Maha Shivratri, or sometimes Maha Shivratree, is by many regarded as the most important hindu festival in Mauritius.
It is being celebrated in February/March each year in honour of Lord Shiva, and is spanning over three days.
The hindu celebration Maha Shivaratri is preceded by up to a month long fasting period for true devotees, but very often this period is shorter, and for some, it consists only of a 24 hour fasting period during the Shivaratri.
During the days of celebration, thousands of devotees make their way on foot to the sacred lake of Grand Bassin, also known as Ganga Talao in Mauritius – a crater lake tucked away in the mountainous south west of Mauritius.
The devotees carry their kanwars – wooden frames decorated with flowers, and once at the lake, flowers and fruits are offered in honour of Lord Shiva.
During Maha Shivaratri, the holy water of Grand Bassin is collected at the lakeside, and brought back home, later to be offered to Lord Shiva in local temples and Mandirs around the island. A Mandir is a hindu place of worship, typically dedicated to a specific deity and decorated with statues of the deity in question.
The Shivaratri literally means ‘the night of Shiva’, and it is essentially a purification ritual followed by deep prayers. Prayers to Lord Shiva during the Maha Shivaratri are believed to free devotees of past sins, and greetings and sign posts all over Mauritius typically wishes a ‘pious Maha Shivaratri’.
The Maha Shivaratri in Mauritius is a vast festival, and hundreds of thousands of the hindu population make their way to Grand Bassin during the event. This practically means that many services elsewhere are shut down during Maha Shivaratri, and the traffic situation across the island can be very unpredictable to say the least.
Visitors are welcome to observe the celebrations but it is advisable to dress modestly, and shoes should always be removed before entering hindu temples.
Grand Bassin is also home to the impressive and much photographed 33 metre tall Lord Shiva statue, situated at the grand entrance of Grand Bassin.
For many tourists and other visitors to the island, the lake is also a popular place for spotting colonies of Macaque monkeys, attracted by the vast amounts of fruit sacrificed around the lake. More info on monkeys in Mauritius can be found in this article.
Maha Shivaratree 2012 occurs around the 20th of February 2012, which is also a public holiday in Mauritius.