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Positioning the past through national, religious and postcolonial identities : India, diversity and the myth of the Taj Mahal

Bryce, Derek and Causevic, Senija (2016) Positioning the past through national, religious and postcolonial identities : India, diversity and the myth of the Taj Mahal. In: The International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on International Tourism, 2016-04-06 - 2016-04-09. (Unpublished)

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The representation, commodification and contested meanings of the Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage site in India, play a political role in the transition process from Mughal Empire, via the British Raj, to contemporary Indian national identities. Drawn from fieldwork conducted with tour guides and operators as well as domestic and international tourists in Agra and Delhi, this paper examines the roles of consumption, commodification and tourism as authenticators in the re-creation and negotiation of India and its national identities, both externally and internally. We question the notion of authentication and existentialist authenticity drawing on Guattari’s argument that only if the individual is alerted to discourse manipulation, may the possibility for existentialist authenticity occur. Prevailing discourses, such as familiar East-West binaries and neo-colonial narratives are maintained and exercised. Through the conjunction of nationalist, neo-colonial, and religious narratives, we discuss the inscription of binaries of Hindu-nationalist and multi-religious India, wealth and poverty, tolerance and violence on the Taj Mahal for domestic audiences as well as its value as a cipher for performances of East-West, binaries and tales of excessively expressed ‘Oriental’ love and desire for international, largely ‘Western’ audiences. We finish with a discussion of the wider implications of this for the equitable consumption of cultural heritage.