This blog post on my Maha Shivarathri in Mauritius experience is long over due but like my experience last year I wanted to keep my experience to me for some time before I could share it.But the Covid19 happened and I was not ready to share until now.I am utterly besotted with the beautiful island of Mauritius for many reasons but the Maha Shivarathri experience is probably at the top of my list including visiting the Hari Hara Temple.
As the days got closer to Maha Shivarathri the longing to be in Mauritius got stronger.Everyone who knows me kept asking if I was going but with work commitments and fully knowing there were no flights available I knew Lord Shiva would have to move mountains if he wanted me there.Literally 5 days before Maha Shivarathri ,Mauritius Tourism sent me an email asking if I was available without thinking twice I said YES ! And thanked Lord Shiva for allowing me to come to see him.You see what I have learnt in life is that Kismet and what is meant for you will be and never forsake you and fulfilling my wish Lord Shiva used his angels in the form of Janet ,Richi and Anna to take me to see him.These angels have held my heart and soul with so much love and care that every trip to Mauritius is so special that it feeds my soul.I literally got my ticket and all trip details in my inbox 3 days before I flew.And once I knew I was going I started packing and getting myself mentally prepared for my pilgrimage.
I am not a devotee of Shiva. I never worshipped him. But he invaded me & became my life breath. There is no way I can shake him off.- Sadhguru
Part of the media team was the SABC media team who always make me feel like I am part of the family.Our journey was not a direct flight as we had to fly via Johannesburg making our flight longer and with Covid measures in place it was rather daunting as everything was new.In all honesty I just could not wait to get on the plane and get to Mauritius.
So why Mauritius for Maha Shivarathri ?
There is just something so soul moving about experiencing Maha Shivarathri that once experienced it leaves you longing to return and if only Lord Shiva wills it you will return.It is a week long festival where pilgrims from every corner of the island regardless of faith make the journey to Ganga Talao to make an offering to Lord Shiva and take with them back to their homes the holy water to complete their prayer at home on the Great Night.Read my post from last year for more details on this pilgrimage.
We arrived late on Tuesday evening in Mauritius and as we drove to our hotel pilgrims pulled their kanwars singing ,chanting and praises to Lord Shiva.Our arrival was three days before Maha Shivarathri.Along the road there were tents set up with refreshments and places to rest for pilgrims.To truly experience this pilgrimage one does need to arrive atleast 3 days prior to the actual day Maha Shivarathri.As you leave the airport you see the most beautiful signhAs exhausted as I was ,I felt rather energised and actually headed out for dinner with family friends on the island.
An itineary was put together and I was asked what or where did I want to go to.Having been to the island five times ,I can honestly tell you that there is still so much I want to see ,do and eat.On my IG feed I came across an incredible image of a temple surrounded by water and I just knew that I had to go there.The next day a food walking tour was arranged in Port Louis which took us into the heart of the city read about it here it reminded me of exploring Durban as a kid with my grandparents.Even while we were here we spotted a few kanwars heading home to their villages.
A short rest and freshing up we headed to the airport to meet the South African pilgrims who had come specifically to Mauritius for Maha Shivarathri.
Advance warning the traffic is crazy in Mauritius during Maha Shivarathri so leave earlier atleast am hour before.On route to the airport as we were earlier our driver diverted to a side road that was onroute to Ganga Talao besides the traffic,pilgrims walking,police directing traffic and kanwars there were tents set up along the way by families,temples and businesses distributing meals,snacks,fruit,water and milk to sustain the pilgrims.We stopped at one such tent and was offered pipping hot puris straight off the stove with Chole Curry and tamarind juice.You could see that this was such a labour of love and everyone was offered food and drink.
Tummies full we headed to the airport to welcome the South Africa pilgrims.Besides the SABC News team there was also MBC the local broadcaster also there to welcome the pilgrims.As always Richi ,Anna and their team from Mauritius had everything in order to welcome the South Africans and transfer them effortlessly to their respective hotels.In conversation with Richi he stated the Maha Shivarathri Pilgrimage sells out very quickly each year and there are many devotees who come back every single for Maha Shivarathri and some have been doing so for over 15 years.While waiting to welcome the devotees I started getting goosebumps and emotional thinking of my trip the year before with mum.I saw faces I knew walking through arrivals Uncles and Auntys I met last year who hugged and greeted me like family.Maha Shivarathri in Mauritius brings people together who have the same vision and creates a bond.
There were so many older auntys and uncles that I could not help guiding them through the airport.Many asked if I worked for One Stop and I laughed and said no but reflecting back now I know I was working for Lord Shiva and I will tell you why later.
On the Eve of Shivarathri ,we headed off to visit the temple I saw on Instagram.The Sagar Shiv Mandir like so many temples in Mauritius has an amazing history and story.When the tide comes in this parking and road gets immersed in water and that was the drone shot that captured me and the temple becomes surrounded by water which os shallowThe temple was a hive of activity as devotees prepared for Maha Shivarathri.We got to chat to the Pundit of the temple who gave us more insight into this beautiful place.There was such a sense of calm here that it was very easy to lose track of time.
We headed back to the hotel to rest and prepare for an early start the next day.I had arranged for Richi and Anna to meet us and travel together to GangaTalao for the first part of Maha Shivarathri.Roughly it would take an hour to get to the lake but this time around it was literally gridlocked traffic in every direction.At a snails pace we made our way to a bustling Ganga Talao with police officers everywhere.Our driver dropped us of at quite a distance and we had to walk up approximately 3km to the main temple.
Both the Mother Durga and Lord Shiva statues at 108 metres each look so tiny and could barely be seen from where we parked.We made our way to the temple and I could feel something inside me stirring.Thousands of people were all busy around Ganga Talao making their offerings and soaking in the vibrations of this sacred spot.With the boiling heat and crowds we made our way down to the lake.
At every spot there were families offering prayers ,leaving the incense sticks burning creating the most beautiful smell along with flowers and fruit.Mino held onto my hand and walked in front of me so we would not be seperated in the crowds.It seemed liked Mother Ganga had started to overflow to provide all her devotees with sacred water to offer and take home for Maha Shivarathri.As we walked through the chants of “hara hara mahadeva” and “om namashiya” rang in my ears while the Mother Ganga let her water wash my feet as we walked to the main temple.
Along the way we met a priest who gave us rudra beads on a strings I asked for strings for my loved ones and wished to get them blessed.The one thing that struck was just how patient every devotee was there was no anger ,no rude words just patience and smiles.It told me that these were indeed true devotees living the word of God.As we approached the main temple my heart sunk for a moment when I saw the crowds of pilgrims lined in neverending snaking lines that just went on and on and on.And in that moment Richi appeared from literally out of thin air and before we knew it we were inside the temple.My fingers touched the enterance of the temple and in my heart I told Lord Shiva thank you for bringing me back to him.
Punditji remembered me from last year and thanked me for coming.I was so humbled as minutes before I was thanking Lord Shiva and now the tables had turned.I was there in presence of Lord Shiva and once more I knew nothing and no one would stand in his way if he wants you to see him.The yearning of all the weeks before to be there were to be fulfilled on the night of Maha Shivarathri.We were allowed to have free time in time in the temple while awaiting for the South African pilgrims to arrive,they too were stuck in traffic for over four hours.No journey or pilgrimage is easy ,every step is a test of our faith and patience.The tour guides and drivers from the group tour had started to bring through the devotees ,it was so good to see the team from last year and the fact they were so happy to see me.And then Lord Shiva put me to work,standing on a very narrow step I was given the job to locate the South African devotees and guide them into the temple through the crowds.As each person came through ,they were so grateful to see a face they had seen before at the airport.Within 15 minutes the inner temple was filled up with devotees awaiting pundits discourse.As soon as devotees saw me taking photos ,I was given the title of photographer and had over 30 phones hand to me to capture these moments so that they could be shared with their loved ones.And to think last year I too was just like them on my pilgrimage but this year Lord Shiva had other plans and tasks for me.
The crowds outside lining up continued to grow and there was no end in sight.After a very moving discourse small groups of the SA devotees were allowed to go and offer their prayers.I somehow found myself ushering devotees in and out to do their prayers.Well in all realness Lord Shiva had given me to do some work for him.The tolling of the bells and the chanting around me literally kept feeding my soul.What touched me the most was as the devotees were leaving was that so many thanked me for helping them to complete their prayer ! And yet again Lord Shiva used me to aid these pilgrims on their journey how blessed was I to be given this task.
It already was after 1pm and all the SA devotees had finished their prayers and were taken back to their hotels to prepare for the evening prayer.It was now time to offer my prayer.From home I had prepared a tray of offerings and asked Pundit to accept this ,he said a special prayer for me and when he placed his hand over my head I felt a sense of completeness.We then proceeded to offer our prayers inside and it seemed there was no end to the lines of devotees all patiently awaiting their turn.Mino stood next to me and like a strict mother told me to close my eyes and pray properly while Salma managed to capture this very fleeting moment and the whole time guided by Richi and Anna I felt so loved ,protected and guided in that moment.
As I prayed ,my prayer included my loved ones departed ,my family and all those wonderful people in life a prayer for their protection and well being.As I closed my eyes I let Lord Shiva know my wish and asked him to grant them for me.In that moment I felt I was not physically there and it was if I was taken to another place ,the chanting ,incense and ringing of the bells took me to a place I can not describe and with the words “Hara Hara Mahadeva” I was back and it was time for me to leave.
We gathered our bags and trekked back to find our driver hungry ,tired,thirsty but spiritually full.The devotees were still coming in to pray.The journey back to the hotel seemed much quicker and we all seemed lost in our thoughts as we contemplated our experience earlier in the day.Once at the hotel there was just time to eat,rest and get ready for the great night of Lord Shiva.As tired as I physically felt emotionally and spiritually I felt energised and complete.And just like that there was some rain and Lord Shiva put out a rainbow for me.
I made arrangements with Richi and Anna to go to the Sockalingum Meenatchee Amman Kovil in Port Louis also known as the Kaylasson Temple.This temple feels like home with history going as far back as 1860 styled in the beautiful and elaborate Dravidian style.It is a very popular temple for Tamil devotees and brings both young and old together.The main enterance to the temple is mind blowing and having captured it at sunset and night it still blows my mind.
The temple itself is small but the courtyard and grounds are very large and for Maha Shivarathri large screens are set up for devotees to view the prayers and rituals been conducted inside the temple.Outdoor seating is arranged for devotees as a programe of song and dance in praise of Lord Shiva.Devotees both young and old are dressed in the rich colours of rainbow in very authentic South Indian designs.The kids at the temple were so adorable and kept giving Salma and I prasad which was so cute.As for this lil adorable girl she kept wanting a pic while I took pictures of the dancers.I mean the cuteness overload !
We left here just after midnight with no sign of sleep taking over us.It was if the energy of Lord Shiva was fuelling us.We stayed up chatting in the foyer of the hotel and awaited our next trip.On our way back from Ganga Talao we arranged for our driver to pick us up at 2am to take us to the Kovil Montagne (Sri Siva Subramanya Thirukovil) in Quartre Borne which Mino had wanted to visit having never been to this temple I wanted to visit.Mino described this temple as been built very much like the Palani Murugan temple in India with 670 steps.As we drove through the streets of Mauritius it was filled with the singing of bhajans from the many temples all over the city.It was peaceful and beautifully still.
We drove into an empty car park with a bright yellow lights that made the yellow buildings lool even more brighter.Up on the hill in the distance we could see some bright lights and bhajans been sung very faintly.I was convinced we were in the wrong place.Then we saw a few people doing a prayer at a small temple so we asked them where was the temple and how could we get there.The uncle told us we were at the right place and there are only two ways to get up to the temple.One was up the stairs that was like 200 stairs or up a steep driveaway.Those were our options.
We looked at each other shocked and tried the stairs but after 10 stairs we knew that we would not make it up.At this point I was ready to give up but both Salma and I assured me that I could do it and they would both walk up with me slowly.A guard then told us to walk with an old uncle who does the walk up daily and has been doing so for over 30 years.I had come so far not to be stopped by a mountain.The uncle suggested I walk with him backwards slowly and as we walked he told me about his life,family ,the temple and even offered me a discount at the famous Tulsidas store the next day.And before I knew it I had conquered my mountain and got to the temple.
The view at the top was incredible and I stood there to catch my breath and take in the amazing view with the strains of bhajans in the distance.
A small gathering of devotees were inside the temple singing the praises of Lord Shiva.We were welcomed in and sat in to take in the moment.I sang along as I knew some and the bhajans and continued chanting.The temperature had stsrted to drop and it became rather chilly but refreshing at the same time.
The statue of Lord Muruga like in Kavady was brought out the temple and taken around the temple.Such a special and priceless moment to experience that the goosebumps and tears arrived.
Not long after Verushka Pather a well known classically trained South Indian dancer arrived to this temple in the mountain.Having only seen her on TV and online I was taken with her elegance and grace not forgetting her warmth.
As the prayers of Maha Shivarathri ended ,we stood in the chilly morning taking in the sounds of conchs been blown and the azaan calling the faithful to pray.At this point Salma gave me a Bilva leaf which I promptly put into the case of my phone and till now it remains.Bilva leaves are associated with Lord Shiva and Maha Shivarathri so having this constant reminder with me is such a blessing and protection.
Here I was on a mountain in a temple sharing Maha Shivarathri with souls destined to share this night and experience with me.Faith ,destiny ,kismet and spiritual yearning brought me to here and this moment.My Maha Shivarathri experience in Mauritius was so unique ,so beautiful that I felt I was not ready to share it with anyone just yet.Lord Shiva ,I thank you with every fibre of my soul for allowing to me to see you ,to serve you and to return to fulfil my spiritual yearning and bringing into my life people who guide me ,take care of me and turn my yearning to see you into a reality.
With Covid19 upon us whose knows when we will travel again but in my heart the longing to return to Mauritius for Maha Shivarathri has began.