The river Ganges known as Mother Ganga is the most important of the sacred rivers of India. The
‘Puranas’ (sacred texts) declare that the sight, the name and the touch of Ganga, washes away all sins; and that bathing in Ganga bestows blessings of the highest order. Hindus choose Ganga for holy rituals.
‘Gangajal’, the water of Ganga, is held so sacred that with this in hand no Hindu would dare commit a sin or speak a lie. Those who die within specified limits around Ganga are believed to obtain ‘Swarg’ (Heaven)
and all their sins are washed away.
Worship of the Ganges was and is still practised by the Hindus in Mauritius. On the day of Ganga Snaan ‘pujas’ (prayer services) are performed in her
honour by the sea-side and at Ganga Talaab. The Hindu agricultural worker brought with him the image of Ganga, as a flowing stream purifying and fertilising the land.
However, a particularly Hindu association with the river is the imagery of crossing from the world of common mortals — the world of ignorance —to the
world of enlightenment. Rivers metaphorically represent a state of transition for the soul. Ganga, hence, is also worshipped as a great purifier. By taking a dip in her waters the pilgrim symbolically drowns his old
self and is born anew, fresh and enlightened.
The river Goddess Ganga does not visibly flow in Mauritius. Yet just as no one on earth knows the exact place where the Ganga river begins, in the same
way, no one can say exactly where the Canga ends. Materially the end of the Ganga is under the sea. This could be one of the reasons why the Hindu devotees of Mauritius have invested the sea, as the carrier of the
holy Ganga, with her attributes as a divine purifier and the bestower of life and salvation.
Ganga Snaan is celebrated in the month of November. Devotees get up and take a bath at home before proceeding to the sea-side. This is to clean the body
before offering it to Ganga which further purifies it.
First they worship the sea, which is the carrier of Ganga. Then they bathe in the sea. Immediately after the bath, and while the sun is rising on the
eastern horizon, the devotees make their offerings to the sea and worship Mother Ganga. The offerings usually consist of flowers, fruits, flour, grains and milk. These are offered to Goddess Canga. Camphor and
sandalwood are burnt on betel leaves and these are made to float on the sea-water. It is a beautiful and touching scene. Hundreds of little lamps burning on the water float and swirl happily before being swept away
one by one.
There is a popular belief that the longer the camphor burns on the betel leaves, the sooner the wishes are granted. Devotees believe that wishes made
faithfully and sincerely on Ganga Snaan day are fulfilled by the river Goddess, who is known to be kind to her worshippers. Devotees usually observe a fast on that day, abstaining from taking anything with salt
until noon. In Mauritius, many people also go to the Canga Talaab to offer prayers to Mother Ganga. The Ganga Talaab is the name given to the lake of Grand Bassin in honour of Mother Ganga33. A beautiful
temple has been erected there decorated with pictures of the Holy River Ganga along with those of the other two sacred rivers Yamuna and Saraswati. It is known as the Can ga-Yam u na-Saraswati Temple.
The devotees reach the temple early in the morning. In the clear and luminous light of the morning sun, they worship Goddess Ganga. The ‘Aarti’ is
performed by waving burning camphor and sandalwood around the images in circular movements. The priests, known as Pundits, blow their conch-shells, ring their bells and perform the ‘Puja’ (prayer service) by
reciting verses from the Holy Scriptures. Devotees offer flowers, fruits, sweetmeats and milk.
Ganga Snaan is a very significant festival in that it goes beyond the individual and embraces the entire human race. Ganga Snaan does not simply mean
bathing in the sea to clean the body. It means bathing with the purpose of purifying the mind and the soul. The body is easily purified by water. But it needs more than water to purify the soul. Ganga Snaan means
bathing for the purification of the soul. This is done by prayers, by sacrifices, by giving charity and by having good and noble. thoughts for friends as well as for strangers~
The purpose of Ganga Snaan is served only when its real meaning is understood. The River Ganga came down on earth to purify sinners’ souls. In the same
way Ganga Snaan comes once a year to purify human minds and souls. This is the day when devotees should bathe and vow not to be influenced by evil in life. Those who have committed errors must take a vow not to
repeat their mistakes. It is natural to err in life, but to continue living in sin is wrong and reprehensible. Ganga Snaan comes to remind us of the need for sincere repentance and’ fresh resolution.
The Ganga Snaan festival in Mauritius is a joyous and colourful sight as thousands of men, women and children from all corners of the island make for the
nearest beach to bathe in the sea. Until very recently people would stream out of the towns and villages in groups and travel on foot or
in bullock carts singing songs in praise of the river Ganga. On the occasion of this popular festival, Hindus continue to congregate in great crowds on popular public beaches, but
much of the original religious and spiritual significance has been washed away. Although the older generations continue to offer prayers and perform ritual ceremonies in the sea, the festival itself is a joyous
occasion for collective picnicking and merry-making. On some beaches, religious ceremonies are held, and culural programmes are organised for the entertainment of the people. Ganga Snaan is now celebrated as an
occasion for a family outing as much as for its religious significance.