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UNC student group Holi Moli adapts annual Holi celebration virtually

Alisha Kelkar celebrates a late Holi with friends on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

In normal years, vibrant colors cover students on Hooker Fields after a full day of celebrations for Holi. But this year, the colors were confined to backyards and patios after a week of activities and a live celebration over Zoom.

UNC Holi Moli is a student-run organization that hosts a campus-wide celebration of the Hindu festival of Holi, which takes place at the start of every spring. Over 2,000 students gather every year and throw colorful powder to celebrate the beginning of spring and the triumph of good over evil. The event serves as a chance for the community to come together and learn more about the significance of the holiday.

This year, Holi took place on March 28 and 29, and leading up to the holiday, the executive board of Holi Moli hosted a week of virtual events starting on March 22. The events included an improv comedy show with the Chapel Hill Players, a live yoga class, a live Indian cooking class, a session telling the history of Holi and finally the live Zoom celebration on March 26. 

Holi Moli also sold color packets and T-shirts for students to use during the live Zoom celebration. 

UNC junior and co-director of Holi Moli Shivam Bhargava said even though people could not gather as a group, the virtual events made it seem like a big celebration for everyone to get involved.

“A lot of South Asian students were able to celebrate, especially those who may not be at home to celebrate with their family,” Bhargava said. “I think a lot of students still felt that sense of community with our week of virtual events, and even the students who weren't South Asians still felt like they were able to celebrate Holi Moli in a different kind of way.”

For first-year biology and neuroscience student Mansi Gupta, this is her first year working with Holi Moli, and she said COVID-19's influence on the holiday made it a weird first experience. While she hopes for a normal experience in future years, she said she appreciates how the group still found a way to celebrate. 

“It was definitely a very different transition from going from all these friends and family that I have where I live back home to here,” Gupta said. “I think it's just gonna get better as it goes throughout the four years that I'm here, but there's just a different transition.”

Sophomore biology major Jasmine Jahad is not only new to Holi Moli, but this year was her first-ever Holi celebration. She said she was invited over to a friend’s apartment and they celebrated by throwing the colored powder and listening to Desi music.

“Ever since I've gotten to college I've made a lot of Indian friends and they've introduced me to a lot of different cultural celebrations and their food and their music and so many fun things,” Jahad said. “I'm Iranian, so spring is something that's really important in my culture, and it's interesting to see how that transcends in different Indo-European countries."

Krupa Patel, a UNC junior on Holi Moli's executive board, typically celebrates Holi with her family, and said while she would have also preferred an in-person celebration, she found that the virtual activities worked surprisingly well. 

“Normally if you were to have the event in person, you'd come with your friends, you’d talk to your friends and you would leave, you would not really talk to anyone else,” Patel said. “But this year, when we had our comedy events, people were talking to each other in the chat. Before events started, everyone was just in a Zoom call together, so you'd have small talk then, and I think that made it feel a little bit more homey than usual.”

Stuti Shah, a sophomore and member of the Holi Moli executive board, said this event was an opportunity for Holi Moli to raise funds and awareness for North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT), a nonprofit organization that aims to uplift Asian Americans in North Carolina.  She said the group raised $1200 for NCAAT through the proceeds of the T-shirts and color packet sales. Shah was proud they were able to address the problems that are going on in the Asian American community.

“NCAAT spoke a little bit about what they do in the community and why it's so important to advocate for Asian Americans, considering the hate crimes that have been on the rise recently,” Shah said. “Being a South Asian interest organization, we believe that we have a responsibility to speak about what's impacting our AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) peers and just make the world a safer place for everyone.”

Though everyone involved with Holi Moli is looking forward to a full celebration in the future, they expressed their gratitude for finding the positives in the circumstances.

“We learned how to be adaptable, and we learned how to still keep the spirit of Holi alive,” Shah said. “Even in the darkest of times, Holi is all about happiness and excitement, and it's really difficult to get that happiness and excitement in the world we live in today. But the fact that we were able to cultivate that and we were able to get people interested and see their excitement is just really great because, despite everything, there is still light at the end of the tunnel.”


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