A Shared Cultural Map
The geopolitics around the Indian Ocean has placed Gwadar and Chabahar at the centrestage of an engaging chess game of power. The two ports also have the potential to become part of Indian soft-power diplomacy. The cultural ecology of Gwadar and Chabahar, defined by the idea of “Baloch”, make them suitable for such a project. The Baloch, a semi-nomadic and pastoral community, carry the collective memory of West, Central and South Asia along with the recollections of their connections to the Greeks, as part of their cultural heritage. While they are Muslims, the strains of other beliefs such as Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Sufism influence various aspects of the Balochi cultural heritage. Their language, bardic traditions and traditional knowledge skills comprising linguistics, crafts, performing arts, rituals, and pastoral and agricultural traditions recall a cultural map of different parts of Asia. They encompass an ethos forged through ideas exchanged over centuries through land and sea routes.
One such aspect is the mytho-historical thread that addresses a variety of cults of the Mother Goddess — Ishtar, Nana and Hinglaj, to name a few. The Hinglaj has a special place for the Baloch. The Hinglaj temple is located in the Hingol National Park in Balochistan’s Lasbela District on Pakistan’s Makran coast. It has one of the 51 shaktipeeths, or major shrines associated with the cult of the Mother Goddess. The location of these shrines correspond to places where the dismembered body parts of the goddess fell. Her head fell in Hinglaj. The temple, like that in Vaishno Devi in Jammu, is in a cave among rugged mountains.
The pilgrims to this shrine include not only Hindus but also the Zikri Baloch who call the pilgrimage Nani ki Haj. In spite of the political challenges in the area, the Baloch Muslims continue to protect the Hinglaj temple and ensure the success of the annual fair — a part of their vibrant cultural heritage.
In India, Hinglaj Devi plays an important role in the cultural geography of large number of traders, pastoral and agricultural communities like Khatris, Charans and Rabaris. While the shrine is important for the Shaktas, it has a special significance for the Kan Phata Gorak Nath Yogi (torn-ear ascetics) cult. The sacred stone that lies in the temple shrine has importance in the initiation ceremony of the community. Water bodies or kunds also part of the spiritual landscape. These include the Til Kund (black sesame pond), whose water is believed to turn black seeds white.
While the association of Balochistan with economics, security and other areas of hard diplomacy is well-known, its shared cultural heritage with communities in India makes it amenable to soft power diplomacy. Besides being a part of road and ocean routes, Balochistan can also be a part of a skill corridor. The creation of such a corridor — facilitated by shared cultural ecology and traditional knowledge systems — could lead sustainable skill programmes that draw on people-to-people contact at the grass roots level.