Lived Cosmologies and Objectified Commodities: Reinventing the Traditional Art of India in a World of Cultural Tourism

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This essay examines how the significance of ancient South Asian monuments is transformed when reframed by the practices of cultural tourism, which are grounded in the values of a modern, globalizing, economic cosmology. Ethnographic evidence collected on a visit to the archaeological park and museum at Sarnath, site of the Buddha's first discourse and home to some of the most celebrated masterpieces of ancient Indian sculpture, are here analyzed to support and illustrate a broader, social-constructivist argument about the representation of reality in Indian visual culture. I will argue that the version of 'reality' presupposed by modern economic practices, such as tourism, works to objectify ancient South Asian forms and meanings, previously precipitated out of older living practices, into reified, collectable entities. Such objects and their objectified meanings further contribute toward naturalizing and universalizing economically grounded projects of self-construction among the practitioners of an economic worldview, wherein the self is shaped by routines of production and consumption: I am what I do for a living and I am the goods—including here, the touristic experiences—that I collect. It is this economic cosmology that moves to the foreground when ancient Indian 'art' is re-presented and consumed in the form of tourism products. Meanwhile the cosmology of dharma is pushed into the background. I hope to persuade the reader that the 'cost' of doing this is too high to justify the narrow economic benefits.

Publication Title

Copenhagen Journal Of Asian Studies





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open access

Open Access Status

OA Journal

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