Tourism Pilgrimage and Development in Bodhgaya Bihar India

ECU Author/Contributor (non-ECU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Sarah Searcy (Creator)
East Carolina University (ECU )
Web Site:
A. J. Jacobs

Abstract: In 2002 the Mahabodhi Temple located in Bodhgaya Bihar India became a UNESCO World Heritage Site a designation that reflects both the site's religious and cultural significance. While Bodhgaya is considered the birthplace of Buddhism and is a revered axis mundi for all Buddhist denominations the town is also located in one of the poorest and least developed states in India. It is a place where spiritual wealth and material indigence uneasily coexist. The pilgrimage and tourist activities that have accompanied the town's status as religiously and culturally significant have resulted in growing tensions between stakeholder groups over the site's development as a place for devotional practice or a place for recreation and leisure. National state and local governments international visitors and local village populations are bound up in a web of interrelated interests and intentions and no group is exempt from the struggle to develop the site. This struggle has altered Bodhgaya's physical and social landscape and has posed important questions concerning the equitable and sustainable development of the town. This thesis investigates the motivations and expectations of international visitors and how international visitors frame their experiences in Bodhgaya. It also seeks to reveal other stakeholders driving Bodhgaya's development and how the motivations and interests of international visitors and other stakeholders have combined conflicted and ultimately shaped Bodhgaya's development into a major hub for Buddhist pilgrimage and tourism in Eastern India. The use of a qualitative approach which utilizes in-depth interviews and field observation strengthens this study because it helps uncover the underlying nuances surrounding international pilgrim-tourists views of Bodhgaya and its communities.  The review of literature and the analysis of international pilgrim-tourist interviews presented in this thesis show that pilgrimage and tourism are major drivers of development in Bodhgaya and important contributors to the town's economy and that a conflict exists between international pilgrim-tourists' views of Bodhgaya as a devotional space and the Government of India the State of Bihar and the Bodhgaya Panchayat's views of Bodhgaya as a recreational tourist space. It also examines a subset of international pilgrim-tourists termed egopilgrims who visit Bodhgaya to acquire various capitals (the most important being spiritual capital) and desire the town to remain underdeveloped in order to experience the suffering necessary for heightening their practices. This thesis concludes that infrastructural considerations are paramount to the sustainable and equitable development of Bodhgaya no matter the use of the site as devotional or recreational and that NGOs and non-profits are taking the lead in Bodhgaya's equitable and sustainable development in the absence of foresight and action by governmental bodies. 

Additional Information

Date: 2012
Sociology, Religious history, Bodhgaya, Buddhism, Development, India, Pilgrimage, Tourism
Buddha Gaya Temple
Sustainable development--India--Buddh Gaya
Culture conflict--India--Buddh Gaya
Buddhist pilgrims and pilgrimages--India--Buddh Gaya
Tourism--India--Buddh Gaya
Buddhist temples--India--Buddh Gaya
Buddh Gaya (India)

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