Mauritius


Mauritius
   The British acquired the island nation of Mauri-tius in the Indian Ocean from the French in 1814 as part of the Treaty of Paris. Sugar production on the island flourished under the British, who imported large numbers of African slaves to work on plantations. Prior to 1835, almost 70 percent of the population of Mauritius was of African descent. After the abolition of slavery, British officials began in 1835 to employ indentured ser-vants from India to fill the labor shortage on the island. Since that time, the migration of Indians to the island has steadily increased. Indians of all faiths now constitute about 68 percent of the total population.
   Most Hindus in Mauritius were from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in northern India and Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in southern India. Many migrated to escape the drought and poverty that had ravaged regions of India during much of the mid-19th century. Others were enticed by the prospects of owning land. Large numbers of migrants from India continued to enter Mauritius until 1922, when contracts of indentured servi-tude were discontinued.
   From their first days in Mauritius, Hindus were much more organized and had greater politi-cal leverage than their compatriots in other colo-nies with sizable Indian populations. Conditions for the indentured laborers were deplorable, but Hindus did not face severe persecution because of their religion. Throughout their residence in Mauritius, Hindus established temples, gained recognition of their religious festivals as public holidays, and maintained frequent contact with the Indian homeland. When MOHANDAS KARAM-CHAND GANDHI visited Mauritius in the early 20th century he was impressed by the social justice and activism of the Hindu population on the island. Overall, Hinduism has enjoyed success and lon-gevity there.
   The earliest temples were constructed in the mid-1880s on the sugar estates by traders and indentured laborers. They were dedicated to Annam and KARTTIKEYAN, or Murugan. At present there are over 250 Hindu temples on Mauritius.
   Temples serve as centers for many traditional Hindu festivals. MAHASHIVARATRI, SHIVA’S Great Night, is one of the largest. The annual celebra-tion is designated a national holiday for those of North Indian descent. The festival involves a nine-day ceremony of fasting that concludes with a night-long worship service to Shiva. Other popular festivals in Mauritius include Thai Pusam, a celebration of the South Indian God Murugan. The festival is recognized officially as a Tamil holiday, but Hindus of all origins join the celebration of the deity. DIVALI, the festival of lights, is another popular festival proclaimed as a national holiday, in which both Hindus and non-Hindus celebrate. During the height of Divali observances, Hindu temples and Christian churches are lit with many earthen lamps to sym-bolize dispelling the darkness of ignorance. The festival of Divali represents religious solidarity across ethnic barriers.
   Hindus in Mauritius have established strong traditions of both VAISHNAVISM and SHAIVISM. Addi-tionally, reform movements such as ARYA SAMAJ have increased in popularity over recent years. In 2000, a celebration of the 125th anniversary of Arya Samaj drew over 15,000 people to more than 165 fire rituals.
   Other organizations that have made their home in Mauritius over the decades include the INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CON-SCIOUSNESS, the VEDANTA RAMAKRISHNA SOCIETIES MAT H AND MISSION, the Chinmayananda Mis-sion, and the Swami Lakshmanacharya Vishwa Santi Foundation. In 1983, Swami Krishnananda converted an infirmary established in 1888 in Calebassus into an ASHRAM and AYURVEDIC health care center that houses over 200 poor and needy residents.
   Hindus in Mauritius still frequent pilgrimage centers in India, even as several sites have been established on the island for pilgrimages. One such destination is Spiritual Park, established in 1999 by Satguru Sivaya SUBRAMUNIYASWAMI, to house worship, music, education, and other activ-ities. The park features three eight-foot statues of GANESHA, Dakshinamurti, and Lord Murugan (KARTTIKEYAN), hand-carved in MAHABALIPURAM, India.
   Hinduism remains the dominant religion of Mauritius. A 2000 census estimated that there are over 500,000 Hindus on the island, making up to 44 percent of the total population.
   See also Diaspora.
   Further reading: Somdath Bhuckory, Profile of the Hindu Community (Port Louis, Mauritius, n.p. 1972); Marina Carter, Voices from Indenture: Experiences of Indian Migrants in the British Empire (New York: Leices-ter University Press, 1996); Chand S. Seewoochurn, Hindu festivals in Mauritius (Quatre Bornes, Mauritius: Editions Capuchins, 1995).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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