Religious Tourism in Mauritius
February 07 2019
February 07 2019
In the last few decades, Mauritius has quickly grown from being a small hidden gem exclusive to travellers-in-the-know to a top tourist destination, where families, couples and adventurers flock in droves. This magical island, one of the “Vanilla Islands” along with the Seychelles, is naturally stunning, with undulating volcanic terrain, pristine beaches and jungle-like interiors, it’s the definition of “island paradise”. But the appeal of this island goes far deeper than its beauty; it’s wonderfully unique in its culture, customs, history, cuisine and religious landscape.
The eclectic culture of Mauritius is firmly rooted in the country’s history, a complex melange of colonisers, slaves and indentured labourers, which has resulted in the incredible population of Mauritius today. Despite the chequered history, the country is wonderfully unified regardless of language, race and religion, a feat few other countries in the world have managed to achieve.
The major religion in Mauritius is Hinduism, which is followed by the majority of the population. Next comes Christianity (with Catholics making up the main portion of Christians), then Islam and finally, Buddhism, with some hugely important religious sites, such as temples, mosques and churches, dotted all over the island. These sites are fundamental in encouraging religious tourism in Mauritius (which has a renewed focus for the Mauritian government), with many sites being pivotal for sacred pilgrimages and the understanding of the different religions in Mauritius.
If you are interested in religious tourism in Mauritius or would like to better understand the variety of religions and ethnicities in Mauritius, then here are a few must-experience religious places in Mauritius:
Also known as Grand Bassin, this phenomenal site, located in the southwest district of Savanne, is arguably the most popular and most important pilgrimage and religious site in Mauritius, and central to religious tourism in Mauritius. The natural lake, that sits inside of an extinct volcano crater, is said to be sacred. According to legend, the water in the lake actually comes from the sacred Ganges River in India itself, which is why Ganga Talao, and a pilgrimage to the site during the Maha Shivratri festival (one of the most important festivals in the Hindu religion), is believed to be auspicious. Close to the lake’s edge you’ll find a temple and a small collection of shrines, dedicated to Lord Shiva and other important Hindu gods.
This site has really been an important part of religious tourism in Mauritius since 1887 when it was deemed a pilgrimage site. Outside of the Maha Shivratri festival, people visit the site to pray, take pictures, meditate and walk around the lake as they enjoy the gorgeous views.
Entry is free but donations can be left if you so wish, but please remember to take off your shoes before entering the temples.
Mangal Mahadev Ganga Talao
On a visit to Ganga Talao, you won’t be able to miss the huge statue of Lord Shiva, the destroyer, nearby. This gigantic statute is the highest known statue in Mauritius at approximately 33 metres, and the second largest in the world of its type, after the statue of Lord Shiva in New Delhi. This majestic statue is quite hard to miss and makes for a truly impressive sight.
In Sainte Croix, near Port Louis, stands the oldest Tamil temple of Mauritius. One of the most intricate religious places in Mauritius, and built in 1854, the Kayalasson Temple is still an important place of worship for the Tamil community of Mauritius. It’s also listed a heritage site. This fascinating temple was actually built to symbolise the human body, with different organs being represented by six stations and the lotus representing the head. The overarching meaning of the architecture is that devotees should respect the temple as much as they do their own bodies.
Saiva Siddhanta Church and the Spiritual Park of Mauritius
The Saiva Siddhanta Church is located in the unique Spiritual Park close to the Rempart River, which is set to become an important pilgrimage site. Thanks to the secluded location, the unique Spiritual Park is far away from the busy centres and offers a peaceful haven for both locals and international guests who can embrace this outdoor sanctuary to meditate, tune into the Divine, or simply find a moment of stillness. As you wander through the tranquil park, you will happen upon beautiful, small temples and shrines but there are already plans in the works to expand the offerings into the future.
Open to the public seven days a week from 07:00 to 18:00. The park also has a gift store and offers weekly classes and a monthly homage to Panchamukha Ganapati, the park’s presiding deity (which typically takes place on the first Sunday of every month).
Amma Tookay Kovil
This beautiful and sacred Tamil temple, dedicated to Amma Tookay who is worshipped for prosperity and health, goes back to when the indentured labourers came (mainly from India) to work on the sugar plantations in Mauritius. In order to get themselves through trying times, they turned to faith and religion and built this place of worship, in the middle of a sugar cane field in the Riche Bois region, where many indentured labourers worked.
The original structure, shrouded in mystery and legend, was made out of bamboo and straw but it was, sadly, damaged in a cyclone that hit the island in 1945. Interestingly, the main statue remained intact. The temple was then recreated in wood and corrugated iron, but this structure too was damaged in a cyclone and so eventually a concrete building was erected for Amma Tookay. In the 1960s the management of the temple was handed to the Savanne Tamil Benevolent Society who saw to it that a new temple was built, one of a Dravidian nature. This gorgeous and colourful temple is now one of the must-see religious places in Mauritius, the juxtaposition of the intricate structure and the sugar cane fields being something quite spectacular.
There is also a shrine dedicated to other Hindu gods here, such as Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, Lord Muruga, The Nava Grahas, Sri Durga and Sri Hanuman.
Kwan Tee Pagoda
While the Chinese population in Mauritius is not huge (it only makes up about 3% of the total population), the Chinese heritage can be seen in various places throughout the country, specifically in Port Louis. One of 11 pagodas on the island, Kwan Tee Pagoda is one of the oldest and most fascinating religious places in Mauritius. Built in 1842, it’s also the oldest Chinese temple in the whole of the southern hemisphere and has been inspired greatly by traditional Chinese pagodas. It’s a safe space for the devotees who come to the pagoda to ask for protection.
Saint Francis of Assisi Church
This incredible church, located in Pamplemousses opposite the SSR Botanical Garden, was built in 1756 (with the Presbyterian bell outside dating back to 1734) and is considered the oldest standing church in Mauritius. Built with basaltic rock and intricately carved, the church was made with an inverted wooden frame that was used for ships at the time.
Notre Dame Auxiliatrice
This gorgeous, picturesque Catholic church is located near the seaside in the Cap Malheureux, and if you are interested in religious tourism in Mauritius, it’s likely that you have already seen a picture of it. Built in the memory of those who died in a shipwreck, this gorgeous little church is characterised by a special altar carved out of stone and a bright red roof. It’s one of the most popular churches in Mauritius and enhanced by the backdrop of the scintillating cyan Indian Ocean waters, it’s a must visit. The Notre Dame Auxiliatrice is open every day from 09:30 to 19:00 and church services take place on Sundays.
Jummah Masjid Mosque
This mosque is situated in Port Louis on Queen Street, right in the centre of the bustling city, and dates back to the 1800s. The tall white façades and elaborate sculptures are unmissable, and while the hustle and bustle of the city might put you off, it’s actually amazingly peaceful inside which makes for a nice reprieve from the city and a perfect place to find a moment of stillness or pray.
Religious tourism has been around since the dawn of civilisation and these stunning sites will hopefully encourage tourists to explore a different side of Mauritius, one that’s driven by a rich cultural diversity. The list we have provided here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to religious places in Mauritius that are worth seeing. Keep in mind that when you visit these sites, it’s important to act and dress respectfully.
For those that would really like to embrace religious tourism in Mauritius, there is a wealth of religious festivals and cultural celebrations that take place throughout the year and are well worth experiencing.