Commentaries

By Alakh Ranjan

India and Bangladesh share close historical and cultural relations. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the relations reached its ‘Sonali Adhyay’. Connectivity both in its conventional sense of physical infrastructure and of the unconventional kinds such as enhancement of people to people cultural connections can contribute to the process. In this regard, tourism can play an incremental role in giving an impetus to bilateral relations.

Tourism between India and Bangladesh has been limited especially from Indian side. To improve this situation, cultural and religious tourism can be developed and promoted to attract tourists from both countries Its important to realize that both countries have a rich and diverse religious and cultural heritage. The culture and religious tourism between India and Bangladesh will increase people to people contact which will lead to better understanding among the people about each other’s culture and aid in generating cooperation among them.

In this regard, three religious circuits can be built across India and Bangladesh to enhance its tourism sectors: Shakti Peetha circuit, Buddhism circuit and Islamic- Sufi circuit.

 

Shakti Peetha Circuit

Shakti Peetha are important shrines in Hindu tradition devoted to Goddess Shakti. There are numerous ancient Hindu text which has referred to the significance of these religious sites. The Shakti Peetha are present all over the sub-continent and are of great spiritual importance. There are different claims on the exact number of Shakti Peetha, although there are 51 recognised Shakti Peetha of which four are Adi- Shakti Peetha and 18 are Maha-Shakti Peetha, the rest are Shakti Peetha. Of the fifty one, 16 are located across eastern India and Bangladesh. Seven Shakti Peetha are located in Bangladesh and nine are located in the Eastern part of India. A circuit around these Shakti Peetha can be promoted jointly by both the countries. The recent visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to the Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple, Shyamnagar is reflective of this growing realization where the government of both these countries are looking to add new page in their relationship driven by their shared culture.

 

 

India has developed a Buddhist tourism circuit along with the government of Nepal from Lumbini, Nepal (where Buddha was born) to Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh (where he died). India can follow a similar approach to develop a Shakti Peetha circuit with Bangladesh. The starting point or Phase I of developing this India-Bangladesh Shakti Peetha circuit This circuit will help it in getting tourism from India as this circuit has a big potential tourism market from India.

Buddhism Circuit

India has a functioning Buddhism circuit but there is limited knowledge about Buddhist shrines located in Bangladesh This could be developed for the Buddhist tourist from India. At present the Buddhists constitute about one percent of their population. Bangladesh has a rich Buddhist culture. Buddhism in Bangladesh received royal patronage from the ruling dynasties of Pala rulers, the Chandras and the Deva kings. 1 During the rule of these dynasties, Buddhism thrived in Bangladesh and several monasteries and stupas were built up in Bangladesh which stands to date. There are several significant Buddhist sites such as the relics of Paharpur, Mahasthangarh and Mainamati. Somapura Mahavihara which were built by Pala king Dharmapala in the eighth century A.D. These are some of the major vihars in the Indian subcontinent and the main archaeological sites in Bangladesh. 

 

The majority of the Buddhist shrines and Shakti Peetha sites are located in three places: Rajshahi, Dhaka and Chittagong. If these regions are developed with better connectivity and other necessary infrastructure facilities then this region can be developed as a functioning religious tourism hub in Bangladesh.

The development of these two circuits in Bangladesh will lead to more tourism from NER and the rest of India to Bangladesh. The advantages of this will be many fold. First, the increased movement for people from the NER and India to Bangladesh will lead to increased people to people interaction and aid in developing a better cultural understanding. It will reduce the trust deficit between people of both the countries. Second, these circuits will benefit Bangladesh in terms of the economy by generating employment opportunities for the local people and contribute to foreign exchange earnings for the state. Third, it will also help to reinforce the image of Bangladesh as a country that respects pluralism and diversity. The boosting of the image will have a spill over effect and will lead toanincreaseintouristsfromcountriesofSouth-Asiaaontheonehandand also across the globe on the other.

Islamic-Sufi Circuit

Islam arrived in South Asia in the 7th century B.C from the southern coast of India through Arab traders. It spread across the region from the rule of Delhi Sultanate (1206 A.D.-1526 A.D) followed by Mughal rule (1526 A.D. 1700 A.D). There are numerous important Islamic shrines, mosques and sufi dargahs dotted across India which is visited by the local Muslims and Muslims from the South Asia region.

One observation that can be drawn from the map below is that a large number of shrines in India are in the northern part and a circuit can be developed along the Agra-Delhi-Jaipur-Ajmer Expressway. This circuit not only has major religious shrines such as mosques and Dargahs, but this region also has major monuments which show the rich Islamic history, architecture, cuisine and other aspects of the rich culture from medieval history. Similarly, Bangladesh is also the repository of South-Asian Sufi tradition. The Shrine of Hazarat Shah Jalal is globally venerated. The development of this circuit will be of utmost religious- cultural significance.

The development of the Agra-Delhi-Jaipur-Ajmer needs re-branding. India has been a preferred destination for Bangladeshi tourists. According to a report prepared by the Indian Institute of Tourism & Travel Management, Bhubaneswar on “Study on Visit of Nationals of Bangladesh to India,” it was found out that 37.66 per cent visit India for religious purpose followed by 26.22 per cent for leisure. If this circuit is developed and branded in the right and adequate manner then it will result in more arrival of tourist from Bangladesh to India. This region has both aspects of religion and also have leisure destinations around these cities.

 

 

Conclusion

In times ahead , cooperation and regional integration will continue to play a crucial role. In this regard, countries will need to move beyond mere infrastructural connectivity. To bring the people closer countries need to build strong bonds. Cultural connect is the best way forward. India and Bangladesh should jointly invest in cultural and religious tourism. If Sonali Adhyay’ is to be realized, it needs more investment at the people to people engagement and the development of cultural and religious tourism can be a bold step in that direction. 

Citations

1 Md. Kashedul Wahab Tuhin, Md. Tofael Hossain Majumder, “An Appraisal of Tourism Industry Development in Bangladesh”, European Journal of Business and Management, Vol 3, No.3, 287-299, ISSN 2222-2839, Available online at: https://www.academia.edu/21861001/An_Appraisal_of_Tourism_Industry_Development_in_Bangladesh, Accessed on 4th March 2021.

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