Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

New Age Orientalism1: Ayurvedic 'Wellness and Spa Culture'

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

New Age Orientalism1: Ayurvedic 'Wellness and Spa Culture'

Article excerpt


Recognizing the need to cater to the physical and mental needs of the middle-class, large corporations have explored different services and products. Increasingly, the developments of services and products that focus on holistic lifestyle and holistic medicine have caught the imagination of big and small corporations - as well as that of the middle class, who become ready consumers. Aggressive marketing for 'wellness and spa culture' under the banner of ayurveda is an indicator of 'new age desire'. The commodification of ayurveda started in India when the large ayurvedic drug manufacturers started to link commerciallyprepared ayurveda to Indian civilization, and as a symbol of it, with a revivalist inspiration (Nichter, 1996, p. 292). Today, ayurveda has largely become a middle class urban phenomenon and has turned into fast moving consumer goods (Bode, 2008) that are offered as remedies for the urban middle class diseases of affluence, such as obesity, stress, impotence, etc., as well as to enhance body-beauty-health consciousness. Ayurvedic service providers broadcast advertisements over various media repeatedly and portray a new image of wellness and the healthy life their clients enjoy. They offer a broad spectrum of choice, and packages include physical exercise, tutorials about healthy life, yoga sessions, various ayurvedic oil and massage therapies, dietary regulations, etc. Such advertisements for spas and wellness centres 'frequently portray images of slim, bronzed and fit people enjoying an active and outgoing social life' (Laws, 1996, p. 202). Various advertisements for dietary routines and physical exercises proclaim how individuals can influence and control their physical and mental images (Laws, 1996). Many advertisements and web pages for such health tourist resorts use Western actors and actresses and show Westerners enjoying healthy lives, thanks to Indian medical systems. This paper examines the development of the notion of ayurvedic holistic lifestyle services and products in response to modern demands. A case study of the Vedic Village will enable us to understand how the indigenous ayurvedic health system has been commodified to cater to both local and global consumers.


This research is based on qualitative study. The objective is to explore the nature and trend of the commodification of ayurveda. Promoting ayurveda as a market strategy turns out to be a form of 'New Age orientalism', with ayurveda playing a part in new consumption behaviour. The rapid growth of 'wellness and spa culture' for rejuvenation is the key break here.

The field work was conducted in the Vedic Village, a recently-built ayurvedic tourist resort and spa which middle class and wealthy patients and clients visit. It has been developed by a private commercial enterprise based in Kolkata, the Sanjeevani Group. It is located in Rajarhat, a rural area approximately 40 minutes drive from Kolkata city centre and only 20 minutes drive (around 15 kilometres) from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. The major reason for choosing Kolkata is my language advantage. It is a city habited predominantly by the Bangla-speaking ethno-linguistic group to which I belong. The well-appointed villas and rooms present an environment of character and modern culture and cater to upper-middle-class lifestyle requirements. Currently, there are 40 well-equipped villas available for health tourists to stay in. However, the target is to build approximately 500 houses inside the village compound and sell them as vacation houses to outsiders of the upper middle classes who aspire to such a lifestyle. The cost range is approximately INR 3,000,000- 4,000,000 (US$ 75,000-100,000), depending on interior decoration and facilities.

Many owners of these houses stay in the Village for a period of time each year; at other periods the Sanjeevani Group manages the villas and fills them with tourists. …

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