With its vibrant rainbow population, the island of Mauritius features pompous religious and cultural festivals. And for travelers seeking for cultural immersion, this Island can be an ideal destination. One of its many popular festivals is the Great Night of Shiva-Mahashivratri which occurs on the Phalguna month (the 11th month of the Hindu Calendar during the waning moon phase).
Taking its roots from India, this pious annual festival is celebrated at night. But before taking part in the ‘Great Night of Shiva’ devotees normally go through a purification process where they fast for ten days. They are supposed to abstain from eating non-vegetarian meals and drinking alcohol. In Mauritius, Mahashivratri is normally celebrated among the Hindu communities, but over the last years, other communities have also shown some interest.
Some days before the great night, passionate devotees work together to create gorgeous ‘Kanwar’- a bamboo-clad pole which is carried throughout the pilgrimage-to the sacred lake of Grand-Bassin where they fetch the holy water. Likewise in India devotees carry their Kanwar to go to holy places like Haridwar or Gangotri and bring sacred water from Ganga. During the ‘Great Night of Shiva’ devotees meditate at the Hindu temple, and usually sing, chant and do auspicious ‘water pouring rituals’ on the shiva lingam (a representation of Shiva). This special night is dedicated to connect with the higher self (pure consciousness). It is when devotees get the chance to merge with the energy of shiva which is called the ‘Shiva Tattva’. Each ritual session has a deep meaning in regard to attain a higher level of consciousness. According to ancient holy scriptures, there are four levels of consciousness notably waking, dreaming, sleeping and pure consciousness (Turiya). And during this night devotees learn more about these different states of consciousness.
There are many stories associated with the importance of celebrating Mahashivratri. And many of these stories have been explained in holy books such as the Puranas. One of the many legends tells us about the Great night where shiva performs the cosmic dance (Anadatandava) which represents the five principles of manifestation notably: creation, preservation, destruction, salvation, and illusion. Due to his artistic nature, many people draw inspiration from Shiva. There are numerous Hindu temples like the Chidambaram and Konark where believers perform the ‘natyanjali’ which means ‘worship through dance.’
But there’s another side of Shiva which has attracted many people around the world. His non-materialistic nature (vairagi) and the fact that he practiced yoga (he is usually touted as the ash-smeared yogi) and deep meditation, many took him as an inspiration for reaching the altered state of consciousness through psychedelics. One of the stories in the holy scriptures recount about the event where both the demi-gods and the demons participated in the churning of the great ocean to acquire the divine elixir of immortality, and out of this process, many precious items were extracted, including cannabis. And interestingly it doesn’t take long to understand why during Mahashivratri devotees make offerings of datura on the shiva lingam.
Another story talks about the union of Shiva and Parvati. It is the same night where they both got married, which is why many married and unmarried people pray to experience a harmonious love relationship. Shiva as a Hindu deity has interesting attributes and character. From his simple, non-materialistic nature to his vigorous tandav dance, and shamanistic state of meditation, Shiva is indeed a contradictory Hindu deity.