Is India a Spiritual Disneyland?
India as a spiritual destination has been well known for eons. For centuries, the world has been at India’s doorstep for her science and wealth and got influenced by her spirituality. Given the smorgasbord of spiritual traditions in India, India has been called a spiritual Disneyland for a decade or so . Is that justified?
In 2004 Alfred Ford, a great grandson of Henry Ford was planning a magnificent religious complex in Paschim Banga (West Bengal) at the headquarters of the global Hare Krishna sect which he liked to call as a ‘spiritual Disneyland’ . This complex he said was planned as a retreat to rejuvenate spirit and body.
Some more examples…
Another such place that many said was close to a spiritual Disneyland experience was the Sathya Sai Baba Ashram in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh. However this term was not restricted to guru based ashrams and movements.
The pilgrim township of the Himalayan Rishikesh was also called ‘spiritual Disneyland’ by visitors who experienced package of meditation, tantric yoga and spiritual inspiration. In the same league of being a spiritual Disneyland is the Akshardham temple – a 100-acre cultural complex with 20,000 superbly sculpted figures, over 2 km long double-storeyed pilgrim pathway, 22-acres of lush lawns and trees with 900,000 saplings and shrubs of 250 varieties. Auroville ashram in Puducherry was also termed that way by ardent devotees. Off late, even the BJP a national political party included this term ‘spiritual Disneyland’ in their latest election manifesto only to boost religious tourism in Uttar Pradesh.
Is this ‘spiritual Disneyland’ a right term for India?
This term ‘spiritual Disneyland’ is probably poorly conceived as Indian spiritual destinations are no fantasy-lands and like Disneyland there is no entertainment value in Indian spirituality. Rather India could be called as a Global spiritual university where one can undertake a journey in learning to be fuller, holy and happier day after day.
Says Osho, India’s brilliant mystic,
“India is a symbol for nothing else except for learning meditation. It is a university of meditation and it is not just today – for centuries it has been the University of Meditation”.
India – a mystical land?
For centuries, India has been a mystical land of meditation, contemplation and enlightenment where spiritual traditions flourished and still continue to inspire. Given that India was the birthplace of non-dogmatic dharma-based traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, of which the first three are ancient, it is quite established that India also has had many enlightened masters and Gurus. This happened despite who the ruler was and despite invasions into the country since c. 300 BCE.
The invasions were from the North, West and the East for various reasons but had no detrimental effect on spiritual India. Of those who invaded India, majority of them were looters, rank despots and iconoclasts. They came simply because India had immense wealth.
According to modern economic historians between the 1st and 11th century CE, ancient India produced roughly 30% of the world’s GDP, followed by China. By comparison, in 1,000 CE entire Europe’s GDP was just 11%.
Wealth being the main attraction of the invaders, the science and spirituality only caught the attention of the intellectuals, scholars and pilgrims. Hardly any invader could understand the hidden or real India because they came from mono-cultures and never had any exposure to the diversity that Indian society had, especially in the realm of spirituality.
The real spiritual India…
To get a fair understanding of real spiritual India, one can go through tons of Indian literary sources, royal court records, dynasty charitras, archeological evidence, inscriptions, coins, monuments, temple structures and accounts of those intellectuals who visited India like the Greek ethnographer Megasthenes (350 – 290 BCE), the Chinese pilgrims Fa-Hien (337 – 422 CE) and Huang Tsang (602 – 664 CE), the Iranian Alberuni (978-1048CE) etc. Another simpler way is to visit any ashram and learn from a Guru who suits your rationality or take an Indology course.
But finding the spiritual India in today’s modern India is not easy – especially when India has become a land of contrasts and is highly stereotyped mainly on the negatives . The stereotypes about India are due to a pedestrian view which is short sighted, one-eyed and which lacks the ability to recognize the hidden treasure. This pedestrian view really struggles to recognize the sublime or the spiritual out of the materially inadequate India. However with the information age, things are changing and spiritual India is getting the recognition it deserves.
Where to find the real stuff…
As with the typical diversity of Indian food, climates, languages, sub-cultures, sects, customs, traditions etc, India has various pilgrimage and spiritual places all over the country. India is well known for being a spiritual land for pilgrimages.
Modern India still has all those holy places that ancient India had plus much more that shows us the real stuff. India has the holy cities, the sacred rivers, the abodes of divinities, the 4 Char-dhaam destinations, the 12 Jyotirling temples, the eight Ashta-Vinayak temples, the 6 Aaru-padai Murugan temples, the 56 Shaktipeeths, the temple cities like Tirupati, Madurai, Mathura etc, the various ashrams of the Gurus, birthplaces of the god incarnations, ancient temples and caves, places of enlightenment of the Gurus, the spiritual monuments of the various global movements and sects, etc…the list can go on.
Add to this the ancient monuments which keep inspiring the seekers. In fact, each state in India has a good share of many of the above holy places. One can also even follow the Buddhist trail to explore the true essence of Buddhism – traveling to those places that were sanctified by the great Lord Buddha. This trail has beautiful caves, awe-inspiring monasteries, ancient Stupas, impressive shrines etc. of Lord Buddha. Same is with Jain and Sikh places of worship.
What’s an alternative term…
So a tag like spiritual Disneyland to Indian holy places is at best a gimmicky way of highlighting the wonderment of India’s cultural and the spiritual assets that are beyond normal comprehension. Moreover Disneyland as we all know is an American amusement park and a fantasyland mainly with fictional characters for children. To call Indian holy spots as a spiritual Disneyland is not apt as India is a treasure trove of spirituality for all humanity and cannot be analogous to a fantasyland, even for marketing sake.
Spirituality is an inner quest and a staid one to which any commerical labeling is distasteful. Perhaps a better term for India would be ‘Spiritual University” or even a “Spiritual multiversity”. Or how about calling “India – the Fifth avenue of spirituality” or even ”India – Rodeo drive for spirituality”.
Ram Lingam blogs his insights on India and Indian culture at www.indiasutra.co.nz