Tuesday, 31 January, 2023
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Hindu religion in Mauritius

Chinmay Prasun Biswas

Hindu religion in Mauritius

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While talking about Hinduism the first country that comes to mind is India. The culture that once existed in India was practised from Afghanistan to Indonesia. Even today, some archaeologists believe that Hinduism was widespread in the west including the Middle East and to some extent in Germany. Mauritius is one of the four Hindu-majority countries in today’s world.

Mauritius was once a part of the United Kingdom. It gained independence from Britain on 12th March, 1968. Even after the British left Mauritius there was a chair for the British queen. However, this post of British queen as the head of state was abolished in 1992. One thing is very important to mention that the point of poverty comes first in our mind when we think of Africa. But Mauritius is one of the richest countries in Africa. Corruption and terrorism are two major factors behind poverty of many countries in African region, but these two have no place in Mauritius.

According to Worldometre,   present population of Mauritius is around 13 million of which about 7.5 million are followers of the traditional Hindu religion followed by Christians (32%, most of them are Catholics), Muslims (17%) and Buddhists (0.4%). On the basis of percentage of Hinduism among population Mauritius ranks 3rd m the world, next to India and Nepal. According to one estimate, the number of Hindus in Mauritius will increase upto 90% in next 25 years. The report cites Hinduism as the religion of peace and humanity in Mauritius. 

When Mauritius gained independence from the British rule most of its population were from Indian heritage. According to Patrick Eisenhower, about 70% of the total population of Mauritius are of Indian origin. They identify themselves as Hindus and constitute more than 50% of the total population. As most of the people are of Indian origin, it is not surprising that clothes of the people of Mauritius are completely Indian. Local people here wear sarees, salwars, kameez and dupatta as seen in India (also Bangladesh). 

Hinduism spread in Mauritius through Arya Society. The position of Arya Society, established in 1911, is very strong there. This organisation was registered in 1913 as Arya Paropkarini Sabha (Arya Benevolent Service). Since inception this organisation, led by Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati, has played a major role in the development of religion, education and culture of the Hindu people. Notable among these were the prevention of child marriage and spread of women’s education. As a result, Hindus in Mauritius viewed Aryan society as a symbol of progressive thought. Arya Samaj established orphanages, primary and higher educational institutions there.

However, it is worth mentioning that although the Arya Samaj was established in Mauritius in 1911, teachings of Arya Samaj reached there in 1896 by the members of the British Indian Army. Bholanath Tiwari, Subedar of the 1st Bengal Infantry, was a follower of Arya Samaj there. The troops left Mauritius in 1902, but left behind a copy of the Truth and Reform Act. Being inspired by that book Bakarilal Singh, Lal Khemlal and Guruprasad Duljit unofficially established the Arya Samaj in the city of Curepipe in 1903. These three were concerned about the decline of Hindu society there. Their work started awakening the Hindus here.

The main languages spoken by the Hindus in Mauritius at home and in business are Creole, Bhojpuri, Tamil and Hindi. Politically active Hindus use Hindi as their mother language and ancestral language of the states, as well as an assurance against colonial discrimination However, most of the Hindus primarily use Creole in their daily lives. Along the flow of time a synchronic language has been developed among the Indians and Africans in this island state. 

According to O’Dwyer Holeup and other scholars, the Hindus who settled in Mauritius did not adopt the racist system and cross-border restrictions. Some scholars, however, have observed that this may be due to the fact that economic and political conditions of the Indian workers introduced to the host society were not conducive to the maintenance of caste as a social principle. As all Indian workers i.e. porters, along with their organisation were doing the same kind of work and were sharing the same lifestyle.

The Hindus of Mauritius celebrate Diwali (festival of light) as their major festival. Moreover, Maha Shivratri (Great Night of Shiv) is also one of the largest Hindu festivals there. During this annual Hindu celebration in February and March four to nine-day ceremonies and fasting for worship of Lord Shiv are held. Other important Hindu festivals in Mauritius include: Thaipusam (honouring Lord Murugan), a South Indian deity revered by Muruga. It is especially observed by Tamil Hindus. Ganesh Chaturthi i.e birthday of Lord Ganesh is another important HIndu festival in Mauritus. Durga Puja is celebrated for nine days. Ugadi / Gudi Padwa (Hindu new year), Holi (the festival of colours). Pongal / Makar Sankranti (a harvest festival) are also observed with great pomp. Festival days of Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali are public holidays in Mauritius.

Though a Hindu-majority country Muslims are not neglected in Mauritus. The country’s famous Muslim scientist Amina Gharib-Fakim, Director General of Physiotherapy Research Centre was nominated as President by Prime Minister Sir Anirudh Jagnnath (father of present prime minister Provind Kumar Jagannath). Her nomination was unanimously approved by the parliament and she was elected as the first woman as well as Muslim president of Mauritus in June 2015. Thus, Mauritius has established a bright instance of communal harmony. 

 

The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes