Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Inana or Nani

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There is in south-east Balochistan, on the banks of the Hingol River, a shrine called Bibi Nani. Muslims resort here to celebrate and worship a saint of whom only the vaguest of stories are told. Hindus, on the other hand, believe that the spot marks one of the places where the goddess Durga’s body parts were flung to the earth when she died. They call it Sri Mata Hinglaj. At any given time, followers of either religion can be met with at Hinglaj; both sides wonderfully tolerant of the other’s practices and worship.


There is another Bibi Nani shrine 10 kilometres west of Sibi, at the foot of the Bolan Pass. Here, too, a vague story of her and a pious brother is told. Having come to this country, she and her brother invited the heathens to Islam. But the king took rather unkindly to them and sent out his soldiers to bring them to him in chains. The brother walked into a rock face and disappeared, leaving only a copious spring to mark the spot. We don’t know how the sister Nani met her death and was buried on the banks of the Nari River.

In the Bolan, the Hindus do not worship Nani or Durga. Here they worship the brother as Mahadev, who is Pir Ghaib to the Muslims. Since Nani’s grave lies right by the roadside under a bridge, passing travellers still occasionally stop to pray at it.

Now, the Hindu tradition of Durga at Hinglaj and Mahadev in the Bolan are fairly well-established with yarns connected to them. But both Pir Ghaib and his sister Bibi Nani (who is buried at two different spots some hundred kilometres apart) have a weak and unimpressive story. It seems to me that these are very ancient pagan worship sites that changed hands through the great parade of religions in this area.

Durga and Mahadev may have been worshipped at Hinglaj and Pir Ghaib, respectively, for something like a couple of thousand years. Then a sufficiently large number of the local population having converted to Islam found it difficult to eschew a holy site their ancestors had worshipped for hundreds of years. They invented the tale of the Muslim siblings on their pious but doomed evangelical expedition and continued to celebrate the site as before.

For me, the name of Nani rings a very ancient bell. I believe it derives from Inana, the Mesopotamian goddess also known as Ishtar. Since Nani is worshipped in the Bolan Pass and far away on the Balochistan seaboard, I suspect the cult of Inana was prevalent in Balochistan in prehistoric times. Though it was suppressed by Durga and Mahadev, it resurfaced after being duly Islamised sometime in the past couple of hundred years — perhaps even later for we do not hear of Nani in history. Surely if such a saintly woman had been known, she would have featured in the annals of the great Chakar Khan Rind or the Brahui rulers of Kalat in whose territories the Pir Ghaib and Bibi Nani shrines lay.

The question is, how did Inana or Ishtar reach Balochistan from distant Mesopotamia? Now, the cuneiform texts that preserve Mesopotamian mythology and history date back to about five hundred thousand years.

Since cuneiform texts have been deciphered, we know Mesopotamian tales such as their creation myth or the Epic of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk whom Ishtar attempted to seduce. From those texts we have learned the names of the Mesopotamian pantheon. But here in the Sindhu Valley, the few fragments of text that we have unearthed have proved frustratingly undecipherable so far. Consequently, we know no prehistoric tales from our ruined cities.

If some day archaeologists find a large body of Sindhu Valley text, they might be able to decipher it. Then perhaps we might learn that Inana or Nani was indeed a goddess from Moenjodaro or Harappa, who having been taken abroad by our ancestors was adopted as Inana in Mesopotamia. Until then, we can only guess.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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My Books

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

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days