Harnessing the village legacy ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’

Since its inception, India has been adhering to the concept of Universal Brotherhood i.e. ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ as her core principal of living in harmony with all beings created by the almighty. Atithi Devo Bhava is just an extension of that philosophy of universal brotherhood where every Indian treats guests as their God. The thought of extending hospitality with warmth is deep rooted in the villages of India where even the poorest of the poor will offer half of his bread if you visit his house along with a glass of water with a generous smile. In Indian mythology, there is also a deliberate mention of treating guest as God along with wishing welfare of the world when despite in her state of penury, Draupadi offered a grain of cooked rice to Lord Krishna and requested him to satiate his hunger as well as the  rest of the world.

Being a follower of agrarian culture for several thousand years, India must now look towards a holistic approach to involve its rural population to exploit its vast potential of tourism through their simplicity, affability and diligence. The synthetic and cosmetic life of the cities with its concrete jungles and pop culture is brewing restlessness and chaos in the urban society. Despite having enough of disposal income they are suffering from lifestyle ailments and stress. To take a break from their stressful life, the city folks want to connect with their village counterpart but through the urban tour operators who as a middle man misguide their client by projecting villagers as gullible and uncultured. So, the greedy operators of the city who run their organized syndicate to extort money in the name of tourism are actually tarnishing India’s image due to which the country is unable to attract visitors whereas small countries like Turkey, Singapore etc are way ahead of us despite  nothing much to show.

Empowering villagers to take the rein of the sustainable model of tourism is the only solution left with the policy makers and other stakeholder if there is a serious intent to protect our heritage, strengthen village economy and increase footfalls to various unexplored destinations of Incredible India.  Villagers are the original custodian of our diverse culture & traditions. A vast resource of folklores, traditions, details of the off-beat destinations and sites of historical importance needed to be researched, documented and marketed with the help of villagers. Through public private partnership (PPP) model, there should be an initiative for skill development and education of the villagers on economic viability of promoting tourism and hospitality of their region so that we can have a vast pool of entrepreneurs and service providers to consolidate the industry. By carrying forward this legacy of enhancing the standard of life in rural India, promoting local culture and conserving Mother Nature, Toshali Resorts International has carved a niche for itself as a Corporate with a Cause since its inception in 1982. The Gurgaon based hospitality and destination management company is India’s leading promoter of beach, eco, rural and heritage tourism in off-beat destinations for last three decades. Since the founders of Toshali Resorts International were deep rooted to the culturally rich rural India, so it became obvious to pursue a business model whose main objective was the overall growth of the society and hence ‘Conserving Mother Nature by Empowering Rural India’ has become the guiding principle of the company.

Toshali Group has consolidated its presence in the rural hinterlands across India where the corporate has reached-out to the local villagers making them a partner in the sustainable growth of the community. Be it the alpine forests of Shillon Bagh valley in Shimla or the Balukhanda Reserve Forest on the Konark Marine Drive or the Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha, Toshali has garnered an impeccable track-record of promoting sustainable tourism by financially empowering the villagers (directly or indirectly) thereby helping them to earn livelihood along with engaging them in conserving the Nature as well as their local culture. Recently, Toshali has partnered with Govt of Odisha to create awareness among villagers about the conservation of archaeological heritage of Buddhist era and training them how to extend hospitality to tourists coming to visit 2000 years old Buddhist monuments in the villages of Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri, Udayagiri and Pathrajpur in Odisha.

Till today, there has been a great deal of effort by the villagers who have extended their cooperation to the Archeological Survey of India and Odisha Government during the excavation of the age old Buddhist heritage sites of global importance.  They have indeed provided their warm hospitality and support to visiting surveyors, archaeologists and Govt officials during the formative years of the excavation of heritage sites at Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, Lalitgiri and Langudi because of which Odisha Tourism is planning in a big way to reach out to international community to showcase the State’s Buddhist treasures. There is also growing interest among academicians & scholars worldwide to explore the vast heritage of Buddhist art & culture of ancient Kalinga dedicated to the Mahayana & Vajrayana sect. Only few of the Buddhist heritage sites have been unearthed till now which creates lot of excitement among the visitors due to its artistic beauty. Scholars & archaeologists have taken lot of pain to unravel these hidden treasures despite lack of infrastructure in the past. Toshali’s advent into Buddhist heritage sites of Odisha as a sole provider of hospitality and destination management services through PPP model is an extension of the corporate philosophy of promoting local culture and empowering villages. With the upgradation of accommodation units at the heritage sites of Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri, Udayagiri and Pathrajpur with star class amenities and good connectivity we expect to see lot of research and excavation in near future which will showcase the glorious past of Kalingan art  & Buddhism to the world. Bringing in hotel infrastructure into these unexplored area of global significance is just a one step ahead in fulfilling the responsibility. The purpose of the entire exercise will get defeated if villagers who have been supportive all these years as a custodian of country’s rich heritage do not reap the economic benefits of tourism to the Buddhist sites. A 360 degree holistic approach is needed to create awareness about the destination among the world community along with training the nearby villagers and providing economic avenues so that the local folks get directly involved in conserving the heritage sites, provide tourist services and hospitality. Toshali Group through its nationwide network has been instrumental in reaching out to various stakeholders in Government, Embassies, International Institutions, Universities and Religious Organizations to meet the objective.

Buddhist  tourism in India is a major contributor to boost the rural economy of India as most of the sites of veneration are in the rural areas which need excavation, protection, conservation for which villagers contribution is necessary. Buddhist inbound tourism potential in India is yet to be explored to its optimum level.  Apart from Bihar & U.P., there are several newer destinations of importance where Buddhist tourism can flourish but only with participation from rural community. The immense potential of spiritual and religious tourism cannot be fully realized unless Government & all major stakeholders come up with a futuristic tourism policy and vision statement where emphasize to be given on infrastructure, awareness, education & training. The major religious destination of India are notorious for un-hygiene , filthiness in temple premise, money-mongering touts & priests, rude mannerism, lack of basic infrastructure of food, medicine, accommodation, transport, road, etc along with public apathy towards visitors.

Unless the organizations which manages the religious sites and the government authorities take proactive steps to create awareness and educate the villagers, local businessman, tour operators, hoteliers, tour guides, priests and public about the need of image make-over through cleanliness and better hospitality for socio-economic development of society, inbound tourism is hardly going to grow because of the negative perception developed over years. Also Government of respective States and at Centre must do aggressive PR & branding exercise reaching out to travellers, tour operators and airline companies to enhance tourist inflow thereby generating employment for everybody. Future of religious and spiritual tourism is highly optimistic. Apart from organizing visit to religious shrines, tour planners must develop product on giving holistic spiritual experience to the visitor through yoga & meditation session, religious discourse by learned scholars/saints as well as audio-visual shows and literatures in a tranquil environment.

Tourism need not be looked as a money spinning industry only, the way it is being perceived nowadays across the world. In Indian context, if extending hospitality is connected with a religious and cultural obligation of ‘Indianness’, then tourism will be perceived as a major solution for relieving the society from unrest and callousness thereby promoting harmony and peaceful co-existence in this world. Tourism can also be treated as a tool to bring closer the various warring sects of the community, promote better understanding of culture & beliefs, hence strengthening age old concept of universal brotherhood. The civic society across the world is on a verge of collapse because lack of understanding is paving way for clashes between civilization and war of hegemony. Tourism, if remain in the hands of rural & agrarian community, who are the real custodian of cultural values and traditions can allay major modern age problems across the world as compared to their hedonistic & greedy urban counterpart.