Lord Skanda-Murugan

Synopsis: "Religion, Ethnicity and Diaspora: Murugan Worship among Tamil Hindus in Mauritius"

Dr. S. Selvam

Tamil Hindus in Mauritius, barring some who settled during the French period, emigrated from Indian sub-continent as indentured labourers after 1834 when the British introduced indenture system to overcome the shortage of labour in sugar plantations. Historically, Tamils formed a second largest ethnic and diasporic group among Hindu Mauritians, only next to immigrants speaking Bhojpuri/Hindi. Though indentured labourers built most of the Tamil Hindu temples, traders built a few. Most of the Tamil temples were in sugar estates and dedicated principally to Amman (Mother goddess) or Murugan, two Dravidian gods from the Tamil speaking region of South India.

Against this backdrop, this paper explores the socio-religious significance of two temples located in two different cities in Mauritius in a comparative frame. The temple at Port Louis was built in 1856 by the Tamil traders and administered now by an association dominated by trading community. The other temple at Quatre Bornes was built in 1887 by an indentured labourer and managed now by the descendents of indentured labourers associated with the temple subsequently. These temples thus articulate the existence of two different diasporas namely trade and labour diasporas, constituting Tamil Hindu ethnic group in Mauritius.

All the Tamils in Mauritius, signifying their national importance, revere both the temples. These temples and their festivals such as Kavadi not only fulfil the religious and spiritual needs of the Tamil community but also have expressive function as an ethnic marker in the multi-ethnic Mauritian society. This paper examines their different roles and functions at family, community and national levels. It is argued in this paper that in addition to the fulfilment of spiritual needs of individual and family, these temples enforce an organic solidarity among Tamils. This solidarity is articulated during festivals such as Kavadi Festival, with participation of Tamil Hindus hailing from different parts of Mauritius, which often turn into a forum for national solidarity among them as a separate ethnic group. It is shown in this paper that in addition to factors such as language and place of origin, religion and places of worship play a significant cementing role in formation and existence of ethnic groups and diasporas.

Dr. S. Selvam
Associate Professor of Sociology and Visiting Fellow
Faculty of Social Studies and Humanities
University of Mauritius
Reduit, Mauritius
Phone: 230-4541041 ext. 1253
Fax: 230-4656184
E-mail: s.selvam@uom.ac.mu