‘Little India’ in the heart of Mauritius

‘Little India’ in the heart of Mauritius

Don’t pay attention that this picturesque lake in the crater of a small dormant volcano in the rainforests of Mauritius has such a strange official name: Grand Bassin. In fact, it is often called by other names that sound exclusively in Hindi like Pari Talao (Magic Lake) or Ganga Talao (Lake Ganges).

Why in Hindi and why Ganges? After all, the Ganges is a famous sacred river in India; this country located five thousand kilometres away from Mauritius and in another hemisphere - the Northern one.


The story begins 200 years ago, when the British, having taken Mauritius from the French, began to bring manpower and various specialists to the island from their largest Asian colony. Over time, the Indians had become one of the main communities in Mauritius, along with the Europeans, Creoles and Chinese. Soon, the Indian community consisting of many merchants, engineers and doctors, began to flourish. But something was still missing to make the lifestyle in Mauritius completely like in India...

And in 1897, a local pandit (Hindu priest, Brahmin) saw a prophetic dream that the great God Shiva shook his hair, and one drop from his hair fell into the water of a lake lost in the Mauritius’ forests. The lake was found and people realized that it was a sacred ‘manifestation’ of the Ganges. It remained to make the sacred place look as attractive as the one in the historical homeland. Of course, they succeeded to do this.

When you drive up to Ganga Talao today, two giant figures can be seen from afar - the God Shiva with a trident in his hand and his wife - awesome Goddess Durga. Near them, monkeys - unknown animals in Mauritius - walk around the spacious square. They were specially brought from India in 1972 on the occasion of the opening of a temple dedicated to the monkey God Hanuman. The ceremonial opening of the temple was at the same time the solemn ceremony of the first monkeys’ arrival in Mauritius for the first time in the history of the island.

One can, of course, argue about the environmental benefit of such an event. But human activity has already changed the original flora and fauna of Mauritius so much (just remember the unfortunate extinct dodo birds exterminated) that you can just pay no attention to another intervention. But now Ganga Talao has become a real ‘Little India’. First, a temple dedicated to Shiva was built here, then the temples dedicated to other gods appeared. Today, there are half a dozen temples. Of course, they are not as amazing as in Varanasi or Deogarh, but they create an atmosphere of comfort and calm reverence.

And the most important thing is that on the main Hindu holiday of Maha Shivaratri (the Great Night of Shiva), the Hindus of Mauritius have a place to make their pilgrimage to, carrying ‘kanwar’ in their hands as the symbol of Shiva that looks like a small obelisk made of bamboo. It is possible to make a pilgrimage by arriving at a sacred place by cars or buses, but many people prefer the journey on foot inspired by piety. Moreover, since the sacred lake is located in the south of Mauritius, it takes the people living in the northern part of the country two days to walk there. But compared to the distances that pilgrims have to cover in India, this is a short way. Mauritius is a small island, so local Indians do not walk for several days.


Maha Shivaratri festival is celebrated on the new moon in late February-early March. At this time, several hundred thousand pilgrims from all over the island set off on their journey. This number is without the numerous tourists who flock to this place to enjoy the exotic festival, since the Hindu religion is absolutely tolerant and the tourists can look at the ceremony and take pictures as much as they like. Having reached the desired place, the pilgrims light small ‘diya’ lamps and float them on the Ganga Talao in ‘boats’ made of banana leaves. They also bring gifts to the gods, for example, milk, yogurt, butter, honey and sugar symbolizing the five basic elements of the world - the sky, wind, water, fire and earth. And, of course, the main task is to fill a bottle of water from this sacred lake and make a wish.

After all, these wishes will certainly come true! Any Mauritian Hindu can confirm this to you.