India: Seat of spiritual tourism

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An Indian government plan to develop Buddhism circuits took place over 3 days of full immersion in spiritual event performances and hospitality.

The National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD) plan includes the launch of a Buddhist heritage and pilgrim sites project of India. The rationale of the PRASAD project states: “Pilgrimage tourism is a form of tourism motivated partly or wholly by religious sentiments.”

L-R: Shri Vinod Zutshi, Government Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, India; Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State for Culture and Tourism and Civil Aviation, India; Mr. Favilla Lucca de Paula, Executive Director for Competitiveness, External Relations and Partnerships, UNWTO

Buddhism in the world

Buddhism is a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development, and strives for a deep insight into the true nature of life and not the worship of gods or deities. It is a religion practiced by an estimated 535 million people in the world, representing 9-10% of the world’s total population, ranking in the fourth position among all religions. China is the country with the largest population of Buddhists, with approximately 244 million or 18.2% of its total population. The main Indian Buddhist circuit proposed under the PRASAD are found in the 14 Buddhist sites of the states of: Andra Pradesh (2), Maharashtra (3), Madhya Pradesh (3), Uttar Pradesh (3), Bihar (1), and Tamil Nadu.

Mahesh Sharma, the Government of India Minister of State (Independent Charge) Culture and Tourism, and Om Prakash Singh, the Government of Uttar Pradesh Tourism Minister, declared their joint commitment to develop the Buddhist circuits. “Sarnath will be made the hub of Buddhist tourism in India, and efforts will be made to bring in by air, rail, and road connections, visitors and pilgrims from Sarnath to various Buddhist sites in India,” said Sharma to an audience of more than 240 international Buddhist delegates from 39 countries and representatives from 16 states of India, along with Indian Railways Catering other than Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) and Pawan Hans (a helicopter service company based in New Delhi), all involved in the project.

Buddhist leader ceremony

About US$35 million has been granted by the India Tourism Ministry and Uttar Pradesh Ministry of Tourism (shared as 20/15) to date for infrastructure development of the Buddhist circuit, covering Saravasti, Kapilvastu, and Kushinagar. The investment, under the “Swadesh Darshan Scheme,” calls for the integrated development of theme-based tourist circuits and PRASAD.

The government project is aimed to showcase Buddhist heritage and pilgrimage sites in India with a view to showcase and develop Buddhist heritage and pilgrim sites of India in the world.

According to Tourism Secretary Vinod Zutshi, India is prepared for developing a trans-border Buddhist Circuit across ASEAN (Association of South East Asia Nations) and SAARC countries (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) to enhance movement of Buddhist pilgrims in the region from remaining parts of the world.

The details were released during the course of the latest International Buddhism Conclave, held in Sarnath the heartland of Buddhism.

Ganga Art ceremony

Three full days of immersion in the spiritual event’s performance and hospitality

A panel discussion and presentation on “Buddhist Pilgrimage in India” hosted tours to Sanchi, Nalanda, Rajgir, and Bodhgaya, along with a Ganga Arti special performance on the Dashaswamedh Ghat that was proposed by the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for the delegates attending the conclave to enlighten on the Buddhist heritage.

Ganga Aarti, which means prayer for the River Ganges, was performed with the symbols of earth, water, fire, air, sky, and prayers through the Mantras to Maa Ganga that whatever is given to mankind it has been protected and kept in religious shape for the generations to come.

The Buddhist Art

The Buddhist art, with reference mainly to architecture, carving, and painting in relation to Buddha, the Dharma (the teaching), and Buddhism in general, was developed about 2,550 years ago in a complex and manifold system of iconography and symbolism. It originated in the sub-Indian continent in the centuries following the death of Buddha Shakyamuni (CA 563 fino al 483 AC).

Sanchi the Great Stupa & One of the 4 gates

Sanchi landmark of the history of Buddhism

A World Heritage site, Sanchi, in Madhya Pradesh, is known for its stupas, monasteries, temples, and pillars dating from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD. The best known Sanchi Stupa was originally built by the Emperor Ashoka whose son and daughter were sent to Sri Lanka where they converted the king, the queen, and their people to Buddhism. A chunar sandstone pillar fragment, shining with the proverbial Muryan polish, lies near Stupa 1 and carries the famous edict of Ashoka’s warning against schism in the Buddhism community. The four gateways of the Stupa built in the 1st century BC have stories of Buddha’s past and present carved on them and are the finest specimens of early classical art. The adjacent town of Vidisha has a State Museum with important medieval sculptures, and the 2nd century BC Heliodoros pillar nearby along with the 5th century AD Udaigiri Caves are also well worth a visit.

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