Religions in Mauritius - A Treasure Trove of Cultures and Legacies
The abundance of tourists in Mauritius often leads visitors to believe that Mauritius has an acute scarcity of natives living on the island. However, with more than 1.2 Million Mauritians calling this relatively small island their home, Mauritius has one of the highest population densities amongst all nations. These 1.2 million people are unbelievably diverse regarding their cultures, places of origin, the languages they speak and the religions they practise. Mauritians trace back their roots to nations as far as France up North and the Indian subcontinent to the East. This distinctive blend of native African people with European and Asian races lends Mauritius its one of a kind ethnoreligious constitution.
Mauritius being a well-functioning democracy is a secular nation and allows its citizens to practise the religion of their choice and convert if desired. No discrimination or preferential treatment is performed on religious grounds. Major religious festivals are celebrated with much gusto and are earmarked as national holidays.
If numbers are what you're interested in, Hinduism is the largest religion in Mauritius regarding practitioners. A tad more than half of the Mauritian population (50.54 %) follows Hinduism. Other significant faiths followed by Mauritians include Christianity (30.71 %), Islam (17.30 %) and Buddhism (0.18%).
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A vast majority of the Hindus are descendants of the labourers brought over to Mauritius by the British during their colonial rule to work on the sugarcane plantations after the abolition of slavery on the island. This makes Mauritius the only African nation with the 3rd highest Hindu population with Hinduism as the dominant religion after India and Nepal. A significant proportion of the Indo-Mauritian community identifies itself with South India, particularly Tamil Nadu and hence, Tamil festivals are prevalent on the island as well.
Several ornate Hindu temples have been constructed in Mauritius which serve as the centres for the community to congregate and celebrate. Ganga Talao in Grand Bassin is considered as a sacred lake, the Mauritian equivalent of River Ganga in India. The Hindus widely undertake a pilgrimage to this holy lake on the occasion of Maha Shivratri in Mauritius. Maheswarnath Shiv Mandir and Sagar Shiv Mandir are some of the other famous temples in Mauritius.
Major Hindu festivals such as Maha Shivratri, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Ougadi and Tamizh Puttaandu are national holidays in Mauritius.
Mauritius' second largest religion, Christianity was introduced on the island by the Dutch upon their colonisation of Mauritius back in 1638. After the French took control of Mauritius in 1715, they passed a decree mandating all incoming slaves to be baptised Catholic. Christianity (particularly Protestantism) was further reinforced by the British when they established their rule on the Island. Presently, 83% of all Christians identify themselves as Catholics.
The largest faction of Christianity, Catholicism identifies God as the Holy Trinity, comprising of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Catholic Mauritians abide by the holiness of the Priesthood and the Pope in Vatican City. The liturgy of churches varies significantly across the island, and one can find mass being celebrated in different languages such as Latin, French and English.
The oldest church in Mauritius - Saint Francis of Assisi church was built in 1756 using Basalt rock and is deeply revered. Notre Dame de l'Auxilliatrice with its flaming red roof and the azure sea behind it is another one of the countless quaint old churches you'll find on the island. The festivals of Assumption and Christmas are national holidays and are marked by stunning celebrations. A visit to Mauritius during Christmas and New Year is a great way to herald the onset of a new year.
The indentured labourers arriving in Mauritius brought Islam too, like Hinduism. These people originated in the regions of Gujarat, Pondicherry and Bengal in India. Wealthy Indian merchants who set up their trade in Mauritius also assisted in the propagation of Islam on the island. A lesser-known fact: Muslim Arabs were the first to discover the island of Mauritius and had christened the island Dina Arobi!
Most Muslims in Mauritius identify themselves with the Sunni sect. While well-versed in Hindi, many also speak in Urdu, Gujarati and Bhojpuri. The entire Muslim community can be demarcated into three social groups - the Memons, who control some of the most prominent mosques in Mauritius, the Surtees, who are rich Gujarati and Kutch merchants, and the Hindi Calcattias - the indentured labourers from Bihar. The Shia minority in Mauritius traces its roots to South Asia and East Africa.
The Camp des Lascars mosque built in 1805 was Mauritius' first mosque and is now identified as the Al Aqsa mosque. The Jummah Mosque in Port Louis was built in the 1850s and is one of Mauritius' architectural masterpieces. With its pristine white facade and green trimmings, the mosque is a deeply revered site for all Muslims. Eid-Ul-Fitr is a national holiday and is marked by grand benevolent celebrations.
Less than 1 % of the Mauritian population practises Buddhism. The religion was brought over mostly by the Sino Mauritians (Mauritians with Chinese origins) migrating to Mauritius at the beginning of the 19th century. Being a Dharmic religion, Buddhism derives its principles from the teachings of Gautama Buddha of India. Two major schools of Buddhism exist - The Theravada and the Mahayana. All Buddhist traditions share the objective to overcome suffering and attain liberation from the cycle of life and death by attaining Nirvana. Devout Buddhists practise the Middle path - a lifestyle characterised by neither intense asceticism nor extravagant luxuries.
The Sino-Mauritian community celebrates the Chinese New Year Festivals and the Lantern Festival, both of which involve visually stunning celebrations. The Dharmarakshita Mahayana Buddhist Center in Quatro Bornes is one of the significant community centres for Mauritian Buddhists.
Bahá'ísm though followed by a small number of people in Mauritius, has considerable practitioners nonetheless. Bahá'ísm is the youngest amongst the world's independent religions. Founded by Bahá'u'lláh, the faith is present in 235 countries and territories around the world.
This religion started gathering followers in Mauritius around the year 1953 and has ever since professed the message that humanity is one single race and that its unification into one global society is of paramount importance. Bahá'ís work to eliminate prejudice of all kinds and aim to develop a global society characterised by unity, harmony, justice and peace.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Mauritius is headquartered in Port Louis and oversees the administrative affairs of the Bahá'ís as well as their spiritual and moral development. Ridván, a twelve-day festival that commemorates Bahá'u'lláh's proclamation to be the Manifestation of God is the most significant Bahá'í festival.
Confucianism, Taoism and Jainism are some of the other micro-religions practised by Mauritians.
Mauritius' different ethnic communities co-exist in harmony and conflicts on religious grounds are seldom heard of. If you are planning to visit Mauritius, try arriving during a festival to experience the nation's true colours. Blend in with the locals and celebrate with them to build some sparkling memories that you'll cherish forever!