Indian presence in Mauritius can hardly be denied. As at 1860, the demographic profile of Mauritius comprised two-thirds of Indians, the majority of whom hailed from the recruitment basins of the then Presidency of Oudh, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
By 1871 the population was made up of 216,258 Indians, mainly from this Presidency and 99,784 Creoles mainly of African origin. This proportion has remained more or less constant till date.
The first recruits of the Girmitias – Indentured immigrants – were from the hilly Chota Nagpur, formerly in Bihar and now in Jharkhand. As these sources started drying up because of the immense inland exploitation of labour to work in the tea gardens of Assam and elsewhere, the main districts of recruitment shifted to Banaras, where the village folk milled around the city hub from surrounding villages in search of work, Gorakhpur and Jaunpur, with huge sugar cultivations in the North-West Provinces of India now known as Uttar Pradesh. But more so from Ghazipur (now in Uttar Pradesh, with the famous district of Ballia), Muzzafarpur, Champaran, Shahabad, Patna and Gaya in Bihar. It also comprised Hazaribagh and Chota Nagpur now both in Jharkhand.
The main areas of recruitment were the adjoining sugarcane growing fertile areas of Chappra, Arrah and Ballia on both sides of the Ganges: Bhojpuri region par excellence. Ballia now falls in U.P. The Shahabad district has over the years been broken into smaller divisions of Arrah, Bhojpur, Rohtas, Bhabhua, Kaimur and Buxar for more efficient administration.
Over the years the British government, unable to administer the vast Presidency as a single unit, separated the states of Bengal and Oudh and later Bihar from Orissa in 1912. Thus on March 22, came into existence the modern state of Bihar.
So, the girmitias have been drawn from very diverse regions of this Presidency. They spoke the various languages of Eastern Bihari such as Bhojpuri, Maithili, Awadhi and Magahi, Oria and Bengali as well as other tribal dialects like Oraon. But Bhojpuri became the overpowering and absorbing language over the years. Thus it was that the Bihari influence gradually had a large and wide impact and all components came under the sway of Bhojpuri. In the estate camps everybody was speaking Bhojpuri which became the lingua franca of the Indian community here, to the extent that the white “colon” or manager of the sugar plantation had to resort to Bhojpuri to communicate with the fieldworkers. And the Chinese corner shopkeeper who had installed himself in the far-off Indian villages and hamlets also had recourse to Bhojpuri to sell his goods.
Immigrants generally lost track of their distant origins and came to refer to themselves as coming from Bihar, “Aap kahan se aiyl hawa?”/ “Bihar se.” (“Where do you come from?”/ “From Bihar.”) would be the answer. There is a general vagueness, but one thing is constant in the collective consciousness: they hail from Bihar, though in truth they may have hailed from other parts of the former Presidency.
Over the years, the Orias and Bengalis got absorbed in the Bhojpuri component. With the rekindling of search for roots and some families having kept in touch with their origins, more discovery is being made of the diverse regions beyond the borders of present-day Bihar. The Bihari presence is manifested in food habits, dress, rites and rituals, customs and traditions, language and cultural heritage.
Bihar however is not only 103 years old. This is the configuration of new British India and thereafter in Independent India since 1947. To bring to the knowledge of the people of Bihari origin the richness and greatness of the past, present and potentiality of the future, the Bhojpuri Speaking Union has mounted an Exhibition on “The Glories of Bihar”. It is time that people who have hailed from Bihar take pride in their ancestry and Bihari origin. The history of Bihar dates back to ancient times and is a glorious and golden one, albeit with some dark spots.
The 50 panels of exhibition of ‘The Glories of Bihar’ baffle the viewers as they come face to face with the greatness of their ancestry. The term Sone ki Chidiya was actually applied to Bihar with its huge dynastic backgrounds and diverse spiritual, cultural and material wealth.
In ‘Bihar Through the Ages’, R.R. Diwakar (KP Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna) makes an attempt to bring to the knowledge of the Biharis themselves first and then to the Indians in general and the world at large the fabulous history of this state, impoverished by the deliberate connivance of the British rulers and later their own local administrators.
Dr Rajendra Prasad, first President of the Republic of India who himself hailed from Jiradei, Siwan in Bihar says that Bihar through the ages is a fascinating story. “While Bihar is the land of Janaka, Yagnavalkya and Gautama, it is also the land of Mahavir, of Buddha, of Chandragupta and Chanakya, of Ashoka and the Great Emperors.”
He adds that “from Videha, Magadha and Anga, ancient names of important parts of modern Bihar, radiated for centuries not only to all parts of India but also to distant regions of Asia, religion, philosophy, arts and all that stands for culture and civilized life.” Dr Rajendra Prasad further says that “it is no exaggeration to say that for centuries the history of India was but the history of Bihar ‘writ large’.” (9 June 1957).
In recent times too Bihar responded magnificently to the rousing call of Mahatma Gandhi in the Satyagraha Andolan of Champaran.
The Bhojpuri Speaking Union, operating under the Ministry of Arts and Culture, which put up this magnificent Exhibition of Bihar at the Rabindranath Tagore Institute, Ilot, is now decentralising it in a bid to bring to the knowledge of Mauritians at large an exposure to the Glories of Bihar.
Origin of Bihar
The word Bihar is derived from Vihara meaning monasteries or abode in Sanskrit. Bihar is a land of Viharas. At one time, during the time of Gautama Buddha, 2500 years ago, thousands of Viharas were found all over Bihar in villages as well as cities. This is how this area came to be known as Bihar.
Did you know that it was in Bihar that the term Rupaiya (modern Rupee) was coined by the great ruler Sher Shah Suri and now is the official currency in several countries?
Bihar was a land of great saints, sages, powerful kings and emperors, a land from where oozed knowledge, abundant minerals and material prosperity. It was from Buxar in Bihar that the Great Sage Vishwamitra first pronounced the famous Gayatri Mantra “Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha”. Discover more at the “Glories of Bihar Art Exhibition”.
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Bihar Diwas 2015
For Bihar Diwas 2015 celebrated on Sunday 22nd March, the Bhojpuri Speaking Union mounted the Exhibition Glories of Bihar at Gandhi Bhawan, Laventure at the express desire of the people of Laventure, in collaboration with the SAKET socio-cultural organisation and Bhojpuria Sangh of Laventure. This exhibition was opened by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Honourable Santaram Baboo in the presence of The High Commissioner of India, Shri Anup Kumar Mudgal amidst other dignitaries. It will remain open to the public for two weeks. It is proposed to take this Exhibition to other parts of Mauritius and the Indian Diaspora.
* Published in print edition on 27 March 2015