“Good will always triumph”: UMD students celebrate Diwali amid pandemic

Vandan Patel next to Testudo during the livestreamed Diwali event on Nov. 5, 2020. (Screenshot via YouTube)

By Maddie Herron
For The Diamondback

For many University of Maryland students observing Diwali, a holiday celebrated by much of the Indian community, celebrations for the “festival of lights” had to be adapted this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In accordance with the Hindu calendar, Diwali is a celebration of new beginnings, the triumph of good over evil and, for some, the new year. Celebrations can last up to five days, with the main day of celebrations falling on the third day, which was Saturday this year.

The festival is set to continue until Monday, and despite the pandemic, students at this university have found ways to participate.

Madhu Nallani, a junior cell biology and genetics major, said her family normally throws a party for Diwali with friends and family. But this year, the party was converted into a small, socially distanced gathering in a neighbor’s driveway.

“It was very distanced, we all wore masks. Definitely not the same, but I think it was just really nice, because I think we had come to the conclusion that this is what it is,” Nallani said. “It was just really meaningful and nice.”

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Typical customs that take place during Diwali celebrations include displays of fireworks, candles, intricate artwork called Rangoli, large offerings of food and spending time with one’s family.

Although these festivities are a large part of the holiday, Havya Patel, who served as the president of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha Campus Fellowship at this university and graduated in 2018 with a degree in aerospace engineering, said there is much more to this time of the year.

“It’s not just a holiday to be celebrated at a surface level, it’s more of a time of reflection,” he said. “It’s the day when light wins over darkness.”

Previous celebrations of Diwali on the campus included large gatherings in Stamp Student Union — last year, Patel said about 1,600 people passed through.

Although the pandemic currently prohibits these types of gatherings, Vandan Patel, the current president of the BAPS Campus Fellowship at this university, said it did not prevent people from connecting virtually, and it may have actually connected more people than ever before.

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This university’s chapter of BAPS Campus Fellowship held an early virtual celebration on Nov. 5 in conjunction with over 50 other campus chapters nationwide.

The theme of the virtual event was about forgiveness.

“It’s not just UMD coming together,” the senior aerospace engineering major said. “Because it’s virtual, we have combined with all other 50-plus campuses nationwide and across Canada to put on this documentary-style kind of show for everybody.”

Havya Patel said the goal of the documentary was to use a story arc in the Hindu scriptures to share a message of forgiveness.

Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, students such as Nallani are still embracing the spirit of the holiday, taking time to reflect and spend time with family.

“During such a weird time we are celebrating the triumph of good over evil,” Nallani said. “Diwali proves to me that good will always triumph, even in the most unusual and darkest of circumstances.”

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