Religions in Mauritius
The iconic island of Mauritius is nothing short of a magical holiday destination, with exquisite beachside resorts, world-class beaches lapped by cobalt-blue waters and a phenomenal array of activities (of all kinds). This remarkable island destination, however, offers so much more than meets the eye; all you need to do is go into some of the main cities or take a tour of the island to see how truly diverse and colourful this fascinating place really is.
The Mauritian culture sits at the heart of this diversity, with a rich, and oftentimes chequered, history and heritage that centres on obvious influences from Europe, India, China and Africa. This fascinating island went from being uninhabited in the 1600s to being an eclectic country, filled with amazing people from around the world who coexist peacefully despite their varied heritage and religious beliefs. In fact, the vast array of Mauritian religions is one of the country’s most incredible aspects. Interested to know exactly which religions are practised in Mauritius? Here’s a breakdown of each one:
Just over half of the population (approximately 52%) of local Mauritians (predominantly the Indo-Mauritians) identify themselves as Hindu, making it the major religion on the island and the biggest concentration of Hindus in Africa. Hinduism was largely introduced to the island by the Indian population brought over as indentured labourers during British rule once slavery had been abolished. This beautiful religion is practised the island over, evident by the gorgeous (and incredibly elaborate) temples, shrines (even small ones in people’s gardens) vibrant Mauritian festivals, spiritual parks, a 33-foot statue of Shiva and of course, the sacred lake, Grand Bassin (which is also known as Ganga Talao). Be sure to plan a trip around the annual Maha Shivaratri festival to witness one of the biggest and most important Hindu pilgrimages outside of India—truly a humbling and unique experience that you are bound to remember forever.
Another of the relatively popular Mauritian religions is Christianity (with over 30% of the population following this religion), with a staggering 83% of the Christian population being Roman Catholic. Other Christians on the island include Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostal groups and Jehovah’s Witnesses to name but a few of them. Christianity was introduced to Mauritius by the Dutch explorers and reinforced by the French colonialists (from 1715) who re-introduced the religion once the Dutch had abandoned the island in 1710. The French then imposed a law in 1723 that stated that all slaves who were brought to Mauritius needed to be baptised into the Catholic faith (although there is debate around how strict this law was). During the Napoleonic Wars, the British were able to seize Mauritius from the French, and in the ten years between 1840 and 1850, the British tried to convert Mauritians to be Protestant—an attempt that was, evidently, unsuccessful. Today, many of the Catholics on the island tend to be either Franco-Mauritian, Sino-Mauritians (of Chinese descent) or Creole. Beautiful Catholic and Christian churches can be seen all over the island, the most iconic of which is probably the church with the red roof situated in Cap Malheureux, in the north of the island. But for those interested in the oldest and possibly most important church in Mauritius then the St Louis Cathedral in Port Louis is a must-visit. This impressive church was first constructed in the 18th century by the French but sustained incredible damage during a cyclone in the 19th century. It was only reconstructed in 1925 with the addition of a twin tower in 1932. Two of the most important historical artefacts in the church is an oil painting of a Biblical scene that was painted by A. Richard in 1855 and a gorgeous fountain that was built in 1786 by Governor Vicomte de Souillac.
Another notable Mauritian religion is Islam, with approximately 17% of the population practising this faith. A huge portion of the Islam community (over 90% in fact) is made up of Sunni Muslims who have an understanding of the Urdu language. There are three different ethnicities in the Muslim community which are the Memons and Surtees (who are said to have been successful merchants who came from India) and the Hindi Calcatias who were said to have arrived in Mauritius from Bihar as indentured labourers under British rule. Other Muslim languages on the island are Bhojpuri, Gujarati and Tamil. A big portion of the Muslim community lives in and around Port Louis, which is also the site of one of the gorgeous mosques in the whole of Mauritius, The Jummah Mosque, which was constructed in the 1850s.There are many wonderful mosques throughout the island, but another of the most important mosques is located in the Camp des Lascars and is called the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This was the first mosque to be built in Mauritius in 1805.
Buddhism and other religions
Another of the Mauritian religions, Buddhism is practised by a mere 1% or so of the Mauritian population. Those who adhere to Buddhism are said to fall into a minority of Sino-Mauritians. The other 2% or so of the population practice other religions (such as Judaism and Taoism).
Religious tolerance in Mauritius
As briefly mentioned, the people of Mauritius are a diverse group of people, whose ancestors came to Mauritius for a number of different reasons. Slaves, settlers, labourers and immigrants arrived in Mauritius over the years bringing with them their wonderful cultures, languages and religions which have become integral parts of this magical island. Thankfully, despite the country’s oftentimes dark past, Mauritius has managed to transition from colonial rule to a democracy, where people are allowed to practice their religion and embrace their unique cultures (each of which has formed part of the unique Mauritian culture) and languages freely.
One of the very best ways to get a true taste of the culture and the different Mauritian religions is to go there and experience them for yourself, specifically during one of the many remarkable festivals in Mauritius. There are a few public holidays and religious festivals in Mauritius that are well worth experiencing and showcase the country’s cultural and religions ethnicity to their full. Here are some of the most exciting:
- New Year (31st of December, 1 and 2 January)
- Chinese New Year (January/February)
- Thaipoosam Cavadee (January/February—a Tamil celebration)
- Maha Shivaratri (February/March—celebrated in honour of the Hindu god Shiva)
- Republic Day (12 March—to celebrate the independence of Mauritius)
- Ugadi New Year (March/April—New Year for Hindus from specific parts of India)
- Eid El-Fitr (June—to celebrate the end of Ramadan, an important Muslim practice)
- Ganesh Chaturthi (August/September—Hindu festival in honour of the god Ganesha)
- Diwali (October/November—the Hindu festival of lights)
- All Saints’ Day (1 November—a Christian festival in celebration of all saints)
- Christmas (25 December)
If you are interested in immersing yourself in the extraordinary Mauritian religions and culture, then have a look at the stunning accommodation at any of the four Sun Resorts. These luxury four- and five-star hotels offer sensational spa experiences, extraordinary cuisine (both local and international), a huge variety of activities and beautiful accommodation along some of the best beaches in Mauritius. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway with your significant other or a memorable holiday for the whole family, a stay at Sun Resorts is sure to be totally unforgettable.