Religions of Mauritius
Religion in Mauritius
Mauritius has a population of 1.2 million inhabitants where people of different religions cohabit in harmony. As Mauritians are usually religious people, the major festivals celebrated here are of religious nature. The main religions of the country are Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism.
For those visiting Mauritius during one of these festivals, it is really worth wandering around, as most of these festivities have traditional rituals attached to them that are often pleasant to experience.
Divali is known as the Festival of Lights. Originally celebrated by the Hindus, today many people follow the traditions of lighting up their houses for Divali. Small clay oil lamps or electric bulbs are used to decorate houses, symbolising the victory of good over evil. A lot of main city streets are decorated with electric light chains during this festival usually celebrated around October/November. It is thus a tradition for Mauritians to drive around main cities to have a look at decorated houses and city streets. There are usually huge traffic jams in main cities on that night. A particular aspect of this festivity is the lot of small cakes that are cooked and distributed among family members, neighbours, colleagues, and friends.
Maha Shivaratree, meaning the Great night of Shiva, is a Hindu celebration to Lord Shiva. During this festivity, devotees dress up in white and walk up to "Grand Bassin" or Ganga Talao, a natural lake on the central plateau considered to be a Holy Lake by Mauritians of Hindu faith. During this pilgrimage, thousands of Mauritians make up the "kanwar", a wooden arch, decorated with flowers, papers, as well as tiny mirrors, or representations of religious divinities. The kanwar is sometimes so big that 3 or 4 people are required to carry it. Religious celebrations take place during the Great night of Shiva at the Ganga Talao, and pilgrims usually take some water from the Holy Lake to take home. This festival usually takes place in February.
Holi is known as being the festival of colours. This festival celebrated by Mauritians of Hindu faith takes place in March and consists in splashing coloured water and powder on one another throughout singing and dancing around.
Those who happen to be passing by will not be spared and might end up covered in orange, purple or yellow powder.
This Hindu festival celebrated in August or September and is a commemoration of Lord Ganesh, who is represented with an elephant head. Traditionally, Hindus go to riverbanks or to the seaside to immerse effigies of Lord Ganesh.
A lot of Hindus converge to the beach to celebrate Ganga Asnan. Beaches like Albion, Belle Mare, Baie du Tombeau, Blue Bay, Flic-en-Flac, Mon Choisy, Pereybere, Pointe aux Roches, Pointe aux Sables and Tamarin are places where they converge to purify themselves in the sea. They usually bring items like coconuts, bananas, camphor that they use as part of the religious rituals and prayers.
This festival is celebrated in late January/early February by Mauritians whose Indian ancestors originate from the Tamil Nadu region and make up the Tamil community. After a fasting period, devotees have their cheeks, tongues and chests pierced with long needles. As they walk bare foot to the temple, they carry a wooden yoke decorated with flowers and palm leaves. They are considered to be in trance and also practise fire-walking and sword-climbing which can be quite impressive.
Varusha, celebrated in mid-April, is the symbol of the New Year for the Tamil community.
As for Ougadi, it symbolises yet another New Year, that of the Telegu community. The tradition for the celebration of Ougadi is to go to temple and then distribute sweets to friends and family members.
Chinese New Year
For the Community of Chinese origin, the Spring Festival is the most important moment of the year. It is celebrated in late January/early February, depending on the lunar calendar. Houses are thoroughly cleaned on the eve of the Spring Festival which symbolises the Chinese New Year. Some people visit pagodas and on the day itself, families get together and celebrate with an abundance of food. There are strong symbols associated to this festival. Fire crackers are lit, the louder the better, to chase evil spirits. The use of knives and scissors is also banned on this day.
The red colour is given great importance as a symbol of happiness. The local China Town hosts special celebrations and the traditional Chinese dragon and lion dances are performed.
Eid Ul Fitr
Ramadhan is the month of fasting for the Muslim community, during which they do not eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. Eid Ul Fitr celebrates the end of Ramadhan. Usually the men go to the Mosque, and as part of the celebrations of Eid Ul Fitr, they exchange gifts, food and cakes. It is also a time where donations have to be made to the poor.
More commonly known as Abraham's Sacrifice, this festival celebrated by the Muslim community sees the sacrifice of sheep or goats in ceremonial slaughter. Traditionally, the meat is shared with members of the family and with friends.
Christian celebrations: Easter and Christmas
These celebrations are pretty much the same as in Europe, with a Holy week of Christian celebrations followed by lamb roast for lunch and Easter chocolates for friends and family. For Christmas, which represents the birth of Jesus Christ, a Christmas tree is set up in the house and decorated, and gifts are bought for family members and friends, and families usually gather around a meal.
Father Laval Day
On September 9, Mauritians of Christian belief, as well as some of other religious beliefs walk to the shrine of Father Laval in Sainte Croix, a suburb of Port-Louis. This French missionary came to Mauritius in 1841, and is known for having converted a lot of freed slaves to Catholicism. He is now the symbol of compassion and love in the country, particularly within the Catholic community.
All Saints Day
All Saints Day is much celebrated by the Catholic community. On that day, cemeteries literally burst with flowers with people putting flowers on the graves of their beloved ones, usually after having been to church.