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Can India Emerge As The Global Seat of Spiritual Tourism?

A walk into the lanes of India will expose you to the religious multiplicity of the country. And people from all faiths and walks of life are now flocking to the country to be a part of this mystical experience

spiritual tourism
Religion comprises a major binding attribute in India. Pixabay

New Delhi, September 25, 2017 : A walk into the lanes of India will expose you to the religious multiplicity of the country. In every two blocks, you are certain to discover idolization of God, in almost all conceivable forms – a temple, a church, a mosque or a Gurudwara.  And people from all faiths and walks of life are now flocking to the country to be a part of this mystical experience.

India : A Confluence of Diverse Cultures and Religions

One is bound of find millions of devotees from the southern part of India taking pilgrimage to religious centres in the north like Amarnath, Ayodhya, and Haridwar, while an equal number of north Indian’s visit holy shrines of Madurai, Rameshwaram and Tirupati down South.

Bodh Gaya in Bihar is the Mecca for Buddhists from around the world and witnesses multitudes of local and foreign travelers every year.

Along with Buddhist and Hindu shrines, India is also home to the Golden temple that hosts the entire Sikh diaspora, along with prominent places of interest for Christians and Muslims like the 15th century Goan cathedrals from the Portuguese era and the world-celebrated dargah of Moinudeen Chisti of Ajmer Shariff in Rajasthan.

Thus, thousands of national and international devotees travel across the country in a conquest of spiritual bliss.

Religion comprises a major binding attribute in India. Being the birthplace of four of the dominant religions practiced around the globe and the platform for the evolution and subsequent spread of Buddhist philosophies, India has now emerged as one of the greatest attractions for religious and spiritual tourism.

spiritual tourism
India has emerged as one of the greatest attractions for religious and spiritual tourism. Pixabay

There is no doubt that Indians, irrespective of their faiths, thrive on religion. Additionally, there’s a natural curiosity in the Western world about different religious and spiritual history. It would not be wrong to say that we’re all looking for something; whether it is cultural exchange or religious or spiritual growth. This quest for answers about a larger understanding of life leads people on the path of spirituality. So is evident from the large troops of international tourists in traditional saffron kurtis and rudraksh rosary flocking the temples of Vrindavan and Varanasi, keeping up with the practices and rituals performed by equally enthusiastic locals.

5 Reasons Why Travelers Increasingly Choose India for A Spiritual Voyage

  1. Wide confluence of cultures

In India, one is bound to find an assortment of people from all parts of the world, belonging to different faiths, cultures and traditions, treading on a common spiritual path of ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ which means the entire world is one family.

  1. Broadening your perspective

With meditation sessions in the morning and the evening, and comprehensive treks during the day, spiritual tourists can unravel and explore India’s rich culture and spiritual history. The spiritual tours present one with ample time to meditate and reflect on our own actions, while at the same time become one with nature and enjoy the tranquility in the surroundings.

  1. Remarkable rituals

As you visit the different spiritual centres of India, you are faced with exquisite Indian rituals that offer great learning experiences to the seekers of spiritual wisdom. The rituals bring to light the unity within the diverse traditions and cultures of India.

  1. Intriguing history

The multiple spiritual destinations of India present a range of historical relevance. Places like Haridwar, Varanasi, Madhurai, and Puri among others – every city offers its own intriguing tales, mythologies and legends to learn from.

  1. Highly educating

From the mighty Himalayas to the scores of temples, churches, mosques and shrines – the spiritual retreats to different parts of India are immensely educational, each offering lessons on harmony, and spiritual clarity and maturity.

God resides in every nook and corner of India. Thus, with the consideration of innovation saturating into every sector, it was not long before the $40 billion religion and spirituality realm became a flourishing business domain.

Advancing Spiritual Tourism in India

Advancement in technology created a thriving space in India for start-ups that operate with a specific purpose to make everything available to people within the comforts of their home- be it booking tickets or ordering food.

In this age of technology, mobile apps for e-darshan (e-worship) have been popular for a long while. However, these right-at-your-doorstep services still fail to largely replace the charm and faith reposed in the practice of visiting various spiritual places in person.

This is where spiritual tourism comes into play – A lucrative business that aids travel agents in making bucks by designing elaborate and exclusive tour packages.

According to a report published in Economic Times, it was revealed that over 53% people were interested to opt for a pilgrimage if the package was provided by a recognized tour operator.

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“Indians are increasingly seeking a pre-organized, pre-planned and comfortable spiritual experience” -Vishal Suri, managing director SOTC travel, the first travel service provider to provide 40 specially-curated itineraries to map 60 different religious attractions in India.

This trend of religious and spiritual tourism has also been observed by international hotel chains like Hyatt hotels and resorts and the Hilton group, that are now undertaking projects to map spiritual destinations as they come on global radar.

Reflecting on the persisting movement, the Central government is also undertaking measures to bring India to the centre of theology. This will be reflected in the ‘Incredible India 2.0 campaign’– the government’s marketing initiative to promote India as an ideal destination for global spiritual audiences.

The ‘Incredible India 2.0 campaign’, set to be launched formally on September 27 to mark the World Tourism Day, aims to highlight India’s spirituality and wellness traditions.

Rishikesh, for instance, along with offering ‘adhyatm’ (self study) to the tourists will also allow them to enroll for traditional wellness programmes. Similarly, Kerala will also establish itself as the seat of ancient ayurvedic healing systems, along with promotions of its natural beauty and ornamental temples.

The global tourism industry has been witnessing a revolution for over 30 years now. Terms such as eco tourism, responsible tourism, and even volun-tourism have become common trends and become a part of common usage now.

The emerging trend of spiritual tourism is largely being cited as the fastest growing sector in the whole tourism business.

According to statistics by the National Tour Association, faith-based travel comprises a $100 billion worldwide industry, with religious destinations hosting about 330 million visitors annually.

Spiritual tourism is a trend spiraling upwards, so much so that it is increasingly being taken up not just by state tourism authorities but also governments and even the United Nations!

The UNWTO, United Nations’ agency responsible for global tourism-recognized the growing importance of spiritual tourism as it convened the 1st International Conference on Spiritual Tourism for Sustainable Development in Vietnam.

Setbacks for Spiritual Tourism in India

While India hosts the holy shrines of a variety of faiths and religions, the picture is not as rosy as it appears.

The major religious destinations in India are infamous for lack of hygiene, money-mongering, lack of basic infrastructure for food, medicine, accommodation, transport, and road, etc. These entire factors together hinder the states from exercising the ultimate potential of the religious and spiritual destinations.

This can only be achieved if special emphasis is placed on the development of infrastructure, awareness, education, and training.

ALSO READ These 5 Ancient Temples are Believed to be the Oldest in India

Also called upon are efforts on behalf of the state and Centre governments to indulge in aggressive PR and branding exercise, reaching out to travelers and make these destinations more travel-friendly.

With both of these agendas on the mind of the government, the tourism landscape can be expected to undergo radicalization.

What remains to be seen is if India, the land where people from all across the world are seen to participate in spiritual tourism, for getting inner peace and attaining moksha, emerges as the seat of spiritual tourism.

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Thanksgiving Day Across the World

Thanksgiving Day is celebrated across the world and for each country, it has its own tale and tradition around food and days.

Thanksgiving Day celebrations
Happy Thanksgiving Day, Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving Day. The name stands for itself as the day to give thanks and is celebrated as a national holiday in many countries like United States of America, Canada, Netherlands, Philippines, Grenada, Liberia while similarly named festival exists in Germany, Japan, and United Kingdom.
Thanksgiving holiday remains a day to give thanks at the close of the harvest season.

The official date for the American Thanksgiving that exists today was set by President Roosevelt to be on the fourth Thursday in November instead of the last Thursday in November as decided by President Lincoln as thanksgiving date.
But their thanksgiving is surrounded by a debate over the nation’s first celebrations and the two places embroiled in this debate are New England and Virginia as both the places provide certain proofs of being the spot for nation’s first celebrations for Thanksgiving.

Canadian Thanksgiving tradition is celebrated in the true spirit of giving thanks at the close of the harvest season. It is believed that due to the geographical differences from the USA, Canada’s Thanksgiving arrives on the second Monday in October as that is the close of their harvest season.

But in countries like Liberia, Netherlands, and Grenada, it is not just a day to give thanks at the close of the harvest season.

In Liberia, Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated to mark the freedom from black slavery by the U.S.A. The Thanksgiving day’s date remains on the first Thursday of November and has been a tradition since 1820.

Netherlands celebrate thanksgiving to mark to commemorate the Pilgrims who had migrated and became residents of the city of Leiden and died at Pieterskerk. To commemorate the hospitality, the thanksgiving, a non-denominational Thanksgiving Day is celebrated as the same as American Thanksgiving Day’s morning.

But there are some countries like the Philippines where the tradition of Thanksgiving only arrived with the Americans due to it being an American colony in the early 20th century but the tradition of Thanksgiving there had seemed to die down.

The American Thanksgiving seems to dominate the Thanksgiving menu when it comes to this holiday. Their famous turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, pies, mashed potatoes, and yams are signature dishes related to this day.

Black Friday:
Not only food, American Thanksgiving has also made Black Friday, an informal day following the Thanksgiving Day to mark the beginning of their country’s Christmas season sales and it has been in the history books since 1952 such that it has become a tradition of its own now.

Thanksgiving Day remains an occasion for many families to get back together and celebrate this holiday in the spirit of one while giving the rise to the excitement of upcoming Christmas also which remains barely a month away from Thanksgiving day.

Samridhi Nain is a student of Philosophy (Hons.) from University of Delhi.


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India all set to Opt for Automatic Observation of Pollution in the Ocean to consolidate data to aid the Tourism Industry

Ocean , Wikimedia

May 12, 2017: India is all set to opt for automatic observation of pollution in the ocean to consolidate data that will further aid the tourism industry and could also come in handy in countering allegations levelled by developed nations against the country being a major polluter, according to a scientist.

“We have proposed a completely new project to automatically observe pollution in the ocean and see whether we can mimic that observation using a mathematical model. We will use that observation using a mathematical model. We will use those observations to understand the processes which are going on in the coastal waters and provide an estimation of the water quality,” S.S.C. Shenoi, Director, Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Earth System Science Organisation, told IANS.

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INCOIS is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES). The proposal is already with the MoES and initial approvals have been given.

Shenoi elaborated on the advantage of having an automated system in the ocean waters, which are known to have absorbed about half of man-made carbon dioxide (emission) over time.

“First of all we will know how our waters are changing. These are issues which are always debated and we need correct measurements,” Shenoi pointed out.

As for the tourism industry flourishing along the Indian coasts, the pollution forecast will assist in deciding a threshold of dumping waste into the waters.

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“Then we will be able to provide the forecast of the pollution that will help the tourism industry. Because tourism is picking up it will tell the government regulatory authorities how much we can afford to dump in the sea,” he said, adding.

To bring this project to fruition, INCOIS will deploy ocean data acquisition systems called automated moorings.

Moored ocean buoys provide real-time, continuous, frequent, and accurate observations of marine conditions from the same deep-water location.

“We are planning to use automated moorings which will be placed at selected locations and they will record the data and transmit it to INCOIS on a daily basis. We will collaborate with other institutions as well,” said Shenoi, also the Director of the National Institute of Ocean Technology.

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Six devices will be installed along the Indian coastline.

“One will be off West Bengal, another one close to Vizag, one along Chennai and three in the Western coast. Each mooring will cost around Rs. 4 crore and for an initial project duration of three years, the total investment will be Rs 160 crore,” Shenoi said.

The moorings have onboard computer systems and sensors and will offer insights on how different ocean parameters vary with time scales.

“The time scale varies from few minutes to few hours (when tides are active) to seasonal and intra-seasonal and annual changes. All these constitute different time scales and all these observations will tell us what are the time scales and what are the most significant changes that are occurring in the coastal waters, regarding any of the parameters.

“So the data will help estimate how those parameters look like along the Indian coast,” he added. (IANS)



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The Rama and Krishna circuits may undermine the sanctity of holy sites

Questions about whether the Ayodhya and Dwarka of today exist on the precise spot that they did in ancient times raise doubts about the duplication

Image Source
  • The Centre has approved projects worth Rs 300 crore for the development of these circuits in UP alone
  • Questions about whether the Ayodhya and Dwarka of today exist on the precise spot that they did in ancient times raise doubts about the duplication
  • The challenges faced by the committee are many as they have to create one template for all pilgrims even though there are myths and counter-myths

The Ministry of Culture has set up two national committees for the Rama and Krishna circuits. Religious leaders, spiritual gurus, and educationists associated with RSS-backed organisations have been asked to come together to advise the government on developing the two circuits as “Religious tourism” destinations.

The committee formed would devise ways to encourage tourism by identifying theme-based pilgrimage circuits along India’s age-old religious sites associated with Ram and Krishna. The two religious circuits are to map all the major sites associated with the two deities and develop them as religious tourism destinations. It is expected that this initiative would definitely influence the vote bank ahead of the polls.

The Ramayana circuit is expected to stretch from Nepal to Rameshwaram and Sri Lanka. The Krishna circuit will move from Mathura to Dwarka at one end and to Arunachal Pradesh on the other, sources said. The UP government has also been asked to send in proposals.

The Centre has approved projects worth Rs 300 crore for the development of these circuits in UP alone.

The committee had to narrow down many tirthas, or religious sites as the lives of both Ram and Krishna in their human avatars, were marked by constant mobility. On June 14, the committee proposed 11 sites across six states for what is being called the Ramayana circuit: Ayodhya, Nandigram, Shringhverpur and Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh; Sitamarhi, Buxar and Darbhanga in Bihar; Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh; Bhadrachalam in Telangana; Hampi in Karnataka; and Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. Under the Krishna circuit, they proposed Dwarka in Gujarat; Nathdwara, Jaipur and Sikar in Rajasthan; Kurukshetra in Haryana, Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Barsana, Nandgaon and Govardhan in Uttar Pradesh and Puri in Odisha, says the report.

Questions about whether the Ayodhya and Dwarka of today exist on the precise spot that they did in ancient times raise doubts about the duplication of these sacred places.

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Ram Paidi ghat in Ayodhya. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
Ram Paidi ghat in Ayodhya. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

“The pilgrims” India, writes Diana Eck in her book ‘India: A Sacred Geography’, “ is a vividly imagined landscape… created by linking, by duplication, and multiplication of places so as to constitute an entire world.”

Some interpretations put pilgrims to be beyond the boundaries of an actual physical presence as the Mahabharata, says, they can be in the mind. Tuladhar says to Jajali: “O Jajali, all rivers are holy, all hills are pure, and the human soul is the true tirtha. It is therefore senseless to undertake pilgrimages and become guests in alien lands.”

Revered gurus such as Gorakhnath and Kabir, also voiced their opinion on going on long and elaborate pilgrimages and bathing in holy rivers to cleanse one’s soul, says“Ganga na jaoon ji, main Jamuna na jaoon ji main na koi teerath nhaoonji !” – I shall not go to the Ganges, or the Yamuna, neither will I bathe in the holy waters at a tirth – Goraknath has famously proclaimed.

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The challenges faced by the committee are many as they have to create one template for all pilgrims even though there are myths and counter-myths, multiple interpretations of religious lore and multiple versions of Ram and Krishna’s story.

Preparing a calendar of events for the guided tours of Ramayana and Krishna circuits is sure to create issues given that there are so many events to choose from.

To create a specific and centralised tourism patterns in this sacred landscape without destroying the broad spiritual margin is indeed a herculean task. It is also needs to be  ascertained whether the identification of these cities by the committees was not driven by political dimensions. After the conflagrations over Ram and Krishna Janmbhoomi that rocked the state in the 1990s and unleashed horrific communal violence in several parts of India, killing thousands, the government needs to ensure that lands claimed by religions are not used for political mileage.

– prepared by Ajay Krishna, an intern at NewsGram.