Lord Skanda-Murugan

Synopsis: "Complementary Roles of Kavati Festivals in Mauritius"

J. Chemen

Mauritius is one of the unknown territories where Indians migrated centuries ago in search of a better livelihood. Although the presence of 'Black Indians' dates back to 1686, the migration of Indians became more common during the French and British periods. Among them, the Tamils migrants comprised mainly of indentured labourers and skilled workers, hailed from a poor, illiterate and rural areas in South India. The presence of Tamil merchants in Mauritius in that period did not influence the then Tamil population to a great extent.

Today the present Tamil population represents a signifigant percentage of the total Hindu population, which consists mainly of Hindi ethnic group and a very small percentage of Marathi and Telugu speakers. In spite of gradual loss of their mother tongue and constant irrestitble influences from the west in the name of modernisation, Tamils of Mauritius have successfully retained their religious identity from the days of immigration through active celebration of religious festivals such as kavati and walking of fire. The celebration of kavati is not only spiritual in nature but has gradually evolved into a very important expression of ethnic identity of Tamils of Mauritius. Today the average Tamils of this country are very conscious of the significance of kavati festivals in the maintenance of their ethnic identity. On the other hand participation of other Hindu and non-Hindu ethnic groups tends to shift this ethno-cultural festival to a national festival or pan-Indian festival. It is against this background that the present study is based.


The main objective of this study is to find out how Tamils of Mauritius succeed in retaining kavati as their essential ethnic identity marker in spite of the increasing participation of non-Tamil Hindus and other non-Hindu ethnic groups. Attempts are being made to study the complementary role of kavati in uniting the Hindus of Mauritius, irrespective of their linguistic difference.


Qualitative research methodologies, namely participant observation, non-participant observation, interviews, document analysis were mainly used to conduct this study. The researcher is an active member of the ethnic group taken for study and this facilitated a participabnt observation study.Observers who share a common ethnic identity with the subjects may carry large amount of detailed knowledge that can never be equalled or acquired by others (Fishman, p. 870). Involvement and attitudes of both Tamils and non-Tamils subjects have been elicited through the use of questionnaires and interviews. The research was also supplemented by published materials such as documents from archives, newspapers, magazines and journals.

Jeevendiren Chemen, M.A.
Department of Tamil
Mahatma Gandhi Institute
Moka, Mauritius
E-mail: jchemen@hotmail.com