Religious Journeys in India

Pilgrims, Tourists, and Travelers

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Andrea Marion Pinkney, John Whalen-Bridge
  • Albany, NY: 
    State University of New York Press
    , September
     338 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In the introduction to their book Religious Journeys in India: Pilgrims, Tourists, and Travelers, editors Andrea Marion Pinkney and John Whalen-Bridge write that the goal of the book is to explore various overlapping and intersecting reasons for religious travel in India, and to “discover new mappings of the sacred in interreligious and regional case studies from India” (3). In keeping with this broad theme, the book contains chapters on a wide array of topics and examines pilgrimage in India with respect to Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and local/regional religious identities. 

After the introduction, the book is divided into three sections. Pinkney and Whalen-Bridge note that the goal of the first section, “Constructing Community Spaces,” is to “investigate the ways in which groups interact with sites to generate and maintain particular communal identities” (3). In the first chapter of this section, Carla Bellamy examines Muslim pilgrimage sites in India, focusing particularly on Husain Tekri, or the “Hill of Husain” (15) in Madhya Pradesh, India. Bellamy notes that though interpretations of this site have changed over time, commemorations at the site allow attendees to connect with both the historical past and the contemporary global Islamic community while simultaneous helping to develop a uniquely Indian Islamic identity. The theme of regional religious identity is also taken up in Joanna Cook’s chapter focusing on Thai Buddhist pilgrimages to India (and to Lumbini, Nepal). Cook notes that when Thai groups tour pilgrimage sites, their identity as Thai Buddhists and their Thai ritual practices mediate their experiences in India. The last chapter in this section, by Kiran A. Shinde, examines Anand Sagar, a religious theme park in Maharashtra, India. Shinde explores the paradoxical nature of this site, which is both religious and recreational.

The second section of the book, “Pilgrimage as Paradox,” continues to examine pilgrimage sites where the location’s religious aspect seems to be at cross-purposes with some other aspect. Chapter 4, by Dibyesh Anand, examines the Indian town of Ayodhya—believed by some to be the birthplace of Hindu deity Ram—and where the Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindutva activists in 1992. Anand discusses Ayodha as a “religious-nationalist pilgrimage center” (92) that is also key to the construction of a Hindutva masculinity. Robbie B.H. Goh’s chapter uses a metaphor of osmosis to describe Bihar, India as an “anti-pilgrimage site” (117), which attracts Christian missionaries given that it is constructed as a place with few Christians and poor socioeconomic status. In chapter 6, Alex Norman explores spiritual tourism in Rishikesh, India, particularly that done outside of conventional religious sites, as a means of understanding “modern noninstitutional religiosity among Westerners” (114). The last chapter in this section, by Whalen-Bridge, examines pilgrimages to Dharamsala, India as a substitute location for Tibet. Like earlier chapters in this volume, Whalen-Bridge explores the idea of “spiritual tourism” (169), and how its seeming contradictions may be resolved by pilgrims/tourists.

“Reversals and Revisions,” the last section of the book, examines the multiple motivations for pilgrimages. Afsar Mohammad’s chapter focuses on the “little Hajj,” pilgrimages to Sufi shrines in India. The chapter by Pinkney, meanwhile, examines the case of Sikhs who travel to Sikh religious sites despite pilgrimages not being encouraged in Sikh religious texts. Chapter 10, by Rodney Sebastian, examines the Ranganiketan cultural performance group from Manipur, India as a case of “reverse pilgrimage” (253)—when a sacred object travels from its normal setting to meet “pilgrims” abroad. Finally, the chapter by Roberta Wollons examines the experiences of women missionaries in southern India, focusing on how the historical timing of their travel influenced their experiences.

Given the breadth of theme, chapters from this book will be of interest to a wide variety of scholars of South Asia, depending on their particular research interests and religious focus. A number of chapters also contribute to a broader theoretical understanding of religious travel, such as Kiran A. Shinde’s chapter on religious tourism, Goh’s conception of “anti-pilgrimage,” and Rodney Sebastian’s discussion of a performance group as a reverse pilgrimage. To scholars interested in pilgrimages, but not in particular cases in India, these chapters will likely be the most salient.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emily McKendry-Smith is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of West Georgia.

Date of Review: 
January 29, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Andrea Marion Pinkney is Associate Professor of South Asian Religions at McGill University.

John Whalen-Bridge is Associate Professor of English at the National University of Singapore.


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