Hindus represent over 50% of the population in Mauritius. Most Indians have been here for generations, descendants of the the indentured laborers who immigrated here in the mid-19th century to work the sugar plantations. There are large Hindu temples in most every town and small temples along the roadside and in front of people's homes. There are several here in Port Louis. In fact, one right next to the Immigration Square Bus Terminal. They are colorful, busy, intricate … almost to the point of garishness, but I find them fascinating.
I'd read about Grand Bassin in the south central part of the country. It's a natural lake high in the hills of Mauritius and it's sacred to the Hindus. Legend has it that the waters of the Ganges River in India flow under the ocean to Grand Bassin, known to the Hindus as Ganga Talao. We took an early morning bus to La Flora, then changed to a bus to Bois Cheri and then caught a collective taxi (shared rides) to the temple. It was quite cool after the heat of the city and it rained off and on during our visit. Figuring out where to go isn't a mystery. You ask and someone points the way. We follow directions well. We knew we had arrived when we saw a huge statue of Shiva, the supreme being in the Hindu religion.
There are temples all around the lake and we just followed the path to visit them. There are few restrictions for visitors. Remove shoes before entering a temple. No consumption of alcoholic beverages in the area. Be respectful of the temple and those praying. Otherwise, we were free to wander, observe and learn a bit. The first temple was absolutely beautiful. Perched high on a hill overlooking the lake, there was an archway which led down a steep flight of stairs to the water where the actual temple was located.
We walked along the lake's edge keeping a respectful distance from those worshiping. We caught the scent of incense burning and we could hear a mantra, chanted over and over. The lake was calm and still and the place was peaceful and serene.
There are small altars all along the edge of the lake. Several had offerings called prasada on them. Placed on a banana leaf, the offerings we saw consisted of fruits, coconut, flowers and sweets.
Once left unattended, the local birds and monkeys evidently finish up what the gods didn't eat.
We walked along the lake and came to what we determined was the main temple. There were large statues of Hindu deities, many with offerings at their feet, scattered along the lake's edge.
We have a special affection for Ganesh. With his elephant head and pot belly, he is revered as an obstacle remover. He's considered a patron of the arts and is known for his wisdom and intellect. He's an all-around nice kind of guy, for a god, that is.
At the entrance to the temple, we removed our shoes and walked inside. A ceremony was being conducted in the inner temple. We wandered past several displays of different deities, trying to keep them straight. We couldn't, of course. There are purported to be some 33 million different deities in Hindu religion, which, by the way, is claimed to be the oldest religion in the world.
A Hindu pandit (priest) approached us and asked if we would like a blessing. David deferred, but I needed all the blessing I could get. He applied a “tilak”, a red Hindu religious symbol on my forehead, then placed his hands on my head and blessed me and my family, asking for peace, safety, harmony and prosperity. I took this blessing as a positive sign for our upcoming passage. We are not religious, but I'm interested in the way different people practice their religion.
There were no cabs around when it was time to leave, but having enjoyed our visit to the temple, we felt more inclined to walk back to town anyway, about 5km away. Interestingly, there are about 90 different religions practiced freely in the tiny country of Mauritius. The mix is something like 52% Hindu, 30% Christian, 16% Muslim and 2% Chinese religions. There seems to be no conflict at all on religious grounds, but rather a harmonious acceptance of the differences in beliefs. Wish we could accomplish this in other parts of the world.