By Assad Bhuglah
At the dusk of 29th Ramadan, the eyes are fixed on sky on west horizon of Mauritius in search of new crescent. If the new moon is spotted, it’s end of fasting and the following day Eid ul Fitr will be celebrated. If no moon is seen, then the Ramadan fasting will continue for another day to be followed by Eid ul Fitr the following day. The Eid is a day of joy, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not allowed to keep fast on Eid day, but rather have good food and new dresses and thank Allah for this favour.
The sighting of the moon is indeed a folklore in Mauritius and it is the same ambiance across the world. On the approach of 29th Ramadan, the question is on lips of everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims, whether the new will appear tonight. The Jummah Mosque issues a communique inviting the public how and at what time to search for the moon. At the time of sunset, the eyes are directed towards the sky. Some would go to balcony or roof of the building, others who are more adventurous would climb the hills/mountains or go on boat expedition to have a better view the horizon. It is a moment of waiting, suspense impatience and nervousness. There is also a feeling of pride and ego as to who will be the first to sight the moon. The moment the crescent is sighted, it is a burst of joy, hugging and good wishes. As the tradition wants it, every Muslim who sees the new moon or get the news of it will raise his/her hands to thank Allah. In this age of communication technology, the smart phones and social media become overtly active to convey Eid wishes to families and friends in the nearby and abroad. At the Jummah Mosque of Port Louis, the Committee members meet in urgency to confirm the sighting of the moon and relay the information to the Government, television and press. It is followed by an official announcement that the following day is Eid ul Fitr, a public holiday. In all the mosques across the island, it will be officially announced that there will be no Taraweeh prayer on that night and all persons who had been observing Iteqaf (seclusion in a corner of the mosque for the last 10 days) will come out and greet and hug everybody around. It is an electric moment in the mosque. The youth and community workers of most of the mosque have the tradition to prepare a Haleem for the end of Ramadan. After that, everybody will return home to complete the Eid preparations.
After the confirmation of the sighting of the moon, there is a hectic ambiance in Muslim homes. There will be a rush to give a finishing touch to all the preparations that have started weeks earlier. Side by side with the Ramadan fasting, every Muslim home has its own plan for the Eid. It is a command of the Prophet Muhammad (s.aw) that on the occasion of Eid every Muslim must wear new dresses (if they can afford) and prepare good food. There is a shopping folklore few weeks prior to Eid. There is a convergence toward the spice market to buy dates, dried fruits, spices, vermicelli, zafran, basmati; to fashions shops to buy Muslim dresses; to the perfume shops to buy oriental perfumes (Ittar) and to shopping malls to buy gifts for friends and relatives. It is also customary to replace old curtains by new ones. Others will seize the opportunity to re-paint their houses or buy new furniture or new kitchen households. So, when the new moon has been sighted, there is a rush to make a last shopping of the missing items and a visit to the tailor or dress-maker to get the Eid apparels.
The ambiance of the eve of Eid is enhanced by several home activities. The women folks will gather at one place to apply mehendi. The mistress of the house will put in settings all ingredients that will be used in the preparation of Sewaille (vermicelli in sweet milk). She has to wake up very early the following morning to cook this dish on small fire so that it would be ready to serve after the Eid prayer. The men folks will be busy planning on the logistics needed for the Eid day.
On the Eid day, everybody wakes up early and goes for the Ghusal (obligatory bath), puts the new dresses, applies the Ittar (oriental perfumes). The men folks will head to the mosque or Eid gah (large open place) of the locality to perform Eid namaz. Before entering the mosque, it obligatory to acquit any remaining balance of Zakat, fira and sadaqua (different types of donations to the poor). The Eid namaz itself is a short one (with two rakat only) but it is followed by a long khutbah (speech) of the Imam who sets the context, gives his assessment of the way Ramadan has been observed, explains the significance of Eid, calls for good deeds practiced during Ramadan to continue for the whole year and make collective duah (supplication) for the good health and welfare of all and make special duahs for people and countries facing difficult times. After the Khutbah and duahs, everybody in the mosque stand up to hug with each other to wish happy Eid and to ask forgiveness if ever any wrong has been done. After the Eid namaz, it is a tradition to visit the kabrastan (cemetery) and pray for those who have passed away.
On return of the men folks, everybody at home will sit down and will be served with a cup of vermicelli. Eid is normally spent at family level and that’s why outward manifestation of this festival is visible. As per tradition, those who are younger will go to the homes in neighbourhood to say salaams to the elders. It is the day of the kids as they are fortunate to collect Eidy (cash gifts) from the seniors. The rest of the day rolls on in family gathering and receiving guests. Normally, for the lunch, the mistress of the house will prepare a special dish. Given that she already spent quite some hours in the preparation of the sewaille and the short time available between Eid namaz and lunch hour, the mistress will opt for a less complicated dish. It could be a kaaliah (meat or chicken in a spicy sauce) or any other Muslim dish. Or even biryani if time allows to prepare it. The kaaliah is normally accompanied by Ramadan naan. This folkloric bread appears only during the month of Ramadan. A similar version of this bread is still used in Turkey where it is known as Ramadan naan. Eating the Ramadan naan on the Eid day is perhaps the last one because it will re-appear on the market after one year during the next Ramadan.
Eid cannot be complete without the famous Biryani. The Mauritian biryani has its own peculiarity in terms of taste and spice. But the method of preparing the Mauritian Biryani is closer to the Hyderabadi Biryani. According to historical evidence, Prince Cassim Ally Khan, brother of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Hyderabad, visited Port Louis (Ile de France) in 1798 and stayed on the island for a couple of months until the monsoon wind would be favourable to sail back his ship to India. During the time he spent on the island, his meals were cooked by his chef. It is said that the tradition of preparing Hyderabadi biryani was initiated by the royal chef. Later on with the influx of new waves immigrants, the island got the advantage of having several bhandaris (chef on ships carrying Lascars) as well as cooks brought by the Merchants of Meiman and Surti communities. The Mauritian biryani evolved but basically it has remained Hyderabadi in the style of preparation.
So, on the Eid day it is generally the men folks that take active part in the preparation of biryani, especially if it has to be cooked deg (cauldron). In fact, it is an entertaining activity for the entire family to come in team spirit to get involved in the different processes for the preparation of biryani: cutting, slicing, marinating, frying the onions, mixing the ingredients, adding the right proportion of water, setting the deg & sealing the cover with dough and controlling the intensity of fire. These are the few visible steps, but there are other techniques known to the Bhandari who have been passing on this intangible tradition from one generation to another. On the day of the Eid, the younger ones are given the opportunity to learn from their seniors and participate in the practical exercise. Has he/she been able to master the art? The result will be known at the time of serving through comments and compliments received from others around the table. The family ambiance continues till night, and enhanced by different types of sweets prepared by the younger girls of the family …..