There is a lot to be done for the upliftment of people from the mere display of faith
Maha Shivaratri stands out as the only celebration which is not festive. The spiritual quest for communion with the Cosmic spirit is at the heart of the fasting, prayers, kirtans and pilgrimage to Grand Bassin. Over the years, the size and form of kanwars have stranded from the original version of a shoulder-wide white kanwars simply ornamented with tiny glasses which every devotee could carry individually. Kanwars have undergone a significant transformation from simplicity and authenticity to exaggerated colourful display of size and height, which is symptomatic of the trend which society at large has geared to for the past years.
Propensity for competition, mimicry and consumption that characterizes a big chunk of the population has crept into the way a most inward-looking meditative religious festival is celebrated. To make Shivaratri even more superficial, firecrackers and fireworks have been added this year. Such attitudes are mildly dismissed as mistakes that do occur and will last for some time until awareness of the futility of an undesirable carnival atmosphere brings back devotees to the senses. The trend is to let things go astray and assume they will automatically be put on the right track.
May we help to raise awareness and hasten a change in mindset? Religious bodies and organizers should be on the forefront to rectify mistakes in the display of oversized kanwars. A volunteer helper who fell ill is reported to have died because of the traffic congestion caused by the procession of kanwars heading to Ganga Talao. Undoubtedly, the construction of such elaborate kanwars with weird designs of jet fighters and dodos is time-consuming.
What about using that time for a deeper grasp of meaning through the learning of Sanskrit? Undeniably, most devotees chant hymns without understanding the very words they use every year. Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world that is still used in religious ceremonies and prayers – a blessing that most Hindus do not benefit from. The meaning of Shivaratri learnt in Sanskrit will give a fuller understanding of the night of Shiva instead of the usual repetitions of ‘I am doing it for exams, for my health, etc’ aired in MBC roadside interviews.
Besides, instead of electronic music and chantings blaring from loudspeakers all along the road, there will be more spiritual benefits from pilgrims themselves chanting kirtans that have been explained to them.
So what do we do about the artistic skills displayed in the construction of kanwars? Channel them towards other events such as Independence Day or a special day for artistic activities with the best performances on display in exhibitions for the public to appreciate.
May we get rid of the unnecessary use of firecrackers on Divali and New Year’s Eve? They create quite a nuisance and drains money out of the country to fill the coffers of China with which Mauritius has huge deficit in trade balance.
The Sanatana Dharma Temples Federation may also use the financial aid from government funds to educate the flocks on respect for the environment, hygiene and cleanliness. Shivala yards remain clean in the early hours of Shivaratri day, and as the crowd grows bigger, a few people start throwing things away. And in a sudden impulse of mimicry, in no time all the yard is littered with papers, plastics, bottles and so on, exhibiting a total disrespect for a place which should be kept clean in the first place. Surely, in such behaviours displayed by both parents and their children, someone has to step in to instil discipline. The habit of throwing pieces of cloth following some customs in rivers and the sea should also be discussed.
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Crimes on the rise – need for value education
The high rate of crime that has plagued the country for nearly two decades involves mostly Hindus.
There should be more communication with Hindus on the work being undertaken by religious bodies to deal with the causes that lead to crime if ever they are making any effort to uplift the community. Or is it that people are left to themselves to evolve or regress as long as spiritual development is considered as an individual quest?
It is no secret that mere observation of rites and fasting surrounding religious festivals is largely insufficient to imbibe profound meaning and symbolism and to understand the philosophy which engenders ethics and righteous actions.
A widespread teaching of Sanskrit for the different branches of knowledge it encompasses demands whole attention of decision-makers not only for Hindus but also for any Mauritian who wishes to discover its treasures. Routine everyday life leaves little room for connecting to the Self and finding one’s balance. Yoga and meditation are not widespread among Hindus. They have immense physical and mental health benefits which many of us are not benefitting from.
There is a lot to be done for the upliftment of people from the mere display of faith to find more substance than form in what they are called to perform on the occasion of festivals.
* Published in print edition on 16 February 2018