Mauritius : God's own Island in the Sun

    "Please tighten your seat belts.... " The six hour flight from Bombay to  Mauritius is about to be over.  In flush of excitement you peep down through the window of  the aero plane  to catch your first glimpse of the island nation.  Waving sugarcane fields interspersed  with houses here and there, impressive mountain ranges azure seas and exotic white beaches greet you. Even before you touch down you are convinced that your stay  in this beautiful island resort is beyond to be memorable one.  The famous quote from the inimitable Mark Twain God created Mauritius first and then  heaven ' comes to mind.

    Independent since 1968 and democratic by tradition, Mauritius is a jewel set in the Indian ocean.  The people are unique for their sheer diversity in spite of the smallness of the place : Indians Creoles, Muslims, French, Chinese and an intoxicating range of mixtures. Not are they beautiful people with soft feature and and infectious smiles, but they also contribute to make Mauritius the most cosmopolitan island under the sun. 

    An island of volcanic origin, more than 50 million years old, it was first discovered by the Arabs in the 16th century.  Later, it was visited by the ubiquitous Portuguese and colonised  by the Dutch., the French, and finally the British, Indian were first brought to the island as coolies under private contract in the regime of the French Governor Mahe de  Labourdonnais in the 1750s. They worked very hard, especially in the sugarcane fields, and and helped the island to prosperous.  Afterwards, Sir Seewoosagur Ram Goolam, an Indian settler from a Hindu Background, became instrumental in winning freedom for the country. 

    Mauritius has no high rises, no concrete jungles, no charter flights, no mass tourism and no social or environmental pollution.  But it has plenty of virgin beaches embraced by coral reefs, translucent waters, and wonderful landscape.  Within its 720 sq. mile area there are more than 1000 miles of good roads lined with bougainvillea and flame trees, violet moonscaped  mountains, deep craters and thick forests where the now extinct Mauritius bird dodo abounded admist the beautiful ebony trees before the coming of Dutch. Besides there are plenty of tumbling streams, twisting rivers and waterfalls.  The village are hidden in lush coastal vegetation.  The plateau towns have charming old colonial houses blended with modern buildings.

   The heavenly beaches of this coral island are among its most prized treasures where you can indulge in any water sport you fancy.  From water skiing, wind surfing, sailing and snorkelling to big - game fishing or scuba diving -- the choice is entirely yours. It is hardly surprising that visitors should spend their golden between sun bathing on the power-soft sands and swimming in the warm waters of the lagoons. The entertainment at the beaches is at its peak  on Sundays and other holidays when various cultural troupes perform captivating Sega dance (of African origin) which is equally popular among the natives and the visitors.  Truly, Mauritius has all the exotism  of the most exotic resorts but none of their scars. It is indeed a paradise

    Today, about 60 percent of  the one million Mauritians are people of Indian origin mostly from Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra.  Naturally, Indian customs, traditions, religious festivals, languages and cultures play a significant role. Visitors from India are warmly welcomed and shown great respect because they come from the land of their forefathers.

    The names of the people are still mostly Indian, though they are written and pronounced in a different way.  Most people you meet are  eager to know the meanings of their names.

    The other topic that invariably seek your comments on the various films and TV serials. The people invariably seek your comments on the various films they have seen and ask whether you have met any of their favorite film stars in person. Religion and politics are equally not favourites. 

    As a rainbow island, the culture of  Mauritius is all inclusive, but Indian religious festivals and ceremonies have predominant place. Marriages are performed in much the same way as in India except that only a few are arranged by the parents. Hindu temples are scattered all over the island.  In addition, all Hindus have private temples in front of  their houses dedicated to Mahabir Swami.  Raksha Bhandhan, Maha Shivratri, Holi, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali and most other important festivals are celebrated with great enthusiasm and devotion.

    Among the two most popular native festivals with Indian flavour are Ganga Sanan and Cavedee. Ganga Sanan or bath with Ganga waters is performed.  They believe that God made the Ganges to flow down in order to wipe out the sins of his forebearers.

    Mauritius has its own share of holy Ganges because the waters of Gawnokh and Gangotri flow into the Indian ocean.  However, the devotees  have also imported a few gallons of Ganga water and poured into a into a natural reservior alongside a temple which is now called Ganga Talab.  On festivals  days, the devotees in thousands make a pilgrimage to this sacred  sport spot to worship and fetch holy water from the lake.  The whole scene is reminiscent of the grand rituals on the banks of the Holy Ganges.

    The Cavadee is celebrated by the Tamil speaking Snathan Hindu towards mid January to demonstrate their affection and allegiance to Lord Mourougan, son of Shiva.  The main ceremony consist of fire-walking and sword - climbing after ten whole days of fasting.  The devotees pierce their bodies with needles and their tongues and checks with skewers, before they trek along towards their favourite temples bearing  the  'Cavadee' which is wooden arch covered with flowers, with a pot of milk at each end of its base.  Besides walking on fire or climbing on a ladder of razor - sharp sabres, some lie on a bad of nails. All this may seem antithetical to the country's very high literacy rate and newly attained economic freedom, but most Mauritians take pride in having preserved what we in India are rapidly losing because of the growing western influence. 

    There is, however, an effort on the part of modern Indian religious and cultural organisation like the Arya Samaj, Sai Bhajan Mandals. The Indira Gandhi centre for Indian culture often holds lectures, worshops, seminars, conference and quiz competitions on Hinduism as a subject of study at all school till the higher secondary level.

    The prestigious Mahatma Gandhi Institute, established with Indian aid, imparts high quality formal education and gives training in Kathak, Carnatic vocal and tabla, besides organising dramas and dances based on the Ramayana and Mahabharta and inviting Indian cultural troupes. It also arranges to send accomplished Mauritian artist to India to gain further insights into their respective discipline. 

    Hindi along with Creole, French and English, is one of the major languages on the island.  People especially in the villages, like you to speak to them in Hindi. Most of them understand  it, though not all are able to speak it fluently.  Hindi enthusiasts are making great efforts to each Hindi to a large number of desirous students  by organising themselves into Hind Prachin Sabhas.  Hindi classes are held after school hours in the Hindu temples and other available halls. There are ample radio and T V programmes  in Hind which naturally include a lot film songs and features.  The government of India gives scholarships to deserving students to pursue higher studies in India.  The Indian High Commission assists in all such endeavours  by making available related literature and copies of various scriptures.

    The sari, too, is present anywhere and the  latest  Punjabi suits are becoming a craze among the women who feel equally at ease in shirts and skirts.  Visitors from India are often welcomed with folded hands in the manner of universally acknowledge India greeting 'Namaste', though alternatively you could be kissed on both cheeks in the traditional French way.

    The food is mostly cooked in the Indian style and includes among other things rice, fish, vegetables, curries, paped and parantha. Soft drinks often accompany the food which is served in great style.  At the end of meal, a sweet dish is generally served, followed by a hot cup of Indian tea or coffee.

    All, this coupled with the unmistakable Indian hospitality, convinces you beyond any shadow of doubt that you have found a home away from home where you could live happily for the rest of your life.  ◙