Homemade shrines of Hindu deities adorn students’ dorm rooms and apartments in place of the sacred images found in temples to celebrate Diwali because of busy schedules and long commutes to temples.
Diwali, a Hindu holiday that honors the precedence of light over darkness, marks a new year of spiritual and literal prosperity, said Donald Davis, professor and department chair of Asian studies. The weeklong holiday, which begins Oct. 27, involves prayers that can occur in a temple or at home, Davis said.
He said there are two Hindu temples in the Austin area, with Austin Hindu Temple closest to campus at about 7.5 miles away. Although the two temples are located on the city’s peripheral, he said many United States cities do not have a temple at all.
Davis said while it is not mandatory to worship in temples, most Hindus do, because it provides a sacred space where the relationship to God is enhanced. However, he said many Hindus pray at home in the absence of a nearby temple, such as students who adjust their religious practices to life on campus for Diwali.
“What’s quite beautiful about Hinduism is that many people have a small shrine in their homes,” Davis said.
Biomedical engineering sophomore Sneha Pallipuram said she will celebrate with her family in Dallas. Before coming to UT, she said her family visited temples once a week and more frequently around major festivals such as Diwali.
She said temples in Austin are inaccessible to her, so she started praying alone in her room when she first arrived to campus.
“I feel pretty guilty, because (praying at temples) is something I’ve done ever since I was born,” Pallipuram said. “There’s a part of me that knows I’m not any less of a religious person, because praying is praying.”
Pallipuram said she does not feel as in touch with her roots in college because she lacks the community and convenience she once had for religious ceremonies. She said she goes home to reconnect with that community and refocus on her faith around holidays.
Neuroscience junior Mudita Sharma said her religious practices are more disciplined at home, but at school, she is more open because she departs from rigid traditions.
“I have different conversations with God here,” Sharma said. “Here, I have a real conversation with him, but there are certain things that I say back home, because I’m used to it.”