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Krishna's Curse in the Age of Global Tourism: Hindu pilgrimage priests and their trade*

  • KNUT AUKLAND (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

This article explores the strategies of pandas (Hindu pilgrimage priests) in Vrindavan, relating changes in their trade (pandagiri) to tourism. These changes are the result of the pandas’ creative adjustments to shifting travel patterns that affect their market niche. Utilizing audio-recordings of the pandas’ guided tours, the article first portrays how pandas acquire ritual income from pilgrims by ‘inspiring’ donations of which they get a percentage. While commercial interests and economic conditions have always been crucial in shaping and perpetuating pilgrimage institutions and practices, global tourism has become an increasingly significant factor. Pandas all over India modify their services while the traditional exchange model (jajmani system) wanes. Changing travel patterns have made the guided tour a crucial component in the operation of Hindu pilgrimage. Vrindavan pandas have therefore turned into guides conducting religious sightseeing tours (darshan yatra). These tours are core to the new strategy for acquiring ritual income. To secure clients, pandas build connections with travel agencies and drivers and, in some cases, establish their own travel agencies that combine priestly and tourism services. The pandas’ own understandings of their methods and contemporary travel trends further reflect the dynamic interplay between pilgrimage and tourism in India.

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Thanks to Håkon Tandberg, Kathinka Frøystad, Knut Melvær, Michael Stausberg, the South Asia symposium group in Oslo, and the anonymous Modern Asian Studies reviewers for feedback on earlier drafts of this article. Amitanshu Verma and Dhiren Borisa assisted in translating the audio-recordings. I am also grateful to Laxminarayan Tiwari at the Braj Culture Research Institute for sharing his local expertise. Finally, I would like to thank to Moumita Sen for collaborative fieldwork in Vrindavan in 2015.

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1 Lochtefeld J. G., ‘Pandas’ in Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism: Society, Religious Specialists, Religious Traditions, Philosophy, Jacobsen K. A. (ed.), Brill, Leiden, 2011, pp. 240–4.

2 In this article I use the term ‘pilgrim’ for Hindu travellers arriving at pilgrimage sites like Vrindavan to partake in the worship of Hindu gods. The defining criterion in Hindu pilgrimage, as I see it, is arrival and in situ activity rather than mode of travel or the idea of journeying. Much ink has been spilled trying to differentiate the ‘tourist’ from the ‘pilgrim’, religiously motivated journeying being a typical key characteristic of the ‘true pilgrim’ (cf. Reader I., Pilgrimage in the Marketplace, Routledge, New York, 2012, pp. 89). It is true that most encyclopedic definitions of pilgrimage stress the importance of journey (‘Pilgrimage’ in HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, J. Z. Smith and W. S. Green, Harper, London, 1996, p. 841; Davidson L. K. and Gitlitz D. M., Pilgrimage from the Ganges to Graceland: An Encyclopedia, ABC CLIO, Santa Barbara, 2002, p. 478 ; Turner E., ‘Pilgrimage’ in Encyclopedia of Religion, Jones L. (ed.), Macmillan/Thompson Gale, Detroit, 2005, pp. 7145–8; Hassauer F., ‘Pilgrimage’, in The Brill Dictionary of Religion, von Stuckrad K. et al., Brill, Leiden/Boston, 2006, pp. 1452–6; Olson C., Religious Studies: The Key Concepts, Routledge, Abingdon/New York, 2010, pp. 173–5; Dubisch J., ‘Pilgrimage’ in Encyclopedia of Global Religion, Jurgensmeyer M. and Roof W. C., SAGE, Thousand Oakes, 2012, pp. 991–6). However, the scriptural Hindu pilgrimage tradition has most often highlighted the destination and the rewards attainable there ( Jacobsen K. A., Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: Salvific Space, Routledge, London, 2012, pp. 89 , 97). The entries on Hindu pilgrimage in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism therefore begin by describing place rather than journey, downplaying the latter, much like the classical Hindu texts on pilgrimage ( Sax W. S., ‘Pilgrimage: Hindu pilgrimage’ in Jones (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 7168 ; Jacobsen K. A., Tirtha and tirthyatra: Salvific space and pilgrimage’ in Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Jacobsen K. (ed.), Brill, Leiden, 2009, p. 382).

3 Fuller C. J., Servants of the Goddess: The Priests of a South Indian Temple, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, pp. 68–9; van der Veer P., Gods on Earth: The Management of Religious Experience and Identity in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre, Athlone Press, London, 1989, p. 185 ; Parry J., Death in Banaras, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994, p. 104 ; Gold A. G., Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002 [1988], p. 275; Gladstone D. L., From Pilgrimage to Package Tour: Travel and Tourism in the Third World, Routledge, New York, 2005, p. 189 ; Lochtefeld J. G., God's Gateway: Identity and Meaning in a Hindu Pilgrimage Place, Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, 2010, pp. 131 , 134; Shinde K., ‘Entrepreneurship and indigenous entrepreneurs in religious tourism in India’, International Journal of Tourism Research, vol. 12, 2010, p. 529 ; Lochtefeld, ‘Pandas’, p. 243.

4 Gladstone, From Pilgrimage to Package Tour, p. 189, f. 13.

5 Gold, Fruitful Journeys, p. 275; Gladstone, From Pilgrimage to Package Tour, p. 185.

6 Fylann A. and Garrod B., ‘From competition to collaboration in the tourism industry’ in Global Tourism, Theobald W. F. (ed.), Elsevier, New York, 2005, pp. 66–9; Cohen E., ‘The sociology of tourism: Approaches, issues, and findings’ in The Sociology of Tourism: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, Apostolopoulos Y., Leivadi S. and Yiannakis A. (eds), Routledge, London/New York, 1996, p. 59 ; Dwyer L., ‘Trends underpinning global tourism in the next decade’ in Theobald (ed.), Global Tourism, pp. 534–5; Theobald W. F., ‘The meaning, scope, and measurement of travel and tourism’ in Theobald (ed.), Global Tourism, pp. 5 , 7. It should not be forgotten, however, that a large part of the tourism industry, in particular in relation to domestic tourism in India, is informal. See Gladstone, From Pilgrimage to Package Tour.

7 J. Urry, ‘Globalising the tourist gaze’, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/resources/sociology-online-papers/papers/urry-globalising-the-tourist-gaze.pdf, [accessed 8 March 2016]; Lanfant M., ‘Introduction’ in International Tourism: Identity and Change, Lanfant M., Allcock J. B. and Bruner E. M. (eds), SAGE, London/Thousand Oakes/New Delhi, 1995, pp. 23 , 5; Burns P., An Introduction to Tourism and Anthropology, Routledge, London/New York, 1999, p. 125 ; Wanhill S., ‘Role of government incentives’ in Theobald (ed.), Global Tourism, pp. 368 , 389.

8 Urry, ‘Globalising the tourist gaze’, p. 3; Lanfant et al., International Tourism, p. 3; Theobald (ed.), Global Tourism, p. 8.

9 Norman A., Spiritual Tourism: Travel and Religious Practice in Western Society, Bloomsbury, London, 2011, p. 83 ; Hall C. M., Introduction to Tourism: Dimensions and Issues, Hospitality Press, French Forest, 2003, p. 45 ; Verhoeven G., ‘Foreshadowing tourism: Looking for modern and obsolete features—or some missing link—in early modern travel behavior (1675–1750)’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 42, 2013, p. 264 ; Towner J., ‘The Grand Tour: A key phase in the history of tourism’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 12, 1985, p. 232 .

10 Verhoeven, ‘Foreshadowing tourism’, p. 278; Borocz J., ‘Travel capitalism: The structure of Europe and the advent of the tourist’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 34, no. 4 ; Towner, ‘The Grand Tour’, p. 321.

11 Borocz, ‘Travel capitalism’.

12 Mackenzie J. M., ‘Empires of travel: British guide books and cultural imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries’ in Histories of Tourism: Representation, Identity and Conflict, Walton H. K. (ed.), Channel View Publications, Clevedon/Buffalo/Toronto, 2005, p. 22 .

13 Mukhopadhyay A., ‘Colonised gaze? Guidebooks and journeying in colonial India’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 34, no. 4, 2014 .

14 Kerr I. J., ‘Reworking a popular religious practice: The effects of railways on pilgrimage in 19th and 20th century South Asia’ in Railways in Modern India, Kerr I. J. (ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001 .

15 Cohen, ‘The sociology of tourism’, p. 59; Jafari J., ‘Creation of the inter-governmental World Tourism Organization’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 2, no. 5, 1975 .

16 Lickorish L. J. and Jenkins C. L., An Introduction to Tourism, Reed Educational and Professional Publishing, Oxford, 1997, p. 182 ; Lanfant et al., International Tourism, p. 3.

17 Hannam K. and Diekmann A., Tourism and India: A Critical Introduction, Routledge, London/New York, 2011, p. 17 .

18 I was first introduced to this term by a local historian.

19 Darshan is a religious concept that typically refers to the auspicious beholding of deities and their manifestations on earth, while yatra typically means journey, though it can also refer to pilgrimage. The concept of a darshan yatra is therefore a reformatting of a typical guided tour or sightseeing tour of cultural tourism into a religious concept.

20 I return to the specific details of the Nanda Rai system below.

21 This is in part informed by Michael Stausberg's understanding of the relationship between religion and tourism. Stausberg M., Religion and Tourism: Crossroads, Destinations and Encounters, Routledge, London/New York, 2011, p. 8 .

22 See Aukland K., ‘Retailing religion: Guided tours and guide narratives in Hindu pilgrimage’, Tourist Studies, forthcoming, DOI: 10.1177/1468797615618038 .

23 I have changed various details in the interest of anonymity.

24 I am currently working on a manuscript dealing with Prem Mandir, Vaishno Devi Ashram, and other religious attractions in northern India.

25 The panda’s narrative during the tour was audio-recorded on 16 March 2015.

26 Note that in the case of god images, darshan also implies an exchange of gazes—the god also looks back at the beholder. See Eck D. L., Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 78 .

27 Kaliyug refers to the fourth and last cosmic era of decay and degeneration in which we now live.

28 The ‘carrying on the shoulder’ refers to the deathbed that is carried to cremation.

29 Hawley J. S., At Play with Krishna: Pilgrimage Dramas from Vrindavan, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 1992, pp. 31–4.

30 Hawley, At Play with Krishna, pp. 31–4.

31 TripAdvisor allows travellers to share reviews of their travel and service experiences, while supporting itself through advertising on the site. www.tripadvisor.in/ShowTopic-g951350-i15414-k4607557-o20-Beware_of_guides_in_vrindavan-Vrindavan_Uttar_Pradesh.html, [accessed 20 February 2016].

32 ‘Final report on 20 years perspective for Uttar Pradesh’, Ministry of Tourism, Chapter 9, p. 15, November 2002. http://www.incredibleindia.org/images/docs/trade-pdf/surveys-and-studies/perspective-plans-of-states-UTs/up.pdf, [accessed 20 February 2016].

33 ‘Swadesh Darshan: Integrated Development of Theme–Based Tourist Circuits’, Ministry of Tourism, p. 20. http://tourism.gov.in/sites/default/files/News/Final%20Swadesh%20Darshan%20Brochure-16_3_2015_compressed.pdf, [accessed 8 March 2016].

34 ‘Lapka’ generally refers to unauthorized guides, photographers, and others who are seen to cheat and harass tourists.

35 For an on-going case in Nandagao see: http://news.vrindavantoday.org/2014/11/steps-taken-contain-miscreant-pandas-nandgaon/, [accessed 20 February 2016].

36 Parry, Death in Banaras, p. 104, notes a less favourable saying among people in Banares: ‘Brahmans and dogs are two castes that cannot live together [in peace].’

37 Gold, Fruitful Journeys, p. 275.

38 Gladstone, From Pilgrimage to Package Tour, p. 185.

39 cf. Parry, Death in Banaras, p. 108.

40 Shinde, ‘Entrepreneurship’, p. 529.

41 Hawley, At Play with Krishna, pp. 30–1.

42 Stausberg, Religion and Tourism, p. 66; Reader, Pilgrimage in the Marketplace, p. 11–2.

43 Jones K. W., Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in the 19th-century Punjab, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1976, p. 110 ; Gelders R. and Derde W., ‘Mantras of anti-Brahmanism: Colonial experience of Indian intellectuals’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 38, no. 43, 2003 ; Brekke T., Makers of Modern Indian Religion in the Late Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002, pp. 41 , 84.

44 Jacobsen, Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition.

45 Ibid., p. 85.

46 Ibid., pp. 64, 79, 85.

47 Ibid., pp. 87–8.

48 Cf. Bhardwaj S. M., Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India: A Study in Cultural Geography, Munshiram Manoharilal Publishers, New Delhi, 2003 [1983], pp. 5, 209.

49 Jacobsen, Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition, p. 95.

50 Parry, Death in Banaras, p. 99.

51 Ibid., p. 97. Parry observed that while ‘panda’ was used as a generic term for various pilgrimage priests, ‘tirth purohit’ was the term used by local priests to describe those keeping registers and maintaining long-term relationships with clients.

52 Parry, Death in Banaras, p. 98.

53 Jajman (or yajman) means ‘patron of the sacrifice’ and refers to the pilgrim. In this context these terms are not related to the jajmani system of village distribution. See Fuller C. J., ‘Misconceiving the grain heap: a critique of the concept of the Indian jajmani system’ in Money and Morality of Exchange, Parry J. and Bloch M. (eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 3363 ; Parry, Death in Banaras, pp. 97ff.

54 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, pp. 183ff.; Parry, Death in Banaras, pp. 97ff.; Lochtefeld, God's Gateway, pp. 123ff.

55 Chaudhuri B., The Bakreshwar Temple: A Study on Continuity and Change, Inter-India Publications, New Delhi, p. 42 ; Bhardwaj, Hindu Places of Pilgrimage, p. 209; van der Veer, Gods on Earth, p. xv; Lochtefeld, God's Gateway, pp. 125ff.; Lochtefeld, ‘Pandas’, pp. 243–4; Shinde K., ‘Placing communitas: Spatiality and ritual performances in Indian religious tourism’, Tourism: An International Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 59, 2011, p. 348 ; L. Whitmore, ‘In Pursuit of Maheshvara: Understanding Kedarnath as a Place and as Tirtha’, PhD thesis, Emory University, Graduate Division of Religion, West and South Asian Studies, Atlanta, 2010, pp. 67–8.

56 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, p. 241.

57 cf. Parry, Death in Banaras, pp. 97–8.

58 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, p. 260; cf. Parry, Death in Banaras, p. 98.

59 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, pp. 256–7.

60 Ibid., pp. 244–5.

61 Ibid., pp. 245–6; Parry, Death in Banaras, p. 99.

62 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, pp. 185–8, 250–9; Parry, Death in Banaras, pp. 97–109.

63 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, p. 258

64 Ibid., p. 188. See Parry, Death in Banaras, pp. 108–9 for a somewhat contrary view.

65 Reader, Pilgrimage in the Marketplace, p. 11; cf. Glushkova I., ‘Moving God(s)ward, calculating money: Wonders and wealth as essentials of a tirtha-yatra’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 29, 2006, pp. 128–30.

66 Glushkova, ‘Moving God(s)ward’, p. 229.

67 Peabody N., ‘In whose turban does the lord reside? The objectification of charisma and the fetishism of objects in the Hindu kingdom of Kota’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 33, 1991, pp. 750–1.

68 Stausberg, Religion and Tourism, p. 66.

69 Ibid., p. 11.

70 Cf. Bhardwaj, Hindu Places of Pilgrimage, p. 5. See Lochtefeld, ‘Pandas’, pp. 243–4 for a more idealistic perspective on pandagiri. See also van der Veer, Gods on Earth, pp. 259–61, for an argument against more idealistic interpretations of pandas and pandagiri, a position I broadly support in this article.

71 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, p. 260.

72 Lochtefeld, God's Gateway, pp. 125, 128.

73 Bhardwaj, Hindu Places of Pilgrimage, p. 209.

74 Ibid., p. 208, fn. 16; Lochtefeld, God's Gateway, pp. 243–4.

75 Chaudhuri, The Bakreshwar Temple, pp. 30, 70–72.

76 Lochtefeld, God's Gateway, p. 135, fn. 36.

77 Joseph C. A. and Kavoori A. P., ‘Mediated resistance: Tourism and the host community’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 28, 2007 ; Joseph C. A., ‘Hindu nationalism, community rhetoric and the impact of tourism: The “divine dilemma” of Pushkar’ in Raj Rhapsodies: Tourism, Heritage and the Seduction of History, Henderson C. E. and Weisgrau M. (eds), Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007 .

78 Joseph, ‘Hindu nationalism’, p. 210.

79 Lochtefeld, God's Gateway, p. 141.

80 Chaudhuri, The Bakreshwar Temple, pp. 54–7.

81 Bhardwaj, Hindu Places of Pilgrimage, pp. 154, 170.

82 Singh S., Domestic Tourism in Asia: Diversity and Divergence, Earthscan, London, 2009, pp. 96–7.

83 Chaudhuri, The Bakreshwar Temple, pp. vi–I, 40–4, 51, 60–1, 88.

84 Lochtefeld, God's Gateway, p. 142.

85 For colonial and post-colonial examples, see Mukhopadhyay A., ‘Colonised gaze? Guidebooks and journeying in colonial India’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 37, p. 667 ; and Chaudhuri, The Bakreshwar Temple, pp. 49–51.

86 Shinde, ‘Entrepreneurship’, p. 530.

87 Ibid., p. 533; Shinde K., ‘Visiting sacred sites in India: Religious tourism or pilgrimage?’ in Religious tourism and pilgrimage festivals management: An international perspective, Raj R. and Morpeth N. D., CABI, Wallingford/Oxfordshire/Cambridge, 2007, p. 191 .

89 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, p. 198; Parry, Death in Banaras, pp. 103–4.

90 Singh, Domestic Tourism in Asia, p. 96.

91 Shinde, ‘Visiting sacred sites in India’, p. 194.

92 Cf. Stausberg, Religion and Tourism, p. 66.

93 Parry, Death in Banaras, pp. 102–3.

94 Ibid., p. 104.

95 Varanasi boatmen also operate in a similar way. See Doron A., ‘Encountering the “other”: Pilgrims, tourists and boatmen in the city of Varanasi’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 16, 2005, p. 169 .

96 Parry, Death in Banaras, p. 107.

97 Hawley, At Play with Krishna, pp. 32–3.

98 For more on such relations in Rishikesh, see Aukland, ‘Retailing religion’.

99 van der Veer, Gods on Earth, pp. 251–2.

100 Ibid., p. 243.

101 ‘Setting’ is one of those terms used in the informal sector (and otherwise) to indicate an agreement, arrangement or unwritten contract between two parties.

102 Shinde, ‘Religious tourism: Exploring a new form of sacred journey in North India’ in Asian Tourism: Growth and Change, J. Cochrane (ed.), Elsevier, Amsterdam/Boston/London, 2008, p. 255, notes that more than 50 tour operators have established agencies between 2001–2006.

104 I got the idea that this not the case today, in particular from one senior panda sitting in a Nanda Rai waiting for incoming clients, who aggressively asserted that they do not give anything to widows.

105 Gold, Fruitful Journeys, p. 275.

106 The idea of going on or ‘making a picnic’ (piknik banate hai) in this context refers to a wide range of outdoor leisure activities beyond the specific act of having a packed meal or bringing food on an outing.

107 Whitmore, ‘In Pursuit of Maheshvara’, pp. 67–8.

108 Tirthyatra is the standard Hindi term for pilgrimage, whereas the traditional pilgrimage route that all the sites related to Krishna in the Braj region, including Vrindavan, is known as the Braj yatra. See Shinde, ‘Religious tourism’, for a description of a car Braj yatra.

* Thanks to Håkon Tandberg, Kathinka Frøystad, Knut Melvær, Michael Stausberg, the South Asia symposium group in Oslo, and the anonymous Modern Asian Studies reviewers for feedback on earlier drafts of this article. Amitanshu Verma and Dhiren Borisa assisted in translating the audio-recordings. I am also grateful to Laxminarayan Tiwari at the Braj Culture Research Institute for sharing his local expertise. Finally, I would like to thank to Moumita Sen for collaborative fieldwork in Vrindavan in 2015.

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