Shiva In Shades; Cool Transformations Of Indian Cultural Patterns In Mauritius

by bria4123 on December 31, 2012


Hindu temples emblazon Mauritius. Many rise from sugarcane fields and project brightly painted gods in all directions. These shrines seem to empower the vegetal growth around them.

But Indian traditions in Mauritius reflect the island’s natural and cultural landscapes as much as they do their ancient homeland.

Mauritius’ Indians are from many ethnic groups, and they classify themselves in a colorful variety of ways. Thomas Hylland Eriksen wrote that a Tamil he met thought he was a true Mauritian, and he identified with black people. Many Tamils came to the island in the 18th century, before the the British took over and imported many laborers from India.

The largest percentages of Indians in Mauritius have ancestry from Bihar and Gujarat, and many speak those regions’ languages. So instead of one monolithic Indian population, Mauritius has several cultures. And things get even more interesting.

Though many Indians in Mauritius speak Bhojpuri, they have mixed feelings about the language because Bihar is one of India’s poorest provinces. Some Indo-Mauritians associate its tongue with the rural poor and unskilled laborers. Many emphasize Hindi. It’s the most widely spoken language in India, and it has a proud literary heritage, which includes one of the most honored versions of the Ramayana–by the 16th century saint and poet Tulasidas. But most Indians in Mauritius didn’t speak it at home while growing up, so it’s not interwoven with the most intimate experiences.


Many Indians are cultivating their ancestral pasts, and some are linking with Hindu organizations in India. But all these traditions originated in India, not the island. All of Mauritius’ old cultural traditions (Indian and non-Indian) came from elsewhere.

This makes Mauritius a very cool place. Most Indians and other people on the island have several identities which can shift with circumstances. Their languages also often change–most Mauritians speak several.

So cultural patterns in Mauritius dance as much as its natural environment. In traditional India, Shiva has been called the king of the dancers. With his energy, he brought the universe into existence, and he’s also destroying it. But he’s been learning new moves on this friendly little island. Mauritian patterns are teaching him to lighten up and have fun.

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