Hinduism Tourism and Hinduism
Drew Thomases
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0278


Broadly speaking, tourism is travel. It is a term that encompasses both the economic industry surrounding travel, and the many culturally situated practices of traveling that exist around the world. While often defined as a form of travel that happens in the context of leisure—which is to say, something done because of the availability of both time and money—tourism can nevertheless possess any number of purposes: to spend time with friends or family, to see other cultures, to enjoy better weather, or to discover love, oneself, or even the divine. In India, tourism shares significant family resemblances with pilgrimage, a form of religious travel where journeyers often combine the more leisurely activities of tourism—sightseeing, shopping, dining out, etc.—with somewhat weightier desires related to moral obligation and ritual responsibility. In Hindu sites of pilgrimage throughout the subcontinent, one can meet pilgrims who are also tourists, and tourists who are also pilgrims, people who might purchase a commemorative tchotchke after taking a sacred bath, or be brought to a temple by a tour guide. While touring for religious purposes is quite common, the relationship between tourism and religion is oftentimes fraught. This is because of the pervasive but misleading idea that tourism has a secularizing, corruptive, and ultimately defiling effect on religion, which in its ideal form is supposed to be pure like a lotus rising from the mud. But the situation on the ground is much more complicated. As an enduring and entrenched facet of society, religion has never been truly apart from the cultural, political, or indeed economic aspects of life. The evidence in India shows us that tourism affects religion (and religion affects tourism) in any number of different ways—some positively, some negatively, often interestingly. As such, this relationship is not one of oppositional forces, but rather one of interwoven peoples, discourses, and institutions.

Edited Volumes and Overviews

According to the government’s Bureau of Immigration, India saw over seventeen million international tourist arrivals in 2018. As for domestic tourism in that same year, the government registered 1.8 billion “domestic tourist visits” (data for “visits” largely comes from hotel logbooks collected monthly by state governments across the country) (Fakre, et al. 2019). Thus, while international tourists constitute a significant part of India’s tourism industry—and likely receive a disproportionately large amount of attention from the government’s Ministry of Tourism—most of the tourism in India is of Indians traveling within their own country. Moreover, as Hannam and Diekmann 2011 notes, a sizeable portion of domestic tourism is also often religiously motivated tourism. Shinde 2008 simply calls this “religious tourism.” There are a number of edited volumes that address tourism broadly, and religious tourism more specifically: Pinkney and Whalen-Bridge 2018 offers a nice introduction to the many journeys that Indians of different religious backgrounds undertake; Henderson and Weisgrau 2007 focuses specifically on tourism in Rajasthan; Yasuda, et al. 2018 addresses religious tourism throughout Asia; and Olsen and Timothy 2022 offers the broadest approach to the study of religion and tourism, with only a few chapters specific to India.

  • Fakre, Alam, Aqsa Ilahi, Kirti Gaikwad, Shri S. K. Mohanta, and Charu Arora. India Tourism Statistics, 2019. Delhi: Ministry of Tourism, 2019.

    A detailed collection of data on tourism in India, released in 2019 by the Indian government.

  • Hannam, Kevin, and Anya Diekmann. Tourism and India: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2011.

    Focuses on the issues facing contemporary tourism in India, exploring tourism governance, heritage tourism, cultural tourism, and much more. Chapter 7, on “Domestic Travel and Tourism in India,” addresses the role of religion in the tourism industry.

  • Henderson, Carol E., and Maxine Weisgrau, eds. Raj Rhapsodies: Tourism, Heritage, and the Seduction of History. Burlington, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

    A wide-ranging volume on tourism in Rajasthan. Part 3, titled “Tourism and Spiritual Spaces,” offers a helpful introduction to the topic of tourism and religion in India, as well as individual chapters on: Jain and Hindu shrines in Osian; the shrine of Mu’in al-Din Chisti in Ajmer; and the impact of tourism on Pushkar.

  • Olsen, Daniel H., and Dallen J. Timothy, eds. The Routledge Handbook of Religious and Spiritual Tourism. New York: Routledge, 2022.

    An edited volume addressing a wide range of peoples and places, but providing an excellent series of essays that explore theoretical issues in the study of religious tourism, including those related to political economy, secularism, sacred space, performance, authenticity, and impact. Chapters 10 and 23 focus substantially, if not exclusively, on India.

  • Pinkney, Andrea Marion, and John Whalen-Bridge, eds. Religious Journeys in India: Pilgrims, Tourists, and Travelers. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018.

    Explores journeying from a number of religious traditions, including Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. Takes a broad view of religious journeys in order to show the ways in which pilgrimages, religious retreats, missionary work, and religious tourism “are all ways to construct selves” (p. 6).

  • Shinde, Kiran A. “Religious Tourism: Exploring a New Form of Sacred Journey in North India.” In Asian Tourism: Growth and Change. Edited by Janet Cochrane, 245–258. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-08-045356-9.50025-4

    A re-examination of the idea of “pilgrimage,” taking note of changes in travel and development that lead the author to instead suggest a different term: “religious tourism.” Shinde focuses on pilgrimage in Braj in order to show the extent to which pilgrimage, even when motivated by explicitly religious purposes, is often also patterned by financial exchanges and secular desires that can be categorized under the umbrella of tourism.

  • Yasuda, Shin, Razaq Raj, and Kevin Griffin, eds. Religious Tourism in Asia: Tradition and Change through Case Studies and Narratives. Boston: CABI, 2018.

    An edited volume looking broadly at religious tourism across Asia, including Java, Oman, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Uzbekistan, among others. There are a number of chapters that address religious tourism in India.

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