Commodification of Heritage Sites Examples from India

List the aspects of commodification in a culture that you may find while visiting a heritage site, a religious space, and a national park.

Examples from India Commodification of Heritage Sites

Now let’s see if these aspects of commodification are sporadic or universal. If we take the case of the Taj Mahal in India as a tourist destination, we get to understand the different types of commodification that have taken place in this historical space. The Taj Mahal was built during the Mughal era and is Commodification of Culture 70 famous for the use of white marble slabs, which were produced in Makrana in Rajasthan (Koch 2006 The Complete Taj). The white marble during that period was not produced locally. Today, however, the city of Agra is known for its marble production and replicas of the Taj Mahal is being sold as a souvenir to tourists.

This has generated a huge market for the marble industry. Likewise, the township has grown with luxury hotels to cater to the needs of international tourists. The locals too have imbibed language skills other than their local language, so that they can interact with the tourists. These locals have mostly not completed their formal education (10+12) in the Indian context, but have developed the skills for communication in English. Another example is the case of building spaces like Dilli Haat, in Delhi, where artisans from all over the country gather to display and sell their ethnic, handmade products. This also leads to the commodification of products, yet the tourist experiences different aspects of Indian culture in one space.

The commodification of Religious Sites

Likewise, if we take the case of any religious sites in India, which are also places of tourist attractions we see traces of commodification. In this example, we can see how the host commodifies culture as part of rites and rituals. This example is cited from Zaman’s personal experience of visiting the Nizamuddin dargah (the tome or shrine of a Sufi saint) in Delhi. As one enters the small lanes, the tourist or the pilgrims are greeted by vendors selling items that they would suggest are part of the ritual offering, that are essential for prayers in the dargah.

The vendors have a ready-to-go tray (made of cane) with rose garlands and petals, incense sticks, a bottle of attar (an essential oil derived from botanical sources, commonly rose petals), maanat ke daage (a thread that is blessed in the dargah during the prayer service, thereafter the devotee ties it with a wish on one of the spaces provided) and Natasha (small sugar candy). These items after prayers are known as tabarruk (an Arabic word that means seeking goodness by virtue of touching or being close to something or being blessed) to be shared with everyone as a blessing. Sometimes, they even lure the tourist to buy a chadar (a long cloth that is laid over the grave of the Sufi saint). However, these are optional and not a necessary part of the rituals. Yet, these objects are being commodified in the name of rituals and offered to tourists and people who are on pilgrimage. 

The commodification of National Parks 

Let’s take here the example from Vasan’s 2018 work, Consuming the Tiger Experiencing Neoliberal Nature, who as a participant observer related her experience of commodification at the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, and Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks in Madhya Pradesh, India. Vasan had dwelled on her experience of seeing the tiger emerge as a specific form of commodity located within the process of commodification. This has been brought to the forefront via the mediums of marketing that included the process of tiger sighting.

The very access to National Parks and safari regulations reinforced the wildlife experience as a scarce market commodity. She emphasized the tourist gaze, the photography mediated through global and new social media that makes the tiger simultaneously wild and familiar, multicultural and parochial, making Understanding Tourism it a unique universal commodity. She also looked at the material experience through which the tourist ‘consumes’ the tiger, the social status, and the economic hierarchies that make the tiger accessible to a limited few. Her work unraveled a “basic contradiction between a sustainable conservation ethic, and subjectivity created by this form of competitive consumption of commoditized nature” (Vasan 2018: 481).

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