Hinglaj Devi

Identity, Change, and Solidification at a Hindu Temple in Pakistan

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Jürgen Schaflechner
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , January
     360 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Hinglaj Devi: Identity, Change and Solidification at a Hindu Temple in Pakistan is a valuable scholarly monograph on the Hindu pilgrimage site Hiṅglaj in Balochistan and a welcome publication on Hindu religious traditions in contemporary Pakistan and on salvific space and pilgrimage travel (tīrthayātrā) in South Asia. The book by Jürgen Schaflechner focuses on history and the contemporary situation of the temple of Hiṅglaj Devī and is interesting and informative for the many ethnographic details it presents and for its careful analysis. There is a lacuna of research on Hindu religious traditions in contemporary Pakistan, the world’s fifth largest Hindu population (six to ten million) according to the author, and the book is an important study. Schaflechner argues that due to the difficult situation of being a religious minority in Pakistan, Hindus need an environment sufficiently distant from urban settlements to thrive, and that Hiṅglaj offers exactly that. 

The book has six chapters, an introduction and conclusion. The Introduction deals with some aspects of the difficult situation for Hindus in Pakistan, with many living a life of “anxious caution” (7). Demonization of India and the characterization of Hindus as the enemy of Islam dominate public discourses such as popular culture and school textbooks in Pakistan, and such views are also presented at the foundation of the two-nation theory, which illustrates the precariousness of the situation for Hindus in Pakistan. Chapter 1 deals with the theoretical foundation of the book, and elaborates on the approach the author calls “the solidification of tradition” of Hiṅglaj, i.e. the attempts to make truth claims about Hiṅglaj authoritative for all pilgrims. The author emphasizes “the performative aspects of truth-claims and their ability to produce the things they produce” (21), and that “different and multiple [Hiṅglajs] subsist in different and multiple worlds” (22). Some historical questions about Hiṅglaj thus remain unanswered.

The second chapter analyzes several dominant discourses of the goddess Hiṅglaj Devī and the pilgrimage traditions associated with her, such as her mention in the Sanskrit sources, as caste and clan goddess in historical and contemporary South Asia, and the shrine’s Zikri-Muslim history, and other processes associated with the goddess and her shrine. Chapter three deals with pilgrimage travel before the construction of a new Makran Coastal Highway in 2001 which changed the dominant motifs in the narratives. The author notes that “there is little in the preecolonial literature regarding the actiual practices of walking  to the Hinglaj shrine” (102), and while novels and a film version in the 1950s contributed to making the pilgrimage known, the author notes that between mid 1960s and mid 1980s the shrine was hardly visited. The popular pilgrimage is a quite recent phenomenon. Chapter 4 deals with the recent changes (i.e. the reinstitutionalization of the pilgrimage by the Hinglaj Sheva Mandali founded in 1986 and the construction of Makran Coastal Highway which gave easy access to the Hiṅglaj site). The author shows that it has become mainly an organized pilgrimage operated by bus and tour operators.

According to Schaflechner, there has been a change in the Hiṅglaj pilgrimage from the kinesthetic experience of pilgrimage to the “place centered” tradition and this has to do with increased accessibility. However,  there has also been a renewed emphasis on walking for gaining access to the salvific power of the site. Pilgrims from India, mainly from Kutch, also visit the shrine, with a number of promised benefits and with a “salvation market” having been developed (170). The chapter contains many good interpretations.

Chapter 5 discusses the theory of spatialization as a process, developed by Henri Lefebvre and interpreted by a number of scholars. The author analyzes terms such as “spatial practice,” “representations of space,” “representational spaces,” or “spaces of representation;” these terms are illustrated by many examples from the Hiṅglaj pilgrimage. This leads, in chapter 6, to a discussion of “the solidification” of the Hiṅglaj pilgrimage tradition, by which the author refers especially to attempts by the dominant Lohana community to institutionalize their interpretations of Hiṅglaj as a homogenous narrative (i.e. to make their truth claims about Hiṅglaj authoritative for all pilgrims). In the conclusion the author notes the scarcity of places for public religious practice for the Pakistaini-Hindu community and the importance of Hiṅglaj for offering such opportunity for public ritual gatherings.

The book confirms the findings of other authors of the centrality of salvific space in the Hindu traditions and the connection of Hindu gods and goddesses to pilgrimage sites. Although Hindu divinities may be worshipped anywhere, they are known to have their most powerful manifestations at specific sites, which are often believed to be their geographical homes, and religious travel to these sites is believed to have salvific results. Religious travel to Hiṅglaj combines the focus on geographical sites, mythology, and religious identity. In addition, the dominance of the economic and political dimensions of pilgrimage sites tends to make their traditions malleable and adjustable, and the sites typically undergo rapid changes due to economic and political developments. Schaflechner argues that economic regulations have made Hiṅglaj a pilgrimage center for the affluent Hindus and that the current growth of the Hiṅglaj pilgrimage is due to the tireless attempts by Hindu organizations in Pakistan to make Hiṅglaj Devī a main center of Hinduism. The author shows how the pilgrimage site of Hiṅglaj “has increasingly become a unifying socioreligious public space for myriad of diverse Hindu communities” (249). The book analyzes communities that claim Hiṅglai as their ritual space, and shows how the Lohana community and their organization Hinglaj Sheva Mandal have succeeded in the homogenization of the traditions of the shrine. The book is a detailed textual, historical, and ethnographic study of this homogenization process, and is very valuable as a documentation of contemporary developments.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Knut A. Jacobsen is Professor of the Study of Religion at the University of Bergen in Norway.


Date of Review: 
February 25, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jürgen Schaflechner is assistant professor in the Department of Modern South Asian Languages and Literatures, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg.



Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.