"Awesome Assam". Marginality as a resource. Tourism and pilgrimage to a peripheral State of India
Irene Majo Garigliano
(CNRS, Centre d’Études Himalayennes)
Paper short abstract:
The marginal Indian State of Assam had—and still has—an ambiguous reputation. This image is being transformed by the growing tourism and pilgrimage industry. Marginality becomes a resource: Assam is depicted as nestling untouched natural beauty and age-old traditions to be discovered by the visitor.
Paper long abstract:
Located in the Eastern most edge of the India Union, the State of Assam is believed by many Hindus to be the land of odd esoteric practices and black magic. Notwithstanding its striking natural beauty—the mighty river Brahmaputra flows through verdant plains and hills—till recently Assam was cut of from the domestic and international tourism industry. Sensing the economic potential of Assam, Indian Central Government, together with Assamese politicians, is promoting tourism and pilgrimage to Assam. In February 2018, the Advantage Assam fair was organized at Guwahati, Assam capital, to attract investment. Indian and foreigner politicians and businessmen attended this huge event, which was inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Based on extensive fieldwork, this paper explores the image of Assam that is being constructed by the rapidly expanding tourism and pilgrimage industry. The Awesome Assam campaign, launched in 2017, portrays Assam as the enchanting land of unexplored wilderness and poorly known artistic and cultural traditions. Several handicrafts and performing arts are displayed, such as Assamese handloom, tea gardens, the spring Bihu dance, mask making of Majuli riverine island, etc. The ancient Kamakhya temple—Assam most visited pilgrimage place—plays a pivotal role in shaping the image of a spiritual place. Marginality becomes a resource: Assam is depicted as being rooted in its age-old traditions to be discovered by the visitor. The unknown, the incomprehensible becomes the mystery to be explored. Centre and periphery conspire to create (and sell) the image of a mystic, charming Assam.
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