An indication of the religiosity of Indians lies in their willingness to travel on pilgrimage or for religious reasons. The share of religious travel among all overnight travel undertaken by Indians was almost four times the share of travel on business, and over seven and a half times the share of travel for purposes related to education, show survey data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO).
The overwhelming bulk — nearly 86% — of overnight trips were, however, made for reasons that were identified as “social”, according to the NSSO data. The survey, which was carried out as part of the National Sample Survey (NSS) 72nd Round between July 2014 and June 2015, and its results published as a detailed report on Domestic Tourism In India in July 2017, identified 5.84 crore overnight journeys that respondents acknowledged they had undertaken in the period up to 30 days before they were surveyed. For the purposes of the survey, “overnight trips” were defined as journeys lasting more than 12 hours.
More than 48 lakh out of these 5.84 crore overnight trips — 8.29% — were pilgrimages, or undertaken for religious purposes. In terms of absolute numbers, many more rural Indians (30 lakh) made these journeys than city-dwellers (18 lakh). After social and religious reasons, the third biggest reason for travelling was business. Some 12.6 lakh out of the 5.84 crore overnight trips — 2.16% — were on business. As many as 5.01 crore overnight trips were social visits. Over 6.39 lakh trips (1.09%) were made for reasons of education or training; 14.6 lakh (2.50%) for “Other” reasons.
Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Punjab topped, in that order, the list of states ranked by the largest share of religious trips among all overnight trips. The top five states ranked by average daily expenditure on an overnight religious trip were Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Uttarakhand, in that order.
The average expenditure on a religious trip was Rs 2,717 per day — higher than the average daily expenditure on a social trip (Rs 1,068) and a trip on education/training (Rs 2,286), according to the survey data. Not surprisingly, the expenditure on a business trip was much higher, at Rs 4,455 per day. Two other NSSO surveys provide indication of other aspects of the willingness of Indians to spend on religious activities.
A report titled Key Indicators of Household Expenditure on Services and Durable Goods, also based on information collected between July 2014 and June 2015 as part of the NSS 72nd Round, and released in June 2016, showed that religious services accounted for almost 9% of the total monthly per capita expenditure on “miscellaneous consumer services” in an Indian household in rural areas, and 5.7% in urban areas. It is important to note that these figures are not percentages of the total monthly expenditure of these households, and they do not include expenses on, say, medical and educational services, consumer taxes and cesses, etc.
Another report, Household Consumption of Various Goods and Services in India 2011-12, based on NSS 68th Round (July 2011-June 2012) data, and released in June 2014, showed that per capita expenditure per month by a single person on priests was Rs 1.88 in an urban family, and Rs 0.57 in a rural family. These were higher than spends on pets and the maintenance of ACs in homes.