TOURISM - An International Interdisciplinary Journal

Volume 59 / 2011 / Number 3 ISSN 1332-7461 

Rana P. B. SINGH

Politics and pilgrimage in North India: Varanasi between communitas and contestation

The paper examines the merger of Hindu pilgrimages and the pace of religious tourism in India. The interacting and counteracting two sides of human life, sacred and profane, consequently turn into contestation, seduction and difference; however they meet at different levels in the formation of what the author terms 'mosaicness'. Drawing on decades of experience in the heritage and pilgrimage fields, the author begins by showing the ways in which pilgrimage has been utilized by political groups to assert their own power, and argues that the growth and importance of pilgrimage-tourism may be related to an increased desire among Hindus to assert their identity against an ever more visible Muslim population. Despite such divisions, the author then argues that the creation of mosaicness at important shrines nevertheless may foster communitas, as revealed by the failure of terrorist attacks on Hindu temples in Varanasi to incite inter-religious violence. Last, he uses the case study of Sarnath to argue that the greater value accorded to tourism as an avenue for development reflects a perception that the marketing of pilgrimage sites and religious buildings offers a means of preserving and enhancing the value and visibility of the endangered remains of the past, but often it is marked by a low understanding of a site's historical value and its contemporary relevance. While site managers have implemented revenue-raising plans to preserve the archaeological remains of Sarnath, they neglect to consider the contemporary importance of the site to practicing Buddhists. A better understanding of the multiple meanings of sacred destinations, and the conscious implementation of mechanisms to foster mosaicness, is urged.