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Hinglaj Mata – Largest Hindu festival draws thousands to sacred sites in Pakistan

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The ascent of steep mud volcanoes marks the start of Hindu pilgrims’ religious rituals in southwestern Pakistan.

Hindu devotees arrive at an ancient cave temple of Hinglaj Mata to attend an annual festival in Hinglaj in Lasbela district in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province. More than 100,000 Hindus are expected to climb mud volcanoes and steep rocks in southwestern Pakistan as part of a three-day pilgrimage to one of the faith’s holiest sites.

They climb hundreds of stairs or clamber over rocks to reach the summit, tossing coconuts and rose petals into the shallow crater while seeking divine permission to visit Hinglaj Mata, an ancient cave temple that is the focus of their three-day worship.

The dramatic surroundings of Hingol National Park in Baluchistan province are the setting for Pakistan’s largest Hindu festival, Hinglaj Yatra, which started on Friday and ends on Sunday.

Muslim-majority Pakistan is home to 4.4 million Hindus, just 2.14% of the population, and Hinglaj Mata is one of the few Hindu sites that continues to draw large numbers of pilgrims every year from across the country.

Hindus believe Hinglaj Mata is one the places where the remains of Sati, fell to earth after she ended her life.

Maharaj Gopal, the temple’s most senior cleric, explains why people flock to it.

“It is the most sacred pilgrimage in the Hindu religion”. “Whoever visits the temple and worships accordingly during these three days will have all of their sins forgiven.”

The journeys begin hundreds of kilometres (miles) away, mostly from neighbouring Sindh province. Hundreds of packed buses set off from cities like Hyderabad and Karachi, travelling along the Makran Coastal Highway that hugs Pakistan’s south and southwest.

It’s a few kilometres (miles) from the main road to the mud volcano and then, from there, almost 45 kilometres (25 miles) to Hinglaj Mata.

Winds buffet the desert-like conditions, churning up dust that whips the eyes, nose and mouth. The pilgrims’ festive cheer and brightly coloured apparel are a contrast to the arid landscape. Strong gusts distort people’s celebratory cries of “Jai mata di” and “Jai shiv shankar.”

Kanwal, 28, was visiting the temple for the first time with her husband. “We have yet to conceive a child after six years of marriage, so we are hopeful for help from the goddess,” she said. “We believe that no one returns empty-handed. All wishes are granted by Hinglaj Mata.”

The Hindu festival brings the Pakistani park to life. Hundreds of stalls spring up to sell snacks, drinks, jewellery, and clothing. Vats of hot food are prepared in the open air or thatched huts. Pilgrims purchase coconuts, sweetmeats, flowers, and incense for their ritualistic offerings.

Aloo Kumar, 55, wanted to express her gratitude to Lord Shiva, one of three most important deities. “He blessed our family with a grandson,” Kumar said, gesturing toward the boy beside her cradling his baby sibling. “We prayed for a grandson during last year’s festival.”

The park’s Hingol River provides Hindu pilgrims with the opportunity for ritual bathing, like the Ganges in Bharat.

“We can visit this temple in our beloved country whenever our heart desires,” said Divani. “But this is not the case for the rest of the world’s Hindus. I would like the Pakistani government to issue them visas so they can come here and take blessings with them. It’s good for people-to-people contact and it’s good for the economy too.”

Courtesy – HT

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