In Search of Buddhist Gujarat between Rhetoric and Reality
MetadataShow full item record
It is for the last few years that the state of Gujarat is suddenly being promoted internationally as a Buddhist heritage destination. Several Buddhist heritage sites were identified at an international seminar in the year 2010 as tourist and pilgrim destinations. In a high profile promotional blitz that included a revamped Gujarat Tourism website, brochures and a much popular tourism promotional film featuring the celebrity actor Amitabh Bachchan, the Gujarat government under the then Chief Minister Shri Narendra Modi claimed that Buddhism had as much a presence in Gujarat as that in Bihar. This project was inspired by the compelling power of this tourism ad campaign and sought to follow the Buddhist heritage trail in Gujarat and see how these sites were perceived by followers of Buddhism on the one hand and by locals on the other. The objective was to understand how heritage promotion initiatives from the state resonated in actual social contexts and how tourism promotion rhetoric matched up with the reality on the ground. We went on a quest to discover this new dimension of Gujarat. We visited some of the sites only to realize that there is actually no movement in terms of the development of any of the presented sites as tourist destinations since the year 2010. Employing ethnographic methods and together with historical, political and sociological literature, we tried to understand the reality of Buddhist tourism in Gujarat, not as part of a broader religious or historical movement but rather as an “Invented tradition” created and promoted by the imperatives of tourism and politics.