Maha Shivaratri is one of the festivals to which the Hindu community in Mauritius is most fervent. According to the lunar calendar, it is celebrated on the moonless day of the month of phalguna. Rendezvous at the sacred lake of Grand Bassin, destination of any devotee who begins the pilgrimage of Maha Shivaratri on the road to Bois Chéri. Maha Shivaratri means “the night of Lord Shiva”. The prayer lasts all night long. Shiva is one of the three masters of the holy Hindu trinity. A contradictory symbol, he is both creator and destroyer of the deity.
In Mauritius, during the ten days preceding the Great Night, the believers abstain from eating meat and drinking alcohol and remain chaste. Every day, they make prayers and implore the protection of Shiva. Three days before Shiva’s Great Night, Mauritius offers a unique picture with thousands of believers leaving from the four corners of the island and embarking on a gigantic pilgrimage on foot on the road of Bois Chéri, singing holy prayers.
The faithful then travel in procession from Bois Chéri to the sacred Grand Bassin lake. In groups, the pilgrims dressed in white carry on their shoulders their kanwar which has been prepared with care: this kind of altar or arch traditionally made of bamboo, is decorated with red and white paper flowers, multicoloured bells, garlands, small mirrors and representations of Shiva.
During this pilgrimage, men, women and children sing the glory of God. The Maha Shivaratri provides a great opportunity for social interaction, with the participation of Mauritians of different religious denominations. Accustomed to this annual pilgrimage, they offer refreshments and food at the roadside to the faithful on their way to the sacred lake. Fraternity, equality and solidarity animate all spirits.
On arriving at Ganga Talao, pilgrims pray and pour water on the Shiva lingam, the sacred stone representing it. Throughout the Great Night following the arrival of the pilgrims on the fourth day, the devotees strive to satisfy Shiva by fasting, reading sacred texts and making offerings. Then, according to custom, to conclude the fast and the homage to Shiva, the pilgrims share a meal consisting of dates, nuts, sweet potatoes and crushed rice.