It is his instinct that has driven man over long distances since thousands of years in his religious pursuits. That Lord Buddha in his prime career point had denounced worldly pleasures in quest of the eternal knowledge or ‘Nirvana’ is nothing, but a bright instance of religious tourism setting a historical landmark.
Religion has influenced and shaped man’s thoughts and philosophies since the dawn of civilization. Man’s journey in quest of religious ideologies began since then. The exodus of the Jews in search of the Holy land has become a legend and finds an important place in Biblical reference. The parallel tale runs in the Torah, the holy book in Hebrew. After the death of Joseph, the Jews fled the enslavement and torture by the Egyptians. Moses, the Jew leader guided them towards the Promised Land.
Whether the Jews accomplished the long cherished desire that inspired their journey is open to debate, but the long journey they undertook was a fact paved with obstacles and done amid wilderness. Some of them did not stop in their promised land. Legend has it they moved on towards east traversing the west -east length of China and turned south into Burma.
Thereafter crossing the Burmese border, they entered India, and finally settled in the area where the states of Mizoram and Manipur are located. The migration started 6000 years back, and the present day Mizos and Kukis call themselves the ‘Menashes’, the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel who started the exodus. History stands as a testimony to this mass migration over enormous distances through hardships and dangers in religious pursuits.
The annual pilgrimage of the Muslim Hajjis to the holy city of Mecca with a motive to perform the religious rituals according to Muslim customs has its roots in history. Prophet Muhammad had set up and approved the manner in which a devoted Muslim should go about this religious journey, considered the holiest act in the life of a follower of Islam. The rituals of Haj were designed by Allah himself during the time when Ibrahim was his Prophet. He entrusted Ibrahim with the responsibility of building the holy abode of Allah, which is called the Kaba, the sacred house. After accomplishing the task of building Kaba, the Prophet would visit this place every year with religious regularity to perform Haj. After Ibrahim’s death, the sacred journey was continued by the Prophet’s son down the generations, and till date this holy ritual is executed with passion and devotion by millions of Muslims across the world.
In India, Kumbh Mela, held after every twelve years at the confluence of the three sacred rivers the Ganga, Jamuna and the Saraswati is considered one of the holiest of religious gatherings of its kind according the Hindu religious rituals. This mela or sacred carnival is historical, and it sees an awesome mix of people from all walks of lives. The affluent, the poor, the pauper, the saints and sanyasis (specifically the Naga sanyasis go bare bodied as they have denounced material life and go in search of higher goals of life bordering on supernatural) pour in from all corners of India.
They have done so over past and the start date seems to be as old as the Hindu religion itself when the gods (devatas) and demons (ashuras) resided on earth according to Hindu mythology. In a nutshell, it is so old that the origin of this religious gathering is lost in history. It is the most important event in the lives of saints and sadhus. The Hindus with unshakable faith, believes visiting this mela and having a glimpse of the sadhus, sanyasis and holy men would absolve them of their sins. This is an age old belief carried down the generations. This grand religious mela is held in four sacred places in Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar.
The legend goes like this that the gods hunted down the demons for twelve days and nights. Dollops of sacred amrita (ambrosia) poured down from heaven over these four places making them sanctified. It is the largest Hindu spiritual gathering in the world observed down the ages where a sea of devotees take holy dips in the sacred rivers. The examples cited are clear indications that religious tourism is not a recent practice. It is historical that started almost when the human race came into existence.
Essential Components of Religious Tourism
The most important unit of religious tourism is the sacred site itself. The stronger its connection with legends and myths anchored to the past greater is its tourist value. Places connected with the birth or arrival of religious men and ‘Avatars’ into this world gives the site a sacred appeal and is an important component. Specific details meticulously preserved and propagated in connection with the lives and activities of religious men justify the sacred worth of a site.
Details relating to the horse stable where Lord Christ had been born, the sacred tree where he attained enlightenment, the legendary garden where he played in his childhood, fought and defeated the evil forces are all essential components that raises interest and inquisitiveness in the minds of tourists and becomes a place of massive tourist attraction and can rightly be considered important components of religious tourism.
The secondary attraction that blooms around the religious site are ancillary business and the infrastructural developments connected with the religious site are important components too. Wonderful fairs or locally known as ‘Melas’ in India is an amazing mix of crowd vendors, amusement rides, clay models and other ingredients depicting the various stages of lives of saints, lords and prophets, eating joints, dips in sacred rivers and lakes, bizarre and yet curiosity inspiring rituals, devotional songs and a lot more arresting features constitute the essential components of religious tourism.
Priest and clergy
The priest is the key figure. He is supposed to know all about the customary rituals and sacred rites that are the essential features in worship. When it comes to religious tourism, the priest is the ultimate person in charge. He is your friend, philosopher and guide. He is supposed to show you the gates of heaven and make you accomplish your mission with a happy and fulfilling note. Hence the role of the priest constitutes an important component in religious tourism.
Accessibility of the religious site
The attitude of the locals and the reverence and importance they attach to the religious site located in their country is important. So far as the infrastructural component is concerned, the mode of access to religious sites plays a significant role. Transportation to the sacred locations has a key impact. It should be safe, cozy, regular, and reliable and the trip expenses must be within the means of an average tourist. In a nutshell, it should fit into the requirements of all kinds of tourists belonging to a wide range of economic bracket. Accommodation demands attention as it is equally a significant component as is transport. Needless to say they should be safe and comfortable, and should answer the needs of tourists belonging to different social standings.
Weather and landscape
Other essential components of religious tourism encompass several aspects like pleasant weather, exquisite landscapes to inspire the secondary desire for sightseeing, local administration, legal redressal cells and tourist safety.
Basic amenities like uninterrupted supply of power and water, general standard of hygiene and the availability of experienced and trusted guides and medical facilities are all essential components favoring religious tourism.
Travel companies and agents
Travel agents and tour operators constitute chief components of religious tourism. In absence of their valuable service and guidance, the trip to religious site may not be an impossible assignment, but definitely it will be a difficult task. It will be like going on an aimless cruise. The consequence will be a waste of money and time. More importantly, you will never know what to look for. After completion of the religious mission, a realization may strike you that many places, which merits a visit has been left unexplored.
Cross-border religious interactions
The socio-religious interface and the interaction across the boundary between the tourists and the local residents are important components as well. Literature on religious myths, epics, the Vedic texts, the Holy Bible, the Holy Quran, Bhagavat Gita, Zend Avesta and other informative and illustrative books on religion and the teachings of saints and prophets forms the core of religious tourism. It is true these texts do not necessarily exist only in the religious sites in question, they can be read at leisure sitting back in your home but nevertheless they are the initial sources making you aware of a particular religion and its sacred features. These books instill in you a desire for religious trips and may be included as one of the essential components of religious tourism.
Why Religious Tourism Matters?
Religion is one of the most powerful expressions of faith that builds our inner core. People get hurt and seriously offended when confronted with criticisms pointed towards their religion. Reservations and discriminations based on religion are dangerous and a barrier against unification, a quest for peace and harmony with which different components of a society would operate.
It is imperative that we know each other in terms of faith and religion. Mutual existence with absolute ignorance about our neighbor’s religion is undesirable. It is possible that we may inadvertently engage in an act that is detrimental to another religion. It hurts the sentiments and forms a fertile ground for a brewing communal discord. It would just need another act in the same direction for the dormant feelings of hatred and mistrust to flare up.
Religious trips are wise steps towards resolving these differences based on faith. Here, of course, cross religious tourism is intended where tourists are from random religious backgrounds, and they similarly select religious destinations at random for a visit and pay respect to the sacred site.
Supports revenue earnings
From the economic point of view, religious tourism is a great revenue earner. It generates employment at the site and leads to the growth of ancillary business connected with religion promoting general upliftment of the economy of the religious site.
Meets spiritual needs
Trips to religious sites answer our spiritual needs. The frantic rush, the neck to neck rivalry to survive in this world and the mounting tensions often leave our mind and body shattered. We feel the necessity to unwind. We need a quiet getaway to establish a contact with the divine entities, and religious destinations offer an ideal backdrop. It gives us a feeling of security and immense satisfaction relieving our pains and tensions. At least, you have now shared your secrets with someone you believe to be almighty. A soothing spell overwhelms you relieving much of your material world based tensions.
Broadens cultural horizon
Religious tourism opens you to cultural and religious marvels of a civilization. The amazing designs and carvings, which adorn a place of worship exposes you to the rich heritage and mythological connotations connected with the religious site. This is greatly educative, and you marvel with stupefying bliss at the realization that whatever might be the color and banner the essence of all religion is fundamentally the same. This is a great realization, and you find answers to the apparently inexplicable queries you had been shooting at yourself with no answers.
Religious tourism matters as it is a route to spiritual upliftment. It liberates you from the regular chores of mundane life, which at times pushes you to the verge of mental tiredness. It is a refreshing change, and your mind needs fine tuning and religious tourism exactly strives to give you the same.
Religious tourism is essentially a spiritual sojourn. It is a passionate quest of objectives focused on a pragmatic rise above the routine humdrum achieving to get transparency in eternal riddles of life and death. Religious tourism commands a major share of the tourism industry in general sustaining visits to holy places by groups of pilgrims fired by faith.
Adoption of a religion and following it with single minded devotion is a journey in itself. It aims at the spiritual progress we make during our span of life, our journey after life and the eventual control over our mind. Our acts are all governed by how the mind behaves. A disciplined mind is always on alert. It can differentiate between the good and evil and helps us to choose the right path. In religious tourism also the idea is to proceed beyond the routine and dull everyday existence and reach a target of self actualization. Religious tourism inspires you in this mission.
Great journeys have always helped propagate the spread of faith and achievement of true knowledge. It makes our lives meaningful and absorbed in a concrete goal, which is eventually spiritual in nature.
Best Practices in Religious Tourism
Religious tourism sites bring in considerable revenue to feed the concerned nation’s exchequer. Emphasis on maintaining sustained tourism with minimal corrosive impact on old and sacred structures and places of worship is imperative. Religion has an enormous sentimental value. The devotees and tourist having a thirst for holy voyages would certainly love to see their religious destination and places of worship well preserved touching the acceptable standards of cleanliness and existence of infrastructural support.
Need for improved sanitation
But we see a bit of paradox as in many religious sites particularly in developing countries sanitation is the first casualty. Congregation of paupers, lepers, nameless wanderers is a very common sight in and around temples in India. The sacred rivers that flow by religious sites may get polluted just a mile away with the industrial garbage and human wastes getting dumped in tons marring the sacred character of the water body not to mention about the early morning human traffic injecting metabolic end products. Administrative enforcement must swing in speedy service in order to ensure the holy sites do not lose their magic charm and turn into a place bringing up nausea and disgust overnight!
However, expunging the sacred site entirely from the desolate and paupers rolling in morbid misery would be an inhuman effort. But the standard of life of this crowd flocking around temples and mosques can definitely be improved pooling the flow of money pouring in from religious tourism. Once the light of education and financial support touches the lives of the down trodden, their habits would change and they would appreciate the need of sanitation and healthy practices. Religious sites would automatically turn cleaner leaving an excellent impression among the tourists.
Several voluntary organizations and NGO’s are working hard to set up rehabilitation centers striving to bring in improvement in the lives of beggars settling around religious sites. This is for sure a step taken in positive direction. Cleansing up the spoil that had been tarnishing the image of religious sites is vital.
Setting up improved infrastructure
Setting up infrastructural supports like hotels, effective transportation network, tourist information bureaus and grievance cells would feature as effective practices enhancing the spirit of religious tourism striking the twin objective of customer satisfaction and perking up the socio economic grade of the locals eventually making the religious site a prime tourist destination.
Growth of business around religious sites is steadily sustained with tourist dollars rolling in and as such an all round development centering on the religious destination is in the offing. Among the best practices revolving around religious tourism, tourist awareness regarding upholding the appeal of the site for the future potential tourists is perhaps the most important practice to be implemented. The tourists need to be educated of the local religious rituals, lores, beliefs and customs. Realization of factors arising from irresponsible practices like leaving behind trash in a religious place or smoking around old temples that can potentially damage the environment of the place of worship speeding up its erosion is important.
Although it is up to the tourist’s choice, donation to temple funds is always considered a good practice as it is supposed to be utilized in the maintenance of sacred monuments, cathedrals, temples and mosques especially those dilapidated structures having been revered down the ages needing immediate attention. In some countries, donation to temple funds approved by income tax authorities may make you avail rebates from your income tax. In short, the idea is to encourage those acts among tourists which sustain the charisma of the religious destination. The cooperation should come from the tourists and locals backed by the administrative machinery.