The culture of Mauritius reflects its diverse ethnic composite which was originally bought from their ancestral Countries. The population do have one thing in common and one thing they are all very proud of, “they are all Mauritian”.
Which such diversity of religions and ethnic groups you can expect to see a large variety of festive celebrations marking the various calendar events throughout the year
The Hindi Festival of Lights is celebrated in a spirit of pure joy, in the month of October or November. Small clay lamps line the walls, balconies and yards. They are lit at sunset. Their golden light, which is believed to guide the Goddess of wealth and good fortune, can be seen everywhere. Diwali represents the victory of truth (light) over ignorance (darkness). The Festival of Lights, Diwali, is a celebration of joy, happiness and for many Mauritians, a time for sharing.
This festival is celebrated in January/February. Bodies are pierced with needles, tongues and cheeks with pins, devotees in a trance carry the ‘Cavadi’ on their shoulders as penitence. The ‘Cavadi’ is a wooden arch, covered with flowers and with a pot of milk at each end.
Every September 9, Mauritians of all faiths walk or drive towards the tomb of the Blessed Jacques Désiré Laval, the «Apostle of the Black People» at Ste-Croix, Port-Louis. The belief in Père Laval, to whom powers of healing are attributed, reminds us of the Lourdes Pilgrimage in France.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the 4th day of the lunar month of August/September by Hindus in honour of the birth of Ganesha, God of wisdom.
The Maha Shivaratree is celebrated each year and is in honour of the Lord Shiva. The festival lasts for three days and is celebrated by Hindus from all over the Island who participate in a pilgrimage the Grand Bassin where they sanctify themselves in the waters of the lake.
Grand Bassin is a special religious place for the Hindu people in Mauritius and the water within the lake is supposed to communicate with the water of the holy Ganges River in India. At Grand Bassin the Hindu people offer food sacrifices and collect the holy water, most are dressed in white and the whole experience is said to remind people of the rituals often seen on the banks of the Holy River Ganges. The festival happens between February and March and is well worth a visit to witness.
This Hindu festival is as colourful as the many legends from which it originates. It is above all a festival of joy during which men and women throw coloured water and powder on each other and wish one another good luck. (You may even see the odd pet covered in paint).
The Id-El-Fitr festival signals the end of the Ramadan – the fasting period for Muslim people. Prayers are said in mosques all day long.
Ougadi is the Telugu New Year and is usually celebrated in March. In order to remove all obstacles in life, celebrations and prayers are offered to Lord Ganesh; the God of wisdom and remover of all difficulties.
The word ‘ougadi’ means “start of an era” and this is the celebration of the Hindu New Year, when all is pleasant in the garden and the trees and flowers are blossoming in abundance. It is believed by Hindus that if you are happy on the day of Ougadi, you will be happy throughout the year.
Unlike other festivals you will not see widespread public celebrations; people tend to have a special meal with their family and friends and may attend some cultural shows where prayers said and special food is eaten.
Overall, the day starts with religious rituals such as a purifying wash before dawn, part of which involves using special home-made oils.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated each year on a different date, owing to the differences between the lunar and the solar calendars. Houses are thoroughly cleaned before the festival. No knife or scissors are used on the actual day of the festival. Red, a symbol of happiness is the main colour of the day. Food offerings are made to ensure that the following year will be plentiful and traditional ‘Wax’ cakes are distributed to parents and friends. Firecrackers are set off to drive away the evil spirits.
Traditional Sega Dancing & music
As far back as 1768, travellers to Mauritius were bringing back tales of slaves’ singing and dancing which seemed to their entranced eyes so different and special. The slaves had a passion for music and soft harmonies and using unknown instruments to accompany their songs.
The travellers had all witnessed the magic of the black shega dance or music, or as it soon became known the Sega. They had all heard the music born out of African souls soothed in their lost homelands on rapid drumbeats and pounding rhythms. African souls now caught in an island’s fragrance and soft beauty. From this unison came the Sega and is the traditional dance of Mauritius.
Today you can still see the Sega being performed by various local dance groups and it is worth taking the trouble to make sure you witness this unique dancing and singing extravaganza.