THE mountain cave where Hinglaj Mata Temple is located. — Dawn
THE mountain cave where Hinglaj Mata Temple is located. — Dawn

SITUATED on the mesmerising Makran coast, the Hinglaj Mata Temple is housed in a mountain cave, in the middle of picturesque Hingol National Park, on the bank of gushing River Hingol. The vast area of Hingol National Park stretches out to three districts: Lasbela, Gwadar and Awaran.

During a recent visit to the temple from Karachi, a 250km distance, the bridge connecting the two rocky rugged mountains was under repair. I, accompanied by two friends, parked the car on the other side of the bridge and trekked up the hilly area for five kilometres, under the scorching sun, holding water bottles.

The rugged mountains and cloudless sky are calm and serene. After forty minutes’ walk, we encounter a group of Hindu devotees at the main entrance of the Mata Temple.

Unlike the past, there has been some construction around the temple over the years by successive provincial governments; moreover, rest houses for devotees are also in the making. At the front of the cave, where the temple is located, accessed with the help of steps, Maharaj Gopal, clad in saffron kameez and white shalwar, is sitting on a blanket over a newly built small tiled space.

Hailing from Thatta in Sindh, Maharaj Gopal says he spent around 25 years at the Kali Temple in his hometown. A decade ago, he came to Hinglaj and never went back. A willowy, bearded man, he welcomes us by turning two pedestal fans towards us, “Bhagwan [lord] comes in the shape of guests,” he tells us while pointing the second fan at me. “All of you are sweating and, I know, you have come on foot. These fans will provide you with some relief.”

Rest houses for devotees are under construction

Among Hindus of the subcontinent, the Hinglaj Mata’s Temple holds a revered significance. Tens of thousands of Hindus gather annually in April to attend four-day religious rituals at the temple, called Teerath Yatra. Hindus believe that when lord Vishnu cut up the body of goddess Sati into several pieces they were scattered in different parts of the subcontinent, with her head said to have fallen in the Hingol region.

“There have been times when over one hundred thousand devotees have visited Hinglaj in April for the annual pilgrimage,” adds Maharaj, while asking his son to bring water for us. “But this does not mean Hindus only gather for pilgrimage here in April. Hindu families in Pakistan visit it throughout the year.”

According to Shaam Kumar, a Quetta-based scholar, the founder of Hindu sect Nathpanthis, Guru Gorakhnath, used to visit the shrine in AD600. Also, Sindhi mystic poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai would drop by at the shrine and has even written verses dedicated to the Hinglaj Mata Temple.

In the past, the pilgrimage of Hinglaj was replete with much hardship. Due to lack of roads, it would take devotees, often travelling by foot, weeks to reach the temple, especially from Karachi. Some would die en route. “Till the 1970s, Hinglaj remained untouched and unspoiled by modernity — it took as many as three days for pilgrims and visitors to reach it from Karachi; a decade later it came down to a journey of about 20 hours and today, the coastal highway has reduced it to a four-hour drive from the metropolis,” writes Reema Abbasi in her book Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience.

Most visitors are from Sindh, where Hindus make up the greater chunk of the population. In this context, Maharaj says several Hindus still come to Hinglaj on foot, especially from Sindh and elsewhere. Hence, he adds, facilities have been provided at several points to facilitate these on-foot devotees.

Delving more into Hingol’s mythical history, Maharaj Gopal claims there used to live a tribe called Hingoli headed by a Raja Hingol. At the time, Hingol tribesmen were followers of Mata. Raja Hingol, led astray by his deputies, began indulging in alcohol-fuelled orgies with beautiful women. “Finally, Mata cut the king’s head off with a sword, before which he made Mata two requests: first, (Mata) becomes a stone statue again and second, if a good or bad person comes to her, she’d help him or her.”

As we leave Hinglaj temple, Maharaj’s son offers coconuts to us as prasad.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2019