There are very few places that represent so much diversity and religious plurality as is the case with Lasbela. It is a southern district of Balochistan where the envisioned dream of the Quaid that you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques is not only alive but historically preserved in its pristine form. For 250 km away from Karachi, on the Coastal High way, there is a place called “Agor’’. It is situated on the bank of Hingol River. Agor is a crossroad of interfaith harmony that evokes veneration from both Hindus and Muslims alike on account of preserving their religious heritage. On the one hand, there are graves of the soldiers of Muhammad Bin Qasim who set out on a missionary expedition and sacrificed their lives. They crossed Markan areas of Balochistan and eventually conquered Sindh in the year 712. They sowed the seeds of Islam in this part of the world. On the other hand there is Hinglaaj Mata Temple. The Hindus call it Hinglaaj Mata Temple and Muslims call it Nani Mandir (Grandmother’s Temple).

Hinglaaj Mata Temple is one of the oldest temples of the world. It is very hard to estimate the exact age, however, the archaeological remains reveal that it is over 1000 years old. Historically, it is a proven fact, deciphered from the tombstone, that in 14th century, the pilgrims from modern-day Gujarat and Jaipur used to visit the place after crossing the mighty Rajasthan desert. After the pilgrimage, the devotees would earn the title of Hinglaajian.

Every year in April, thousands of pilgrims travel on foot from the districts of Thatta, Badin, Umerkot and other far flung areas of Sindh and Balochistan to throng the premises of Hinglaaj Mata to redeem their sins. This year, about sixty thousand pilgrims visited the place with fool-proof security arrangements. They included both Hindus and Muslims. I asked a devotee what the place means to him. He responded by giving the analogy that the sanctity of this temple is the same as that of Makkah for Muslims.

There is a variety of legends associated with the place through anecdotes, historical accounts and archaic religious texts. The Maharaj, who is a chosen guardian of the Temple, narrates that a king Hingol who used to oppress his people. The subjects prayed to goddess Satti to get rid of him. Their prayers were answered and goddess Satti incarnated on earth, and killed the king, liberating her worshippers from the cruel rule.

However, Professor Dr. Jurgen Schaflecher, an academician from Heidelberg, embarked on a rigorous research and wrote a book “Hinglaaj Devi”, in which he narrated that according to Sanskrit sources, in Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva was getting married to Satti. Shiva was a jogi (ascetic), wearing the skin of an animal. The father of Satti, who was the local king, did not like the choice of her daughter. On the eve of their marriage, he arranged a huge feast wherein he invited everyone in the pantheon, except Shiva. Satti, on this insult, got upset and jumped into the sacrificial fire. When Shiva came to know of this, he became furious. He took Satti’s body from fire and started jogi dance in frenzy. The scene was so frightening that it seemed that the entire universe would break apart. Seeing this, another god, Lord Vishnu, came forward and took Satti’s body and cut it into pieces to calm down Shiva’s rage. Dr. Schaflecher learned that the location of Hinglaaj Mata Temple is where Satti’s head fell on earth, and is one of the 51 places where her body’s pieces fell.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, renowned Sufi poet and saint, is also said to have visited the place. Out of reverence, he offered a bowl of milk to Nani. The legend goes that Nani opened her mouth and drank it. In his poetry too he mentions the visit and the importance that the place has in his heart. To visit a holy place of another belief opens us up to recognise the diversity in divine plan, to cultivate respect and tolerance for other belief systems. Above all, it helps us in understanding that how our individual faiths anchor us.