Mauritius is the only place where Maha Shivratri is a week-long festival. Maha Shivratri, the Grand Night of Shiva, is celebrated only on a single day around the world including India. But why and how Mauritius became an exception in this matter is a unique story.
Most of all, Mauritians know about the story of Pandit Jhummun Giri of Triolet, who had a dream about a forgotten lake in the south of the island. Pandit Jhummun Giri, with his companion, went on a trip to find out the lost sacred lake. But there is also a back story: That of forgotten Pandit Sanjibonlal. He came to Mauritius as an indentured laborer but as soon as his contract was over, he returned to India.
During his stay as an indentured laborer, he had spotted the divine appeal of Grand Bassin, which remained in his mind and heart after returning to India. He had planned to build a Shiva temple at Grand Bassin. He returned to Mauritius in year 1866 as a merchant via Reunion Island. He brought clothes from India to be sold to the resident laborers. With the money gained, he bought the mansion of Mr Langlois at Triolet and also saved some money to materialize his dream of turning Grand Bassin into a place of pilgrimage.
Panditji had already won the esteem of the French as a landowner, so he easily got permission to put up his project. He went to India and brought back a Shiva-lingam, along with symbols of other deities, and had them consecrated. He was the first to start the pilgrimage towards Grand Bassin following the consecration in 1866. The consecration was a huge festival where he donated land, cart with oxen and huge amount of money to the officiating priests (Chaturvedi and others from Plaine des Papayes.) After the death of Pandit Sanjibonlal, the lake was forgotten, though Panditji became popular as ‘Mousse Langlois ke Baba’. It is believed it was Pandit Sanajibonlal who appeared in the dreams of Jhummun Giri to find the lake and pray to Lord Shiva.
The rest is history. In 1897, Jhummun Giri became the first ‘Kanwarti’ to take ‘kanwar yatra’ from Triolet to Grand Bassin during the festival of Maha Shivratri and since then, the ‘yatra’ and the festival was never forgotten. In fact, the belief to do the ‘kanwar yatra’ to Grand Bassin became stronger every year in Mauritius.
In the meantime, other folk tales were added to Grand Bassin and it got the name of ‘Pari Talao’. It was believed that fairies used to come and dance during the night there.
Later in 1972, the then Prime Minister of Mauritius, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, brought Ganga (Holy) water from Gomukh, India, and mixed it with the water of Pari Talao and renamed it as Ganga Talao.
Ganga, who is always associated with Mahadev Shiva, is the spiritual center of Hinduism in India, the same way as Ganga Talao is the spiritual center of Hinduism in Mauritius.
The world’s biggest gatherings of human beings at Kumbh Mela is held on the banks of the river Ganga in India. Similarly, the biggest gathering of Mauritius is held at Ganga Talao during Maha Shivratri.
It is said that during Kumbh Mela, Amrit, the nectar of immortality, comes out of the Ganga. The same way we in Mauritius can acquire Amrit, by churning the ocean of our soul at Ganga Talao, the same way Gods and Asuras churned the ocean to acquire Amrit.
Ocean churning, popularly known as Samudra Manthana, is one of the best known episodes in the Hindu mythology narrated in the Bhagavata Maha Purana. The Samudra Manthana process released a number of things from the ocean. One of them was the lethal poison known as ‘Halahala’. Shiva drank the poison, he suffered intense pain and Parvati, his consort, couldn’t bear to look at him suffering so much. She immediately placed a hand on his throat, stopping the poison to flow any further forever. As a result, his throat turned blue and he was henceforth called Neela-kantha, the one with blue throat.
Only those who accept the poison can acquire the nectar of immortality. So on this Maha Shivratri, don’t only pray to Lord Shiva but also try to acquire some of his qualities, so that we can call ourselves Shiv Gaami, the person on the path of Shiva.
Happy Maha Shivratri to all devotees!
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