Indian authorities have sounded the alarm over worsening air pollution over the weekend, which reached dangerous levels in New Delhi last week before a brief spell of rain brought some respite . But by Sunday, the festivities had already produced a new cloud of smoke in the capital, whose wider metro is home to nearly 33 million residents.
As of midnight local time, large urban areas, including New Delhi and Kolkata in eastern India, saw their air quality deteriorate dangerously. This time of year normally marks the start of the “pollution season” in New Delhi. It lasts for several months and is caused by vehicle exhaust, construction dust, industrial emissions and crop fires in neighboring states.
But the holiday is so revered and so widely celebrated that the ban on firecrackers is almost never enforced. This year, India’s Supreme Court declined to enact a blanket ban on all firecrackers and instead reminded states to ban the sale of firecrackers jointed with or containing banned chemicals.
Symbolizing the victory of light over darkness, Diwali is an annual festival which, although Hindu, is also celebrated across faiths, including Sikhs and Jains, who live primarily in western India. This is also seen in the South Asian diaspora. Sri Lanka and Nepal also both celebrate, as do the Indian and Hindu populations of Singapore, Fiji and Malaysia, among other countries.
Celebrants typically light candles, set off fireworks and line houses, temples and river banks with rows of diyas or earthenware oil lamps – a tradition that gives the celebration its name. “Deepavali” means “a row of lights”.
During the five days of Diwali, celebrants also party, share sweets, pray and spend time with loved ones. Some decorate their homes with rangoli, a traditional art form where vibrant patterns are created on the floor with colored rice or sand.
In Uttar Pradesh on Saturday, devotees lit more than 2.2 million oil lamps, a figure that the national tourism agency said broke previous records of just under 2 million. The mass lighting took place in Ayodhya on the banks of the Saryu River, the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.
The oil lamp display set a new Guinness World Record, according to the Associated Press. After counting the lamps, representatives of the Guinness Book of Records presented a record certificate to the state’s highest elected official, Yogi Adityanath, the AP reported.
Andrew Jeong contributed reporting.