Mauritius is a small island with a significant number of cultural and religious celebrations. A country where Hindus, Muslims and Christians live together has no other ways to show the richness of its cultural heritage. Some are celebrated as national events (as public holidays), others more sectoral and pertinent to the particular group (classified in the list of optional holidays). Many times they coincide. Like yesterday we had “Raksha Bandhan” and “Shab-e-Barat”, although not public holidays.
“Raksha Bandhan” is celebrated by Hindus; but it’s becoming more “national” nowadays. It is an event where the sister ties what is called a “rakhi” (basically a piece of colorful thread, sometimes fitted with a synthetic flower) on her brother’s wrist.
The “rakhi” symbolizes eternal love, devotedness and friendship for each other. The brother commits himself to be always by the side of his sister and protect her. They exchange gifts on this occasion.
Women (sisters) in their best ‘saris” flock to their brothers’ place with “rakhis” in their hand either in the morning before going to work or in the afternoon after work (some even leave office earlier). The men (brothers) in turn display their “rakhis” with much pride.
All is done amidst prayers and “laddoo” (sweet cake) servings.
“Shab-e-Barat” on the other hand is a religious activity celebrated by Muslims on the 15th night of the eighth month (month of Sha’abaan) in the Islamic calendar. It is essentially a night of repentance where it is said Allah grants all demands: “Ask and I’ll give”. All sins, sworn sincerely not to be committed again for good, are forgiven during that night. That’s why devout Muslims never miss such occasions.
Young and old male all together in their prayer gowns and caps rush to the cemeteries in the afternoon and at night to pay tribute to their lost ones and pray for their soul to rest in peace. Women say prayers from home. Special prayers begin after sunset just after the “maghrib salah or namaz” (the fourth prayer of the day) and continue at wish until the next morning.
Some people prepare “halwa” (sweet confection) and “roti” as offerings, although not essential. It is recommended to fast during three days from the eve to the day after, although most people observe only one day or two, as a prelude to the holy month of “Ramadhan” when they fast during a whole month from dawn to dusk.