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Hingol Cultural Landscape

Date of Submission: 12/04/2016
Criteria: (iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Government of Pakistan, Directorate General of Archaeology
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: N25 36 E65 40
Ref.: 6109

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Hinglaj Mata Mandar is an ancient but living cultural landscape located in Hingol National Park on the Makran coast of the Arabian Sea, approximately 190 km west of Karachi. A famous Hindu religious place, it is situated in a mountain cave on the bank of the Hingol River. This is an ancient holy place that predates the Arab invasion and the advent of Sufism in Sindh and is linked to the Charani tradition of goddess worship. Hinglaj Mata Mandar is a Shakti Peetha, one of many places in the sub- continent where the consecrated ashes of the goddess Shaktior Sati, the female principal of Hinduism are worshipped. Hindus believe that the head of goddess Sati fell in the area of Hinglaj Mata when her body was dismembered by Vishnu and it has remained a revered pilgrimage site for Hindus. Local Muslims also revere the place, calling it Nani Mandar, and serve as custodians of the cave temple.

The area was declared reserved in 1988. It is the largest National Park of Pakistan with an area of 6,190km2. The park is named for the Hingol River which flows through it, forming an estuary as it enters the Arabian Sea. Hingol National Park contains a diverse range of landscapes from the depths of the Arabian Sea to the intertidal, beaches and the estuary of the Hingol River to the Dhrun Mountains with its highest point at 1,580 m asl. Large tracts of the park are covered with drift sand and can be classified as coastal semi desert with arid montane and rugged rmud rock formations along the coast. These mud rock formations are a mass of east-west folds, created by the northward thrust of the Indian Ocean plate under the continental crust, characterized by deep and barren rocky gullies, steep cliffs and caves.

The shrine is located in one of these natural caves on a stream leading to the Hingol River. There is no temple structure, just a low mud altar and a small stone worshipped as the goddess. Throughout the year, thousands of Hindus visit the Hinglaj Mata Mandar out of which more than 5,000 come in the month of April at their religious gathering known as “Hinglaj Mata Teerath Yatra and Shri Hinlaj Seva Mandli”. The rituals of the shrine are firmly connected to its landscape. Worshippers enter the ravine and are channelled through the rocky trench, pausing at points in the landscape for religious observance. The large, overhanging cave opening appears marked by bright coloured flags and an undying flame. Pilgrims enter deep into the cave and leave the cave-temple through its narrow openings, and are thought to be reborn upon completing this ritual.  

Worshippers also visit the mud volcanoes which are a special feature of the park. Mud volcanoes are associated with subduction zones and the Makran coastal area is close to a point where three major tectonic plates – namely Eurasian, Arabian and Indian plates meet. There are about ten locations in Hingol and Hinglaj area having clusters of mud volcanoes, the most important being Chandragup and Khandewari volcanoes, sacred to the followers of the Vedas who pause there on their pilgrimage to Sri Mata Hinglaj.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Hinglaj Mandar is an outstanding example of an organically evolved landscape: resulting from an initial religious imperative and developed its present form by association with and in response to its natural environment. It is a continuing landscape in that “it retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life, and in which the evolutionary process is still in progress. At the same time, it exhibits significant material evidence of its evolution over time”.

The stark but beautiful landscape of Hingol National Park is a vivid example of how a natural setting can provide the cultural spaces for religious observances. Worshippers must walk over rocky outcrops and between steep cliffs along the Hingol River where there is ritual bathing. They reach the low opening in the cliff face leading to the temple and gather in huge numbers. The cave itself is a landscape feature which takes on religious meaning and plays a pivotal function in the enactment. In colorful files, pilgrims climb the hundred-meter high cone of Chandragup and Khandewari mud volcanoes singing their hymns as they go and on the summit pitch coconuts into the bubbling mud to seek bestowal of divine favours. The ritual associated with Hinglaj Manda has developed in clear response to the natural environment in which it takes place.

Criterion (iii): The veneration and worship of Hinglal Mata at the cave temple within the boundary of Hingol National Park bears exceptional testimony to a powerful religious tradition which has continued uninterrupted for more than a thousand years despite changes in the religious balance of the region.

Criterion (vi): The cultural landscape of Hinglaj Mata worship is both directly and tangibly associated with the fundamental Hindu belief in the goddess Shaktior Sati, the female principal of Hinduism whose body was dismembered by Vishnu, the pieces scattered across the sub-continent, marking centers of worship where they fell.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Temple and its landscape setting are virtually unchanged after many centuries of use. There have been constant additions and removals in the form of ritual offerings and objects, renewal of flags and decorations. But the authenticity of use, traditions and meaning, ritual and intangible heritage, setting and, most strikingly, spirit of place have remained intact through the centuries.

All the required attributes of the OUV of this religious landscape are included within the boundary of Hingol National Park: the ritual pathway through the rocky trench, the Hingol River, sacred mud volcanoes, and the cave itself with its outer entrance and inner sacred chambers. It is of adequate size to represent all aspects of the cultural landscape and the natural and religious processes that reflect its OUV. Due to its protected status as a national park there are no development pressures while its constant use as a sacred site ensures that it doesn’t suffer from neglect.

Comparison with other similar properties

There are a number of cave temple properties inscribed on the World Heritage list but the values and attributes that contribute to their OUV are not comparable to those of the Hinglaj cultural landscape. Properties in the region such as the Ellora Caves (1983), Elephanta Caves (1983) and the Cave Temples of Mahabalipuram (1984), all in India, feature large and complex cave assemblages cut into the cliffs creating sophisticated rock architecture. The elaborate spaces are decorated with mural paintings, statues of all sizes and carved reliefs, perfect expressions of Indian art. The same is true of the Golden Temple of Dambulla (1991Sri Lanka).

Buddhist cave grottoes in China, such as the Longmen Grottoes (2000) and the Yungang Grottoes (2001) are also massive complexes with over 250 caves full of statues that represent the outstanding achievements of Buddhist cave art in the 5th and 6th centuries. These World Heritage properties are all “masterpieces of human creative genius” in stark contrast to Hinglaj Mata Mandar which is a humble sacred space visited through the centuries by pilgrims associated with caravan trade, horse rearing and pastoral nomads.

Unlike many of the World Heritage cave temple properties, Hinglaj Mata Manda continues to be a vibrant living religious centre, enshrining centuries of tradition. Other living cave temples can be found in the region, for example, the Batu Cave Temple in Malaysia which serves as the focus of the Hindu community's yearly Thaipusam festival and the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Pindaya Caves in Shan State, Myanmar. These sites have been developed as major tourist attractions with tourism infrastructure, lighting and attractions such as giant statues and rock climbing centres.

The OUV of Hinglaj cultural landscape is based on a very different range of attributes then these properties, and with its emphasis on the integration of landscape and religious meaning and the high value of the site’s integrity and authenticity it will add to the richness of the World Heritage list.