Maha Shivaratri Hindu Festival

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Africa » Mauritius
February 21st 2020
Published: February 21st 2020
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Friday 21st February

Maha Shivaratri Hindu Festival

49% of the population of Mauritius are Hindus, followed by Christians (32%), Muslims (17%), and Buddhists (0.4%).

When the sun sets on the day of Maha Shivaratri, the celebrations begin with the festival honouring the much-loved deity Lord Shiva.

The festivities of Maha Shivaratri actually last a few days and allows thousands of devotees to make the pilgrimage to the sacred lake. Interestingly, the Mauritius Maha Shivaratri festival is the biggest Hindu pilgrimage that takes place outside of India.

During this time, thousands upon thousands of devotees worship, light incense, chant, pray and make offerings to the gods in the form of the leaves from the sacred Bael Tree, or in the form of fruits and vegetables.

Those who observe the festival journey in droves to the incredible Ganga Talao lake, which is said to be a holy lake. This lake serves as the centre of the festival. According to historical records, pilgrimages to Ganga Talao, which is actually set in an old volcanic crater in a mountainous, lush southwest region of Mauritius, started in 1898, and people have come here during Maha Shivaratri ever since.

Legend has it that this lake was seen in a vision and it is said to be linked to the Ganges in India, which holds profound meaning for the Hindus, many of which are descents of the Indian indentured labourers of Mauritius. The very first pilgrimage lasted for days and saw those who participated braving dark nights, muddy lands, dense forests and mosquito-infested swaps in order to collect water from the sacred lake to offer to Lord Shiva in the devotees’ home temples. This marked the first time that Maha Shivaratri was celebrated in Mauritius.

The preparation for Maha Shivaratri and the annual pilgrimage to the lake begins weeks before the festival. In this time, devotees create colourful structures made out of bamboo and adorned with paper decorations, bells, mirrors and flowers, called Kanwars. These structures symbolise obedience, gratitude and surrender to the divine will. Some people take up to a month to create their Kanwar, and many of them are very impressive, with some of the younger generation competing to see who can make the best structure.

When devotees arrive at Ganga Talao during Maha Shivaratri, they pray, make offerings at one of the many shrines dotted around the lake and collect sacred water from the lake to pour on their own Shiva lingams, the symbolic representations of Lord Shiva. It is believed that this act of bathing Lord Shiva has the power to purify the soul, and allows devotees to attain salvation. Many of the very devoted pilgrims stay at the lake for overnight prayer rituals and to fast.

Once the festival is over, the Kanwars are immersed in the lake. Those that make the journey back home on foot often take up to a week to complete the trek. What is wonderful is that they are greatly supported by the community during the pilgrimage to and from the sacred lake. Pilgrims are given food and drink, and temple halls and temporary shelters are made available for pilgrims to take breaks and even sleep.

On our first ever visit to Mauritius 20 years ago we visited this beautiful lake & experienced people making offerings to the various Gods although not at this time of the year.

I cannot take credit for the photographs. Photographers unknown

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