Journey to Hinglaj

May 26, 2024

A pilgrimage of faith and resilience through the diverse landscape of Sindh

Journey to Hinglaj


hile travelling on the M9 Motorway from Karachi, I have often seen men and women journeying in groups and caravans, chanting slogans of “Jai Mata Hinglaj.“ This sight sparked my curiosity to witness this pilgrimage myself. When I inquired with friends in the Hindu community, I found out that an annual fair is held in April. I decided to undertake the pilgrimage this year.

We started our journey from Karachi in the morning. Upon reaching the RCD Highway via Hub River Road, we discovered that the bridge over the Hub River, which had been affected by flash floods in 2022, had yet to be reconstructed. As a result, the vehicles had to pass through the river.

The RCD Highway was constructed to connect Karachi to Quetta and Chaman.

On both sides of the RCD Highway, I could see buses, coasters and pickups carrying men, women, the elderly and children. These vehicles were adorned with red and saffron-coloured flags. Many pilgrims held flags in their hands and wore red and yellow bands on their arms. Written on these flags and bands were “Jai Mata Hinglaj” and “Jai Mata Sheraan Wali.” The sound of bhajans being chanted accompanied by modern music could be heard from these vehicles carrying large speakers on their roofs.

Journey to Hinglaj

Many returning pilgrim caravans passed us by, mostly consisting of old buses. Many buses were seen broken down and stranded along the way so that the pilgrims they had carried were forced to walk carrying jugs of water in one hand and children on their backs.

From Karachi to Hinglaj, one encounters diverse landscapes, including plains, deserts, and mountains. If you venture a little further, you’ll see the sea and the road running alongside it.

Journey to Hinglaj

On the RCD Highway, you have to take a left turn toward Winder City, where the Princes of Hope monument welcomes you. From here, the journey on the Makran Coastal Highway begins, leading to Gwadar. It’s a wide road. The first town on the way is Liyari. This is the last Hindu settlement where the caravans used to halt before the partition. Even now, those travelling on foot stop here. The local people provide them food and shelter.

After Liyari, you come across Chandar Gupt, a mud volcano where pilgrims offer coconuts and scatter flower petals. There is no signboard for Chandar Gupt on the Makran Coastal Highway; pilgrims head in its direction upon seeing a distant hill.

Journey to Hinglaj

A pilgrim from Mirpur Khas, Hurji Mall, tells me, “It’s our belief to first visit Chandar Gupt before Hinglaj Mata’s Temple so that the pilgrimage is blessed. We go to the extent of walking on fire.” They light torches and offer coconuts here. At this moment, they chant, “Jai Ho, Bolo Ram Chandra Ki Jai, Bolo Chandra Raja Ki Jai.”

Around Chandar Gupt, there are open fields where some people halt and head back home in the morning. After Chandar Gupt, there is a checkpoint where the vehicles and passengers are registered. A sticker is pasted on the windshield of each vehicle. There is no further checking.

As one keeps driving along the RCD Highway, the boundary of Hingol National Park is reached. Here, the Hingol River also comes into view. As you approach the Hingol River, a path branches off to the right, leading to a large gate with the inscription of Hinglaj Mandir. Inside, there is a long queue of vehicles, mostly buses. There is a small bridge to cross.

While some pilgrims walked in one direction here, others were going the opposite way. Many pilgrims were holding flags, called “Dhaja,” in their hands. Some families were barefoot. They carried bundles on their heads. There were mountains on one side and the Hingol River on the other.

Wherever there was enough water in the River, the pilgrims took a dip. It is believed that bathing in the river after visiting the Mother’s shrine cleanses one’s sins. The immediate consequence was wet clothes.

Some plants grew nearby. Some women used the cover to change into dry clothes. Some of the pilgrims filled bottles with Hingol River water to take home with them.

The story of the Hinglaj Yatra is also found in the poetry of Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai of Sindh. In his poetry, he describes the rituals and difficulties of the pilgrimage.

Since the vehicles could no longer move forward due to the crowd, we started walking. The pilgrims were spread out for several kilometres. The walking was tough. There were stalls on both sides of the road, selling everything from food and drinks to toys, bangles, and statues of various deities. In many places, people were getting their spouse’s names tattooed on their clothes and arms.

The Mela was set up with mountains on the both sides. Whatever shady trees, mountain cuts or open areas were available had been turned into accommodations.

At another gate along the way, security personnel were deployed. They were allowing the pilgrims to enter after scanning them for weapons. There was a large presence of police, Levies, FC and Coast Guards. There were thousands of people here. Some women had spread their mats by the river and were putting up mosquito nets. Most pilgrims had brought cooking utensils and some women were seen cooking on clay stoves.

A majority of the pilgrims came from Mirpur Khas, Badin, Sanghar, Umarkot, Hyderabad, Ghotki and Karachi.

There were many food stalls but providing enough food for all the people appeared impossible. Water was the foremost necessity in the intense heat and the arrangements seemed inadequate. Water was also being supplied using tankers but the arrangement was inadequate.

A few washrooms had been set up near the Mandir, where water was provided by the surrounding houses. Many women and children were bathing and washing their hands and faces there. Local women would put up curtains to provide changing room.

We had reached close to the Mother’s shrine. On one side was the Shiv Mandir and on the other the temple of Mata Sheranwali.

According to Hindu narrative, Sati Devi married Lord Shiva against her father’s wishes. When her father organised a feast, he did not invite Lord Shiva. Feeling insulted, Sati jumped into a fire. Hearing of her death, Lord Shiva came and holding her corpse performed the Tandava dance. This caused an earthquake. Other deities then requested Lord Vishnu to intervene. He parsed Sati’s corpse into 51 pieces. Her head fell here in Hingol.

According to scholar Badar Abro, the place is also called Akal Panth. The Hindu community refers to it as Hinglaj Mata dargah. This site includes a temple dedicated to a goddess riding a lion. She is of clear complexion. Nearly a kilometre away, there is a temple of Kali Mata.

Badar Abro writes that traditionally pilgrims used to tie a piece of cloth measuring one and a half yards around their necks. The practice was not observed at this mela.

While the pilgrims women wore all kinds of colours, quite a few were wearing red. Some were there to thank for fulfillment of specific wishes; others were hoping for their prayers to be similarly answered. Monica, a 20-year-old said, “We come here from Karachi to visit Mata’s shrine for every festival including Holi and Diwali. We stay here for ten days. There is a strange peace here. This time we have been separated for five days. We are not enjoying it on account of the crowd.”

The construction of the Coastal Highway has made access to the Hinglaj Mandir much easier. Previously, pilgrims used to come here on foot or on animals, but now pilgrims come from all over Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan. Communities as diverse as Sindhis, Gujaratis, Marwaris, Parkaris and Tamils are represented.

According to Jürgen Schaflechner, the author of Hinglaj Devi: Identity, Change, and Solidification at a Hindu Temple in Pakistan, people once used to come for pilgrimage from various regions of Gujarat, Bengal and present-day Pakistan. It was a desert area and water was scarce. This required people to walk long distances to find it. Some would die during the journey. When pilgrims returned from Hinglaj, they were called “Hinglajis,” similar to how Muslims who have performed a Hajj are called Hajis. It was believed that returning from such a difficult pilgrimage made you a gift from the goddess.

Schaflechner notes that if you visit Indian Gujarat, you will find tombstones in the cemeteries there with the dates of the deaths of those who returned from Hinglaj. This suggests that people have been going on this pilgrimage for 14 centuries.

Sindh’s writer and researcher Bharoo Mal Amrani says that before the partition, people from Indian Gujarat used to travel to Hinglaj via Nangar Parkar, Badin and Thatta. The other route was through Jaisalmer and Umarkot.

Due to the construction and development of Gwadar port, the Makran Coastal Highway has made it easier for pilgrims, resulting in an annual fair.

Schaflechner says since 2001, there have been significant changes. The Makran Coastal Highway now allows people to reach Hinglaj easily by car. Previously, the pilgrimage used to take two to four weeks on foot; now it can be completed in three hours.

The story of the Hinglaj Yatra is also found in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai who describes the rituals and difficulties of the pilgrimage.

For the Charan community, which carries stories, legends and traditions forward, the Hinglaj Yatra is important. According to Bharoo Mal Amrani, the Charan community is also called Sati Patra, meaning they are recipients of Sati’s strength.

Schaflechner states that there is a belief that if the Charans do not come for a pilgrimage here, each stone will fall and the place will be destroyed. Wearing red clothes, a bride named Anchal said she had vowed a re-visit once her wish for a child were granted. She hoped that Mata Rani would not disappoint them. Sita Kolhi was thankful that her grandson, who had suffered a stroke, had recovered due to Mata’s grace, though he still couldn’t speak.

Close to the statue of Hinglaj Mata, there is a tunnel the pilgrims pass though. If a man and a woman pass through it together, they become siblings because they have come from the mother’s womb together.

Schaflechner says that underneath the statue, there is a spring through which pilgrims must pass. When they emerge, all their sins are believed to have been washed away.

Most of the pilgrims coming to Hinglaj are farmers and labourers from impoverished backgrounds. Many said they had paid between Rs 20 and Rs 500 as rent. Most of them paid for their food separately.

In most Hindu temples, coconuts are distributed as alms. Here, priests hold them and pilgrims contribute money. Coconuts were being sold for Rs 200 to Rs 300; a red scarf sold for Rs 50. Gathered from the temple, both these items were being resold in front of us.

The land border between Sindh and India is currently closed. The railway services are also suspended. Hindu communities have been demanding facilities similar to the Kartarpur corridor. Senator Dhanesh Kumar, who oversees the organisation of the annual fair, supports the idea.

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher. She tweets @FehmidaRiaz

Journey to Hinglaj