Mahashivratree 2011 Mauritius

Mahashivratri is one of the most important Hindu festivals in Mauritius. It is celebrated with utmost devotion by all Hindus and some non-Hindus too. Thousands of foreign Hindus from all over the world and tourists also participate in the prayers and attend the cultural programmes presented by local and foreign artists on that occasion. Many cultural groups, VIPs and professional Pundits are invited from India to boost up the programme.

Shiva devotees and hundreds of Temple’s Associations start preparing this festival, at least, one month before the celebrations.  All great Hindu organizations, together with the para-statal bodies headed by the government of Mauritius, have formed a Task Force, which looks after the infrastructures and arrangements of all Hindu festivals in Mauritius. This year, they started preparations some few months before to review the situation and to add new infrastructures.

Hindu devotees go on pilgrimage to Ganga Talao, (a sacred lake found in the indigenous forest of Petrin situated in the High Plateau of Mauritius) five to the eve of the festival. Ganga Talao is considered to be as sacred as the Ganga River in India. Devotees go on pilgrimage to the lake to take the Ganga water and return back to their respective villages for Mahashivratri prayers. The Task Force assures that the pilgrims reach the lake securely, pray at ease and return safely to their respective locality. Some prefer to pray at the Shiva Temples at Ganga Talao.

Grand Bassin or Ganga Talao is, in fact, was a volcanic crater in the high plateau of Mauritius, which has now turned into a natural lake. Hindus believe that it is the Patal Ganga which finds its source underground. It is situated at some 425 metres above sea level and it is the highest natural lake of the island. It is spread on an area of about 20 arpents and its depth is unfathomable. It is one of the marvels of Mauritius, surrounded by indigenous fauna and flora.

In 1897, a dedicated Shiva devotee, Pandit Jhummun Giri Gossagne, dreamt of the holy lake whose water was as pure as that of Ganga in the Himalayas. He was advised by Shivji to bring that water for Shivabhsheka during the Mahashivratri prayers. Accompanied by seven other fervent devotees, he set out on pilgrimage to Grand Bassin (the original name of the lake) on foot. As there were no roads in the forest, they faced many difficulties to reach the lake through the forest. When they reached the pond they were amazed by the superb scene which was same of what Pandit Gossagne saw in his dream. He named it ‘Pari Talao’ because in his dream, he saw fairies dancing on the small island of the lake. This was the first pilgrimage done in the glory of Lord Shiva in the island of Mauritius.

From mouth to ear, the news about the lake and of his pilgrimage spread throughout the country like wild fire and year after year, the pilgrimage to Pari Talao got impetus. Many rural and urban Hindu societies were formed and they started building Shiva temples in their locality for Mahashivratri prayers. Pari Talao gradually became the mass gathering religious site for Hindus showing their national unity. Though at Pari Talao there were no utility or lodging facilities in the beginning. The convergence to the lake site was becoming more and more impressive.

In 1930, the Hindu Maha Sabha, the greatest Hindu organization of that time, asked the government to proclaim Mahashivratri festival a Public Holiday and the demand was accepted the following year.

In those days, the path leading to Pari Talao was narrow and marshy and descent to the lake dangerous. There were neither catering nor lodging facilities for pilgrims, who started going to Pari Talao some four days before the festival. The Hindu Maha Sabha, the Jai Hind Samaj of Grand Bois and some volunteers took care of the devotees. In 1948, the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund joined in to erect temporary tents for pilgrims, volunteers and pujaris. Public utilities were also made available.

In 1960, a request was made under the Chaimanship of Shri Beekramsing Ramlallah, that the lake be given on lease to the organisation to be developed further. With the approval of the Premier of Mauritius, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Pari Talao, together with the Crown Land surrounding the lake were given to the Hindu Maha Sabha on 99-year lease.

In the same year, the Hindu Maha Sabha decided to unite the Hindu Temples of Mauritius into a federation. Thus, ‘The Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation’ was founded in February 1960. The Federation played and today, plays an important role in receiving subsidy from the government and distributing it among affiliated temple associations which organizes many religious and socio-cultural activities for the uplift of the Hindu community at large.

In 1964, on another demand of the Hindu Maha Sabha jointly with the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, roads leading to Pari Talao were asphalted by the government. On June, 20, 1966, a Shiva Temple, the first, was built and inaugurated at Ganga Talao with the financial help of Shrimati R.K. Boodhun and electricity facilities were provided. At the same time, roads from Mare aux Vacoas to Pari Talao and from Pari Talao to Bois Cheri were asphalted. This development facilitated easy and comfortable access to the holy lake.

As President of the Hindu Maha Sabha and as President of the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation and as Parliament Secretary of the Ministry of Works, Shri Dayanandlall Basant Rai, built roads all around and built stone-stairs access to the lake. Many additional infrastructures were developed, year after year, by the combined effort of the government, para-statal bodies and various socio-cultural organisations.

In 1972, the Head Priest of the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, Acharya Vidya Nidhi Pandey, brought Ganga water from Haridwar and poured it ceremoniously into the lake. As from 21 June 1972, the lake was renamed ‘Ganga Talao’. Since, then Grand Bassin is officially called Ganga Talao by all.

In course of time, Ganga Talao, has been developed into a religious place with the construction of new temples, enlargement of roads, new parking sites and installation of giant statues of Lord Shiva. Ganga Talao has, today, developed into an international religious Hindu site.

This year, on February 20, the festivities started with a Rudra Mahayajya held at Ganga Talao by the Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, which groups 270 Hindi Speaking Temples Associations. The official inauguration of the pilgrimage was launched by the actual Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam on February, 27, 2011, at Ganga Talao. Every night, other main Hindu organizations, like; the Hindu Maha Sabha, the Mangal Mahadeva Trust and other socio-cultural organizations, organised prayers and cultural programmes enhancing the prayers and also entertaining the pilgrims.

The pilgrimage started on February, 25, 2011 with devotees walking from far away villages. Some carried beautiful Kanwars, some pulled beautiful Rathas, others walked with a Trishul or Gada, whereas some only a Jhola to keep the Ganga Jal taken out from the lake.

Devotees always walk in groups singing Shiva Kirtans and reciting ‘Om Namaha Shivaya’ and shouting Jaykaras. They usually have percussion instruments like Dholaks, Jhals and Manjiras or Chimtas to add on to the Kirtans.

People also use cars, buses, trucks and other means of transport to reach the lake and return by foot or by their own means. The bus companies provide 24 hours bus service from different parts of the country to help old, weak and children to reach Ganga Talao.

Many socio-cultural organisations provide non-stop free food to the pilgrims for four consecutive days, on the roads and at Ganga Talao. The police department regulates traffic, in and out of the lake premises. There are many voluntary medical and health services offered by NGOs. Now, there are some temporary stalls for religious organizations which introduce their activities to the devotees.

This year, Ganga Talao received daily, during the four consecutive days, some one hundred to two hundred thousand visitors.  Some owners of a mean of transport visited Ganga Talao more than once. Usually, a trip of half an hour drive took six to nine hours due to increased number of huge Kanwars, Shiv Raths, (floats) pilgrims and traffic, though, the access to the lake was one-way.

In the villages and towns, this year, Mahashivratri prayers were held during the day of March, 2, 2011, and special prayers were said at night, divided into four equal sessions (the Char Pahar Ki Puja) which lasted till dawn.  Some one thousand Sanatanist’s temples; Hindi speaking Shivalay, Tamil speaking Kovils, Marathi speaking Mandir s and Telegu speaking temples,  were all crowded with hundreds of devotees.

The Arya Samaj brothers celebrated Mahashivrati as Rishi Bodh, the Grand Night of Lord Shiva, Mahashivratri, during which the founder of Arya Samaj, Swami Dayanand Saraswati  got inspiration to find the Real Truth. Rishi Bodh was celebrated in more 6than five hundred  Arya Mandirs of the country.