Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

From Nania to Nani

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Part 1

Back on the road beyond the mud volcano, the blacktop shortly gave way to a shingle road-bed. But even this had been prepared well and we carried on without reducing speed. Presently we were on the banks of the Hingol River. Rising in the hills near Nal, west of Khuzdar, and known as Nal in its upper reaches, the Hingol cuts a most dramatic gorge. Here, a few kilometres above its mouth, it is languid and green with silt. Together with the image of the mud volcano, etched from my earlier trip was one of the Hingol with its Tamarisk-shaded banks. But I was disappointed. The thick growth on its sides had given way to saplings. As the building of the Karakorum Highway had deprived the Indus gorge of its thickets of holly oaks, so too the Coastal Highway has eaten up the Tamarisk of the Hingol valley – all gone up in smoke.

The temple sacred to Nania or Ishtar, to Durga Ma and to Bibi Nani
We had been talking of the crocodiles of Hingol and suddenly Marvin pointed to the far bank and said, ‘There’s one now.’ I looked hard and to me it seemed to be a log. We stopped, got out of the jeep and stared. The log remained static. Then two huge dump trucks came thundering down the road and their noise animated the log. It slithered into the green water; half submerged and became immobile again. Shortly after I spotted another swimming languidly in mid-stream. And then another. The Hingol lives. Strangely enough, we also saw a man bathing and washing about two hundred metres upstream with complete disregard for the crocs. And then we saw another man wading unhurriedly across the river. The croc on the bank was no less than two metres long and could badly maul a grown man, yet these fatalists were going about their business evidently without a worry. Perhaps they knew a satiated crocodile from a hungry one. Either that, or they were privy to feeding schedules.

We sloshed across the river in the jeep, there being no bridge yet, and giving up the Coastal Highway took off to the north along a shingle trail. The valley grew narrower and more and more desolate. We passed an area with trees and I was reminded of the place where pilgrims sacrificed goats and rubbed their blood on a rock. The sacred, blood-stained rock was right by the trail. We passed on without stopping until we hit a tin gate. This did not exist in my memory. Marvin took the jeep around the gate and I was surprised to see the jumble of buildings beyond. There were a dozen largish cement concrete structures: hostels and allied buildings for pilgrims.

Back in 1986 there was no road. Pilgrims setting out of Karachi by bus took twenty four hours of driving to arrive here bumping across the waterless desert. With the partially complete Coastal Highway they could now get here in less than half a day. Then, I was told, only five busloads or some two hundred and fifty pilgrims braved the hard journey annually. This year, said the man who had arrived with a group of people from a nearby village, there had been over twenty thousand pilgrims.

The buildings, absolute eyesores in that wild and desolate gorge, were started, I suspect, when the army began work on the Coastal Highway some years ago. Even before the blacktop was ready, just the bare, shingle road-bed would have made the journey to Hinglaj far easier than the bone-jarring ride cross-country and the number of pilgrims would have jumped. Sharp men with their eye on a quick profit would have formed a mafia and raised the buildings to be rented out to visiting pilgrims. Sri Mata Hinglaj went fully commercial. No surprise then that the pristine condition of the gorge of Durga I remembered from my earlier visit was no more. Heaps of rubbish lay by the path and a strange smell permeated the air. Though we were in the open, it smelled as if we were in the confines of a bat-infested building. The stench of guano was unmistakable.

Past the clump of ugly buildings we were led to the temple by the line of bamboo poles strung with the wire. Sixteen years is a long time and I did not remember that before the shrine proper I had passed an overhanging rock with a smaller shrine. We paused in the cool shade of the overhang and talked of the goddesses to whom Hinglaj is consecrated.

When the goddess Durga died her body parts fell in various locations on earth. One consecrated this remote and desolate gorge and the temple that the believers raised was to become one of the most celebrated in the entire subcontinent. Her festival in January was once the object of her followers from all over the Indian subcontinent; now only the few remaining Hindus in Pakistan come. But Durga came much later. Long before her another goddess was worshipped here.

In about 645 BC, when the great Assyrian king Assurbanipal captured Susa, the capital of Elam (as western Iran was known in early history), he restored the icon of the goddess Nana (or Nania or Innana) to the Assyrian city of Erech. This image had been carried away from its original temple in that Mesopotamian city by the Elamite king Kudur-Nankhundi when he sacked Erech in 2280 BC. Evidently the ancient Persians of Susa assimilated Nania into their pantheon and worship her for her statue to have remained intact for sixteen hundred years. At the same time the Assyrians, though deprived of her icon, continued to yearn for their goddess and her cult refused to die. And when Assurbanipal eventually conquered Elam his foremost attention was on returning the image to its original and rightful temple in Erech.

Other religions came and went, gods gave way to gods, some stayed and changed history. But Nana who was worshipped in the third millennium BC continued to be worshipped to this day. In Pakistan she has duly been converted to Islam and accorded the name of Bibi Nani. Her better known, but less remarkable shrine is at the foot of the Bolan Pass under a bridge. Here on the coast of Lasbela district while the Hindus worship their Durga Devi, Muslims brave the ardours of that dreadful journey to celebrate their Bibi Nani.

Long before Islam became the religion of this part of the world, even before the singers of Vedic hymns had arrived here, Nania, Innana or, as she was also known, Ishtar, was worshipped in this secluded, unpopulated valley. As we today speed along the Coastal Highway, caravans of the original people of the Sindhu valley had plodded along it eight, even nine, thousand years ago. We now know that a great deal of arts and crafts was transferred west to Mesopotamia from the cities of Moen jo Daro and Harrapa. We do not know if religion also travelled this route in the same direction. If it did, images of Nana or Nania or Nani would have been carried by the craftsmen and merchants of Meluhha (as the land of the Sindhu River was known in prehistory) to Mesopotamia. I do not know if there are temples in Iran and Iraq where Nania is worshipped today – even if under another name. I doubt if there are. But we know there are two Nania temples in Pakistan: the one in the Bolan and this other on the Lasbela seaboard. Is it not possible then that the cult of Nana originated in Meluhha and went west with trading caravans?

The temple of Nania or Nani or Durga lies just off the great east-west coastal highway that has been is use from the time humans first started living in cities some ten thousand years ago. That was when trade began and caravans would have tarried at the staging post on the Hingol River which carried a plentiful supply of water in an otherwise barren land. The temple of Nania was at hand in the nearby gorge, wild and desolate and just the place that gods prefer as their abode. Here the devout would have hastened to seek her benediction before rejoining the caravans for the long journey ahead.

And what was the nature of Nania, Innana or Ishtar? She was the ‘goddess of the morn and the goddess of the evening.’ But she was a harlot who was accompanied by a merry band of strumpets when she descended to earth. She has been called the ‘courtesan of the gods’. Indeed she was not contend with seducing gods alone, but she sought the best among mortals as well and we know of her amorous advances to Gilgamesh, the king of Nineveh. We know the name of Ishtar or Innana because the cuneiform script of ancient Mesopotamia has been deciphered. But because the script of the Sindhu valley has not been read, we know nothing of the literature and religion of this region in ancient times. It is therefore an intriguing idea that Ishtar may have been a goddess native to the Sindhu valley whose cult travelled west to Mesopotamia with trading caravans. Once there, she so impressed those people that they incorporated her into their own pantheon. This we will not know until the script of Moen jo Daro and Harappa is read.

When the first singers of Vedic hymns passed this way they would have viewed the spot, just as those who had passed before them did, as a suitable place for worship. They pasted their Durga legend on the existing cult of Ishtar or Nania. Not long afterwards these very people converted to Islam, but they refused to give up their old deities. Decorum, however, required for a new and somewhat Islamic name. As Nania had become Durga, so she became Bibi Nani. Only the latest name was a vague throwback on the original.

A hundred yards beyond the first rock overhang was the main temple under yet another overhanging rock with a pool in front. Once, centuries ago, the icon of Ishtar or Nania or Durga would have sat under the overhang. Then someone decided a building was needed and a crude cemented cubicle was thrown up. In 1986 it was much smaller. Now it has been enlarged and the interior even has bathroom tiles on the floor. The desolate gorge, the sheer and arid walls rising almost three hundred metres above, the ponds of dark green water, the warbling bulbuls, all lend the place a certain mystique that belongs to holy places. The crude, semi-permanent sort of building suddenly takes most of it away making one of the most venerated holy sites in the entire subcontinent a bit of an architectural and spiritual disappointment.

The gorge of Hinglaj with the temple
I hadn’t approved of the temple cubicle the first time around either. I was disappointed it was still there. Most upsetting was the gross buildings and the stench of refuse. Who knows what we’ll find when one or both of us return in sixteen years’ time. Even if the temple was frustration, Marvin and I were happy we had made the pilgrimage. For surely as time goes by things will only go worse.

Related: Mud that Bubbles

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 25 May 2015 at 08:32, Blogger Spade said...

Thank you for posting this, a long tome ago you did a documentary on the subject. Religion and the IVC elite possibly did travel to Sumer, this part of the world was then a little bit more wetter . Some evidence of this is contained in some Biblical verses I could post these here if so desired .

At 25 May 2015 at 18:40, Blogger Spade said...

Extracts from :The Origin of Monotheism- Meluhha by Javed Rashid

Indus civilization was inclusive in nature and therefore would not have multiple gods; there would be a single God which could have been an abstract concept of God. Prophet Abraham (pbum) perhaps did seem to have obtained the concept of an abstract, mono, omnipresent God from Sumer. This concept was not present in Sumerian society itself (see the reaction of Nimrod to the complain of Prophet Abraham’s father and people, for this see both the Koranic and Talmudic versions) .The concept was not present in the Jews (see reaction of Prophet Abraham’s father and family). The only people sophisticated enough to have developed this concept were the Indus people (Egypt, Crete and China do seem to have multiple gods).

The IVC concept of religion was exported to Sumer, with whom the IVC had ethnic, cultural and economic ties .This occurred when the Indus elite migrated, for reasons not clearly established, to Sumer , around 2000 BC ( various traditions related to the Mai Nanna etc. ,in modern Pakistani Baluchistan , do point to possibility of such migration by land route from IVC to Sumer). The Sumerians had evolved very differently. They had established a number of independent cities who were in constant strife with each other and each city had a separate god, monotheism clearly did not evolve in SC. The only source of this concept could be the IVC whose elite chose Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) and transferred the concept to the Hebrews .The concept was also clearly alien to the Hebrews as is evident from the Biblical and Koranic accounts of the life of Prophet Ibrahim in Ur, this concept did not evolve within the Hebrews and was clearly imported from other people.

The Sumer elite lost control by around 2000 BC and this perhaps were the cause of decline of the Indus Elite .Without the Sumer elite in power and in absence of sympathetic groups in control of the trade routes the Indus Elite could not maintain their hold upon the Indus Area.
The Indus elite migrated to Sumer around 2000 BC.

Perhaps the elite migrated to UR (and not to the Jummna-Ganges valley or Kutch area) and therefore the essence of the IVC was not transferred to the subsequent societies that followed the IVC in the sub-continent. What was transferred was the handicrafts and other craft skills .


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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Riders on the Wind

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