On the night of the ‘lever des ghounes’, the ‘tazias’ or ‘ghoons’ are taken out. Each ‘ghoon’ consists of three to four onion-shaped domes each of which
seems to rise from the interior of the others, the one at the base being the largest. They represent the tombs of the martyrs of Kerbala. The smaller ‘ghoons’ are carried on the shoulders. The larger ‘ghoons’ are
carried on trolleys; they are often more than thirty feet high and tower above the roofs of the houses and trees ‘into the ‘twilight where their glittering peaks catch the drowning fire-light and flash like gems
agaipst the night sky’
The ‘ghoons’ are made of light wood or bamboo bound very strongly together and covered with gold and silver tinsel, many-coloured papers, glossy stuffs,
stars and crescents; and decked all over with little lights, candles or electric bulbs. ‘Each party has its own “ghoon”; as many “ghoons” represent as many parties . . . Numerous lights and lanterns of all sorts are
also carried thus adding much colour and exotic flavour to the scene. Cymbals, drums and tambourines roll loud, beating fierce and frenzied rhythms’25 while groups of Muslims chant in wild rhythmic
cadences, the ‘mersias’ — sacred verses dedicated to Hassan and Hussein and to Pir Abdul Cader Jilani (a saintly man).
The ‘ghoon’ procession is an unforgettable sight. Michael Malim thus describes the magic:
‘Scarlet and white, blue and silver, gold, green, crimson, they came slowly reeling one by one out of the darkness into the Pamplemousses Road, until
they formed a long line of magic domes, glinting above the crowd and the lanterns as far as the eyes could see. They shone with a kind of glorious serenity among the stars, above the milling and the din. Then, and a
couple of hours or so later, when they all crept in close order up the avenue of the Jardin de Ia Plaine Verte between the cloudy trees and the white houses whose upper balconies are crammed with Muslim women in
their most brilliant satins — when the drums and the pipes and the cymbals all played in triumph together, and the whole world seemed to surge, cheering about them — then one stood for a moment within the gates of
some city of Scheherezade
‘The casser des ghounes’ (the breaking of the ghoons) ceremony is held the next day, and it marks the end of the festival27. The procession is
similar to the one held the previous night except that no lights and lanterns are carried, as it takes place during the day. Throughout its progress to the Rivière des Lataniers one can watch the ecstatic
participants leaping and dancing to the exultant but monotonous rhythms of the ‘mersias’ (sacred songs) ‘which young Muslims sing frenziedly to the wild cadences of the beating of sticks and the rolling of drums and
tambourines while other parties filled with the smell of incense which is burnt profusely, play the ‘ratiff’ — which consists of stabbing and piercing the body with skewers, pins, dabouches’ and thrusting
swords and knives in various parts of their anatomy without any effusion of blood, but for a few drops, in memory of the battle on the field of Kerbala, while mourners utter cries of ‘Ya Hussein! Oh Hassan!’. The
spectacle can be rather daunting to those who are not used to cold steel on naked flesh.
The lion or tiger that according to legend watched over the remains of Hussein and Hassan used to be represented by a man painted all over with white and
black stripes with a goatskin thrown over his shoulders for a mane. This man, ‘bonhomme tigre’, as he was called, used to utter the most hideous roars as he rushed about the crowd, to frighten the people specially
the children. The ‘bonhomme tigre’, like much else besides, has disappeared completely.
The ‘Ghoons’ used to be taken to the river and sunk there. They are no longer taken to the river. They now go to the round-about of Vallée des Prêtres
and return to their dargahs intact. The parties, however, go to their respective sites on the bank of the river where prayers are offered. No drums and tambourines are allowed. Each party afterwards returns to their
‘dargah’ chanting the ‘albida’ (farewell song) on a note of mourning. This marks the end of the Ghoon.
In the past, the ‘ghoons’ were held in various villages all over the island and were popularly celebrated by both Hindus and Muslims. Games of all sorts
such as ‘Kushti’ (wrestling), ‘Gatka’ (play with sticks), ‘Dance-tigre’, were performed. The ‘ghoons’ have now disappeared completely from the villages and are held only at plaine Verte where fervent sponsors and
participants are still found.
In Mauritius, the festival used to be held with great pomp, splendour and enthusiasm; there were as many as twenty, at times, even thirty ‘ghoons’.
Nowadays there are fewer ‘ghoons’ and rarely more than half a dozen of the magnificent ‘ghoons’ of yore are to be seen. This year only three came out. The great majority of Muslims strongly condemn the ‘ghoons’ and
campaign consistently against the celebrations. It seems the time is not very far when the magnificent ‘ghoons’ will disappear completely from the Mauritian landscape