One of the things that gives Mauritius its charms is its multicultural population!
People of Chinese, African, European and Indian origin live together in harmony. Indeed, very few countries can pride themselves on being such a peaceful rainbow nation. This rainbow brings with it a rich cultural heritage in terms of dress, food, customs, dance, music, art and festivals.
Ganesha Chaturthi is one such festival.
Celebrated in Mauritius mainly by the Marathi community, the ten-day festival marks the birthday of the deity Ganesha. There are many stories about the origin of Ganesha, but the most famous is the one in which the Goddess Parvati created her son Ganesha from the sandalwood of the body to guard the door while she took her bath. According to Hindu mythology, when her husband Shiva returned home, he was furious at being denied access by Ganesha. In his fury he severed the latter’s head, killing him instantly. Devastated by this sight, Parvati pleaded with him to bring her child back to life. Shiva accepted and asked his soldiers to bring back the head of the first creature lying with its head facing north. They returned with the head of an elephant and Shiva, by placing the animal’s head on Ganesha brought him back to life. Known as the remover of obstacles and the god of new beginnings, Ganesha was also bestowed with the status of being foremost among the gods.
The festivities start ten days before the final ritual with the installation of the Ganesha statue, usually made out of clay, in the house and the final one is marked by the immersion of the statue in the rivers and sea around the country.
These intervening ten days are marked with fasting, prayers and rituals such as group chanting of Vedic hymns accompanied by the jhakri dance – a cultural dance form originating from the Konkan region in India.
On the eve of the final celebration, I had the chance to be invited by the “Maratha Sainik” group to join their procession to various houses and temples and to experience their performance of the jhakri dance. In a troup of about 25 men and one little girl, they dance and chant around the two main singers sitting and playing the dholak, a two-headed drum. Their devotion, the intensity of their adoration, the perfect synchronisation and grace of their movements and the beauty of the rhythm leave one speechless.
The guests present at the performance are offered sweets such as Kanawla, a small fried dumpling filled with coconut, said to be enjoyed by Lord Ganesha. I must say that the Kanawla tastes heavenly and goes very well with a good cup of tea! This festival is full of colours with both men and women seizing the opportunity to wear their traditional dress.The women are elegantly dressed in their Kashta – a traditional Maratha sari, and the men in their kurta and languti.
The last ritual known as Ganpati Visarjan consists of a procession carrying the Ganesha statue to be immersed in a river or the sea while chanting and dancing along the way.
The last prayers and mantra chanting are performed at sunset. The statue is then immersed in water with due reverence, this ritual symbolises the send-off of Ganesha on his journey towards his abode, taking away with him the misfortunes of all men.