Astola (Satadwip) Island now known as Astola. the name itself is a concatenated distortion of Indo-Iranian words Ashta (eight) and tola (unit) (or it could mean series) or Avestan word ašta (8)/Persian Hasht (The 4 km long and 1 km wide island seems to be a unit made of seven different rock formations. There is a small little island just off them making its units increase from 7 to 8 and ‘tol’ refering to a village or place in Persian. While the Hindus revered the island and went for the ritual animal slaughter at the Kali temple, only its archaeological ruins remain near a Sufi shrine on the island now.
The Hindus still call the island a Saptadwip or Satadip.
Drowning the noise of the motor, a sudden miserable lyric, almost a wail, went off that we took a while to comprehend. “Saat pehar Satadip mein; athwan pehar Hinglaj….,” it went. The boatman, seemingly well-versed in local lore, explained like a teacher, that in terms of cosmic time, Satadip deserves a stay of seven parts while Hinglaj the eighth — the former being the name of Astola in Hindi and the latter being a venerated mountain in Makran Coastal Range, that houses the famous ‘nani ka mandir’ where Hindu pilgrims from afar visit regularly.
Astola Island is situated 25 miles southeast of Pasni. It is on way to Gwadar where a port is being built with Chinese help. Astola is 2.5 miles long and half a mile wide. The highest point on the gently sloping, but largely flat, island is 240 feet above sea level.
The island serves as a way station for fishermen during the fishing season, as they can extend their range with an overnight stay there, rather than having to return to Pasni every evening. The ice cabins in boats can preserve the catch in the hottest of seasons for up to 36 hours. The fishermen carry their own water rations in the absence of fresh water supply on the island.
Of the only two structures on the island, one is a pir’s ‘mazaar’ near the northwestern shallows, said to house the mortal remains of the legendary patron saint of sailors. Our boatman told us that every sailor who disembarks at Astola first visits the pir’s mazaar. “The prayer helps us with a bountiful fish catch and also keeps us from harm at sea,” he maintained. The remains of what was possibly a Hindu temple, with some swastika signs still visible, are located not far from the pir’s mazaar.
The other structure is actually a compound that houses a solar powered lighthouse installed in 1987 to replace an earlier, gas powered one, rusting nearby. This point is also the highest elevation benchmark of the island. The powerful revolving beacon is reported to have a visibility range of 16 miles — when serviceable, it must be added!
No account of travel in Pakistan is complete without Alexander the Great doing a round and Astola is no exception. In Arrian’s ‘Indica’, which describes the westward journey of Alexander’s fleet after the Indus Valley campaign (325 BC), Admiral Nearchus is quoted as having anchored by an island named ‘Carnine’. Some scholars have assumed Carnine to be Astola Island, without considering the extreme aridity and lack of fresh water which renders the place inhospitable. In all likelihood, Carnine was the name of a mud flat isle in the inland sea, presently known as Khor Kalmat. This latter conjecture supports Nearchus’ coast-hugging voyage (which would have kept him well away from Astola), a compulsion meant to provision Alexander’s army that was supposed to have marched along a coastal route; in the event, the forlorn army found itself astray in the hills and vales of the interior, before finally getting out of a treacherous Gedrosia (Makran).
Astola Island is the one of the last frontiers of Pakistan that retain their primeval charm, though litterbugs have done their bit to remind us of the influences of modernity by leaving a trail of juice packets, disposable bottles and the ubiquitous ‘shopper’ plastic bags.
Hinglaj Mandir, Hingol National Park
There are several places that are sacred for Hindus in Balochistan but most famous among them are:
1. Kaali Mandar (Temple) in Kalat.
2. Hinglaaj Mandar (Temple) in Lasbela district, on the bank of Hangol River.
Kaali is a religious personality and most respected among Hindus. Kaali was born in Balochistan. Kaali Mandar (Temple) is a unique temple of Hindus in all over the world. Its main branch is in Kalat Balochistan, and the second part is in Kalkata India. Some historians say that name of Kalat is derived from Kaali’s name.
Hinglaaj is one of the nine sisters most respected in Hinduism. Hinglaaj is said to be the religious head of Hindus all over the World. There is a temple named as Hinglaaj Mandar (Temple) in Lasbela district, Balochistan. Many pilgrims and followers of Hinduism come to visit Kaali Mandar and Hinglaaj Mandar. Many other tombs situated in Balochistan of Hindus.
Total number of Hindus in Pakistan is some 2.6 Million (20 Lakh 60 thousands), and 0.56 Million (5 lakh 60 thousand) of them live in Kalat, Khuzdar, Mastung, Sibi, D.G Khan, D.M Jamali, and Quetta and in some other parts of Balochistan. While 1.0 Million (10 lakh Hindus) live in Thar Parker and other parts of Sindh province. Quetta and Kalat are most important and populated places for Hindus.
Picture : amritendu