Lalit Panwar was one of the special invitees at the consecration ceremony in Ayodhya. He recounts his impressions of the impact this development will have on Indian domestic tourism, and indeed globally, for both religious and cultural traffic.
As per Vedic literature, there are seven puris (holy towns) and Ayodhya is at number one, other six are Mathura (2nd) and Haridwar (Maya) (3rd); the 4th is Kashi, the fifth is Kanchi, sixth is Avantika (Ujjain) and the seventh is Dwarka. With the praan prathistha (conscecration) of Ram Lalla, at Ram Janmabhumi Ayodhya, a new chapter has begun not only in Indian tourism but on the global canvas of religious /cultural tourism.
I am reminded of the celebrated novel Pilgrims’ Progress by John Bunyan (1678 AD). This novel reveals timeless truths about salvation, right living and the importance of staying on the path of faith. If we substitute the main character of this novel, Christian with Hindu, then this novel can be another piece of Hindu allegory.
I was one of the invitees for this ceremony and spent two days in Ayodhya (22nd and 23rd of the month).
The Herculean task (Bhagirath prayatan)
I had the good luck to be an eye witness of the mega ceremony (Praan Pratishtha). We are all aware of the chequered and the hyper sensitive turbulent history of the Ram Janmabhoomi saga. With the consecration and the massive response of the common people, this new abode of the god, Ayodhya is poised to become the Indian Vatican for both pilgrims and general domestic tourists alike.
If we look at the number of pilgrims to the leading global cities as pilgrim centres, the numbers are as follows: Vatican 90 lakhs and Mecca 2 crores. Compare these with Indian pilgrim centres which attract the following numbers: The Golden Temple 3.5 crores; Tirupati 2.5 crores; Vaishna Devi 80 lakhs; and then compare these with regular tourist attractions and cities like the Taj Mahal (70 lakhs) and Agra city (30 lakhs).
As per the foreign stock markets, research firm like Jeffries, Ayodhya may surpass Vatican and Mecca in the coming years. At present 1 lakh tourists / pilgrims are visiting Ayodhya per day; this number may go up to 3 lakhs per day and given that even if a single tourist spends Rs 2,500 per day, this would contribute a whopping Rs. 25,000 crores to the local economy.
Plethora of promising projects
Under the guidance of the Ministry of Tourism, U P Tourism organized a global tourism summit for Ayodhya which resulted in the signing of 102 MOUs for tourism projects worth Rs 18,000 crores, as per the statement of Gaurav Dayal, divisional commissioner, Ayodhya.
Hon Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has mentioned details of a longer term Ayodhya plan in the Maan ki Baat episode on 25th January and announced both the Ramayana circuit and also establishing of a National Institute of Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies on the pattern of Harvard, Oxford and Yale Universities. This national institute would have the following schools – School of Vedic/Hindu studies; School of Indigenous religions – Buddha, Jain and Sikhism; School of External Religions like Islam, Christianity, Bahai, etc; School of Study of Comparative Languages like Pali, Prakrit, Urdu, and others.
As per Ayodhya Master Plan (2031), projects worth Rs 85,000 crores are in the pipeline which includes over 50 hotel projects by leading hotel companies like Taj, Oberoi, Marriott, Leela. A 1200-acre new township costing Rs. 2180 crores is being developed, in addition to a seven star pure vegetarian hotel by the House Of Abhinandan Lodha and over Rs 140 crores resort by O-Rama Hotels and Resorts. A Disney style theme park on Ramayana theme and super speciality hospitals by leading groups are being planned.
A Divine Destiny and Destination
Bhawan Shri Ram’s destiny was witnessed in ‘Treta’ period but with the divine blessings of Shri Ram, now Ayodhya’s destiny is being transformed from a small town of pilgrimage to a mega travel destination for Hindu pilgrims from all over the world.
Apart from Hindu pilgrims, Ayodhya is an important pilgrim centre for Jains, because five of the 24 tirthankaras were from here and for Buddhists as well, because Lord Buddha spent six years of his life in Ayodhya. Saketa was the Buddhist name for Ayodhya.
Indian tourism now has a mega tourism destination and circuit which would be equally appealing to domestic tourism and pilgrims of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lalit K Panwar is a former IAS officer, who has held multiple assignments in the tourism sector. He has been chairman, Rajasthan Tourism; CMD, ITDC and secretary tourism, Government of India. Presently, he is the chancellor, Vivekananda Global University, Jaipur.