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Balochistan’s Hinglaj temple and its Muslim devotees

It is one of Pakistan's oldest Hindu temples

SAMAA | - Posted: Feb 24, 2021 | Last Updated: 2 months ago
Posted: Feb 24, 2021 | Last Updated: 2 months ago
Balochistan’s Hinglaj temple and its Muslim devotees

Photo: Booksfact

The Hinglaj Devi Temple in Balochistan, also known as the Nani Mandir, has a rich history of bringing together Muslims and Hindus from all over South Asia.

Jürgen Schaflechner, a German researcher and filmmaker, expounded on his findings from Hinglaj Devi: Identity, Change, and Solidification at a Hindu Temple in Pakistan at the Lahore Literature Festival 2021 on Sunday. The online session was moderated by development economist Sikander Bizenjo and examined the social, cultural and religious significance of the Hinglaj Devi Temple, which is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Pakistan.

“The very foundation of this book was to see Pakistan outside the usual security concerns and terrorism discourses in which the country usually emerges,” said Jürgen. Most of the publications showed Pakistan in a negative light post September 11 attacks, but Jürgen wanted to explore the other side of Pakistan. He said when he started his research on this temple; he was often asked if there really were any Hindus in Pakistan.

“I first visited Pakistan in 2006,” he said. “It has some very interesting features and to highlight them was my goal.” Jürgen was told by one of his professors about the Hinglaj mandir and that there was no book written on it before. From 2009 to 2015, Jürgen travelled across Sindh and parts of India to document experiences of pilgrims who had visited the temple.

“The title emphasises how the temple is important for so many communities for so many centuries,” said Jürgen. “It goes beyond the boundaries of caste, religion and geography.” Many of the devotees and those who visit are Muslims.

The temple was hard to access before the construction of the Makran Coastal Highway, which dramatically reduced the distance and brought about major changes in the rituals associated with the sacred shrine.

“The more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it,” said Jürgen, referring to the ritual of walking up to the shrine, with the scorching sun overhead and burning sand underfoot. What was most interesting about the temple was that it was difficult to find. Pilgrims’ painstaking journey to the shrine burned out their sins, they believed. When they reached Hinglaj, they said to have seen the gods welcoming them into their house, which was their reward.

But now Hinglaj is just a three-hour drive away from Karachi. There has been a certain devaluation of the ritual performed to reach the place. It was believed when you returned from the pilgrimage; you were an entirely different person. “But this has almost ceased in Pakistan because of the ease with which the temple can be accessed.”

“I remember speaking to a yatri (pilgrim), who said it was very different when he visited Hinglaj in the 1970s,” said Jürgen. “There was no bathing in the springs, no picnics, only puja and meditation.”

After the war of 1965, the borders got rigid. “There was a drying-out of the walking ritual from people coming in from India.” However, when the restrictions ceased, people started to travel more freely owing to the construction of roads. They were not afraid of getting lost anymore. Jürgen met a group of yatris from Narayan Pura (a hindu-dominated neighbourhood in Karachi), Karachi, who had built a cart for carrying idol of the Devi and a blaring sound system.

“The roads have produced more creative ways for the pilgrims,” he remarked.

A tunnel at the shrine is associated with rebirth of an individual by purifying their soul. There are legends that the pilgrims have seen the goddess emerge from its statue. The tunnel has been extended, but its actual core is an overhanging rock above the statue. Colonial reports show that this practice was associated with pilgrims rolling out of this tunnel making baby sounds, thus experiencing things not just mentally but physically as well. It was also the climax of the pilgrimage.

“I really encourage young anthropologists in Pakistan to explore these sites,” said Jürgen in his closing remarks. “I would love to see more people from Pakistan working on Pakistan.”

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