On Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 March 2015 two major events – the Bihar Diwas 2016 Celebrations and the Shreya Ghoshal show – rallied all age groups and had a big success. Does not this reflect a trend to appreciate not only Bollywood music but ancestral languages and customs? At the same time the claims and tastes of youth are carefully balanced against those of the older generation.
The island of Mauritius, as a local writer rightfully pointed out, is “a scarcely visible dot on the world map.” In the Indian Ocean, it has a strategic position and thus has been “a lure to seafaring nations or maritime powers.” Today, this young republic is often quoted as a model of vibrant democracy and high respect for fundamental rights and beliefs. And presently, it reflects a dynamic environment where the various communities are striving hard to increase interactions in all spheres of life. All the groups are trying to preserve their respective traditions, languages and religion, which are quite visible in their upbringing, lifestyles and behavioural patterns. Information technology and new trends in communication have obviously had a great impact on Mauritian society. Nevertheless, in spite of the challenges of modernity, a high percentage of people claim that their identity, cultures, customs, traditions, rites and rituals as well as religious values imported by their forefathers are interrelated.
In our society all ethnic groups respect the culture of one another and at times, even participate in the main festivals pertaining to Hindus, Chinese, and Muslims. If these traditions are very much alive, it is due to our oral traditions. At specific times, our priests had the crucial role of preaching about family values and ancestral importance. Religious writings were part of the discourse of the Mauritian daily life. Women started taking up that role in the family environment and would insist upon dressing styles, performing rites and rituals on auspicious occasions. Sarita Boodhoo in her book Kanya Dan observes that “the Bhojpuri culture has been preserved to a great extent thanks to its oral traditions. When the Indian indentured immigrants came to Mauritius as from 1834 onwards, they brought very little material belongings along with them. But they carried their ancient lores and traditions and in their veins kept flowing their cultural and religious. So did the other regional groups of India.”
The more we learn about these traditions the more we tend to believe that the woman has a predominant role in maintaining them in her inner circle and in social gatherings. The discourse that used to be a religious one, mostly preached by males has acquired a distinct feminine touch nowadays. Furthermore, the media gives opportunities to women to express their views on traditions. In that context we should applaud those initiatives and gatherings which bring together amateurs and professionals, managers and working-class, rural and urban populations.
In our modern society rituals are simplified for practical aspects: accommodation of guests, time constraint, availability of items and so on. Nonetheless it is quite amazing to see how the generation gap is relegated to a backseat when events featuring Bhojpuri and Bollywood music are organised. Our context abounds with examples of our communities and their sense of duty towards their heritage. Those events offer an antidote to coarser pleasures and the monotony of life. Free or not, they are also a most valuable means of appreciation of arts and culture.
Marks of tradition may differ from locality to locality and may vary from family to family. But many people still stick to customs and rites without questioning them. Evolution, not revolution seems to be the motto of communities in our plural society. Those traditions have certainly not been destroyed by modernity and its exigencies.
* Published in print edition on 1 April 2016