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The Daily Tar Heel

Students prepare to celebrate Diwali amid pandemic


UNC's Hindu Youth for Unity, Virtues and Action celebrates Diwali in 2019. Photo courtesy of Architha Pavuluri.

Festivities for the religious holiday Diwali, celebrated among Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, will look different for many students this year amid the growing pandemic.

Nicknamed the festival of lights, Diwali lasts for five days and is primarily celebrated on the third day, which will fall on Nov. 14 this year. 

There are various stories behind the origins of Diwali, many relating to religious texts from thousands of years ago. The common theme of Diwali, however, is to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. 

One ritual of the holiday is to engage in a puja, or a prayer for good health, wealth and happiness. For sophomore Riya Patel, the religious aspect of Diwali is a meaningful part of her celebration.

“I usually celebrate Diwali by going to the temple the night of Diwali and watching the fireworks show they put on in order to symbolize the defeat of light over darkness,” Patel said. 

While some temples might be closed this year due to COVID-19, Patel will still maintain some aspects of her family’s Diwali traditions.

“One of my favorite parts of Diwali is putting up decorations around our house, especially because all the decorations are so beautiful and colorful,” she said.

Tarini Agrawal, a sophomore who is a member of the UNC Sangam Club, the largest South Asian group on campus, said decorations are a big part of celebrating Diwali. 

“My mom decorates our house with lights, and we put diyas around the house,” she said. “Diyas are these little, small candles and always look really pretty. It’s always nice to see the steps of our house lit up.”

In addition to decorations, food and gatherings with family and friends play a large role in Diwali. This year, however, celebrations will likely be more intimate.   

“Usually we go to a friend’s house and celebrate too, but obviously with COVID I don’t think we’ll be able to be with a lot of people,” Agrawal said. “I think this year we’ll just keep it to family or a smaller group.” 

Sophomore Rhea Bhagia said some celebrations can last the whole month.  

“In Charlotte, there’s always Indian parties with our friends where we have a large arrangement of food, our closest friends and a dance floor with a DJ,” Bhagia said in an email. “It’s always tradition to go out to our friends house and have an amazing night of dancing to our favorite Bollywood jams.”

Although Diwali is known for bringing people together, many will have to adapt their plans according to social distancing guidelines this year. For Bhagia, this means missing out on these usual grand get-togethers.  

“Unfortunately, this amazing holiday can’t be celebrated to its fullest with COVID-19,” she said.  “My family is planning on having a COVID-friendly celebration outdoors with a very small group of people wearing masks to eat delicious food, light up the house and listen to some Bollywood music.”

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