Mauritius - The Telugu Community in country - When differences no longer matter
Both Shyam and his wife, Jeshina were adamant that there is no difference, although he classifies himself as a Hindu and she as a Telugu . As it turned out, they are probably right. The major difference between the Telugus and the other Hindus is a linguistic one. The Telugus come from the state of Andra Pradesh where Telugu is spoken.
However, in Mauritius and nowhere else, it would seem, although all the Hindus come from India and are Hindus by faith, they tend to classify themselves according to their linguistic and cultural heritage rather than to their religion. So a Tamil may tell you he is not a Hindu but a Tamil. The Marathi is not a Hindu either but a Marathi. Each community has by and large tended to keep to itself and children are brought up conscious of the heavy weight of their ancestral culture. At school, this is enforced by the different classes children go to, each trying to learn her ancestral language and culture.
The sense of belonging to the community is confi rmed by Papaya Goorimoorthee, a lecturer at the MGI. Having been a Telugu teacher himself before he converted to teaching Indian music, particularly the 'Mridanga', he stresses the linguistic and cultural identity which differentiate the Telugu community from the other Hindu communities. 'God cannot be associated with a language,' he concedes, 'but we have our differences. Our weddings are different in the sense that our women do not wear the sindhur (red powder worn in the hair to show that a woman is married) but wear the 'cordon zon' (a yellow thread collar) instead. Our ladies wear the pulloo (the 'tail' of a saree) on the right instead of the left and our cuisine, especially our cakes are different. There are some varieties of cakes which are typical of the Telugu community.'
However, of all the Hindu communities in Mauritius, the most open to others seems to be the Telugu community. Though, according to Papaya, marriages outside the community used to be rare, he thinks that things have changed a lot recently. But he can still tell a Telugu just by looking at one. Chandra Veeranah, a fast food merchant confi rms both the difference and the openness towards other communities. He also gives the example of the temple where we were, which was set up by Telugus but which is being used as a place of worship by other Hindus.
Is Ougadi a Hindu festival then? Contrary to what we have always believed, Ougadi is in fact the Hindu Lunar New Year and last Tuesday, the Hindu community celebrated the year 2067. However, in the Mauritian context, Ougadi has always been associated with the Telugus. The rest of the Hindus celebrate New Year on Sankrati, which, according to scholars, in fact marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the sun's movement northward for a six-month period or the harvest season. Are the people attending the Ougadi celebrations at the temple mostly Hindus or Telgus? The doctor says Hindus, the lecturer and the merchant say they are mainly Telugus. Swami Partha Sarathi Andra, a Telugu who comes from Andra Pradesh, is happy to tell us that the people who come to that temple are 90% Hindus. A lesson in openness and integration.