It should be a place where the faithful can attend spiritual lectures, people can all sit down and meditate silently or do the round of the spiritual stands. The festival should be a congregation of devotees
By Rattan Khushiram
Several hundred thousand pilgrims from different parts of the country congregated to Ganga Talao for Maha Shivaratri to offer worship to Lord Shiva. On this occasion matter and consciousness unite. The subtle world and the gross world come together and that is the celebration.
For the faithful, the spiritual message of Shivaratri is deep and profound. It is the celebration of nature rejoicing the presence of benevolence, truth and beauty. We pray to the divine for us to be free from all types of misery: mental, physical, emotional, social and natural calamities. We also pray for the divine to bestow peace on everyone. But for many the festival offers a rare opportunity to have fun together with a small bent of spiritual or religious pursuit.
Many commentators have noted that the way of celebrating Maha Shivaratri has changed dramatically over the years. Pilgrims dressed in white, in neat processions, carrying modest kanwars on their shoulders singing traditional pious songs, have given way to well-organized techno groups, with t-shirts and caps, pushing impressive oversized motorized kanwars with state-of-the-art hi-fi systems; they are more in a festive mood.
many of us, now too old to fight these battles and cannot do much about that because these are the ways of the new generation of faithfuls but we do regret the religious fervour of yesteryears that gave these celebrations another dimension and meaning and depth. There used to be a mix of chanting and silent meditation and, most importantly, no encroachment or discomfort to those not celebrating.
But we can aim at changing things for the better – the pilgrims, the National Task Force, and the socio-cultural groups. we have made a difference this year in terms of cleanliness, waste disposal and respect for the environment. Similarly, we can restore to Ganga Talao the sacredness and religiosity that it deserves. We must start by ridding the sacred place of the politicians and their fawning socio-cultural groups.
Over the years, the celebration of Maha Shivaratri has been hijacked by political parties to serve their political ends and the subservient social-cultural groups jumping in the fray to build support for their organisations. The intrusion of politics into religion has become the new normal. The festival is now firmly in the hands of two to three social organisations which organise free food, the display of stands and other facilities for thousands of pilgrims and keep them entertained with bhakti music and mostly shallow discourses, with few exceptions.
Many of the speakers try to outdo each other in their effort to whip up the religious sentiments of pilgrims into a frenzy, barely hiding the political message to the pleasure of the parterre of political invitees who are least bothered to blur the lines between public governance and religion.
The representatives of the social-cultural groups do succeed in getting some attention with speeches that have a mix of religious references, rhetoric or political opportunism. They will recall the eternal war between Gods and Demons, good and evil. This evocative theme is adapted to project their electoral battles.
This year it was more about our cultural heritage and values – « les racines soient solides car il y a beaucoup d’ennemis qui vous mettent des bâtons dans les roues ». or about singing praises of the PM and demanding in return that “Vous devez être solidaire avec nous et nous le serons avec vous…”
They are quick to get on their high horses and lecture us from there but actually they are the least qualified people to advise others on their duties or dharma. Without exaggeration, we can say that Mauritius’ moral compass has been completely obliterated, carpet-bombed out of existence by these custodians of morality and virtue and who are now giving us daily sermons on the preservation of our values or “sanskars”.
Ganga Talao also needs its “politique de rupture” – a rupture from all these gimmicks. It should be a place where the faithful can attend spiritual lectures, people can all sit down and meditate silently or do the round of the spiritual stands. The festival should be a congregation of devotees – not a riot of loud music, earth-shattering remixes perturbing other pilgrims or the neighborhood, chaotic exuberance, unbridled crowds, encroachment on the rights of others, disturbing people in the middle of the night…
On the days of Maha Shivaratri when the Shiva Tattva is manifest (the union of the subtle and the gross), we should aim at making Ganga Talao a truly religious place, quietly religious, dignified and serene that brings forth a wellspring of devotional fervour and sends the spiritual message to the faithful that is deep and profound and gives him the true meaning of religion and spirituality that is being comprehensively eclipsed in the present show.
* Published in print edition on 8 March 2019