Religious Traditions

Topics: Tourism, Pilgrimage, Way of St. James Pages: 11 (3644 words) Published: June 23, 2013
Sustainable tourism: learning from Indian religious traditions

Vasanti Gupta Director of Insight India, Headington, Oxford, UK

Ethics, Green issues, India, Tourism

The context
Pilgrimage to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion is an age-old tradition, followed by religions all over the world. The fact that it is often carried out on foot, is an older form and has many religious connotations, has made people overlook it as a form of tourism. Apart from the devotional aspect, looked at from the broader point of view, pilgrimage involves, sightseeing, travelling, visiting different places and, in some cases, voyaging by air or sea etc. and buying the local memorabilia, almost everything a tourist does. If a difference does exist it is in the fact that, despite having been undertaken for centuries, it has not had the same negative environmental, cultural and social ramifications that tourism has shown itself capable of in the last 30 years alone. Also, as in other types of tourism, tourist traffic to a destination can be created by changes in access or demands for new activities. Today the Buddhist and Jain shrines in remote parts of India have seen huge increases in visits as they become more accessible. Until the 1960s hardly anybody visited Lumbini (birthplace of Buddha) near the Chitwan Royal National Park, in Nepal near the Indian border. A renewed interest in Buddhism all over the world, easy road access to Lumbini and the added attraction of the National Park, which has been declared a world heritage site, has made all the difference. Lumbini is now a popular destination. Similarly, in the past, the major pilgrimage centres did not just provide food and accommodation and spiritual succour for the pilgrims. They were great centres of art and culture and, in the case of major centres, still are. The Himalayan region of Uttar Pradesh in India has developed a special Pahari cuisine, school of music, Pahari school of miniature painting, cane products and various handicrafts. Even the classical Indian music developed Raga Pahari (based on the local folk tunes). Almost every place in these areas has special handicrafts for the pilgrims to buy (shoddy copies are still available in the back alleys). The case of Benaras, the holiest and the favourite pilgrim centre of Hindus, is even

Religious pilgrimages have taken place for many hundreds of years without causing the negative environmental, cultural and social impacts associated with tourism. Common features of pilgrimages are: not an excessive burden on the environment; beneficial to local communities; occur at certain times of year only; people carry their own baggage and purchase food, etc. locally; pilgrims are quiet and law-abiding; killing animals or taking from nature is taboo. Some lessons can be learned from these for modern tourism.

E-mail: kishorevasanti@email.

International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management 11,2/3 [1999] 91–95 © MCB University Press [ISSN 0959-6119]

more illustrative of a pilgrimage cum tourist centre. Here the day is filled with various rituals and rites associated with spirituality but taken in broader sense with rituals bordering on cultural events. These include discourses, recital of the epic myth of Ramayana, attending special events organised on the river banks (ghats) of which Benaras has about 80, or at ashrams, monasteries and other religious places. Again Benaras has distinct types of cuisine, dance, music, art and literature. Benaras is the home of the semi-classical Indian music called Thumri, based on the folk songs of this region. Over the centuries, Benaras has been the home of many of the greatest literary figures from all around India, including Tulsidas who wrote the epic Ramayana in Hindi, Sant Gyaneshwar, the most revered saint of Maharashtra who wrote the Gitai (Marathi version of Geeta) and many other saints, musicians, artists, gods and legends. Benaras...
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