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


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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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

T. Brekke , Makers of Modern Indian Religion in the Late Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002, pp. 41

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

K. Shinde , ‘Placing communitas: Spatiality and ritual performances in Indian religious tourism’, Tourism: An International Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 59, 2011, p. 348

C. J. Fuller , ‘Misconceiving the grain heap: a critique of the concept of the Indian jajmani system’ in Money and Morality of Exchange, J. Parry and M. Bloch (eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 3363

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

A. Mukhopadhyay , ‘Colonised gaze? Guidebooks and journeying in colonial India’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 37, p. 667

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

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
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