Concerns about the coronavirus epidemic and growing air pollution prompted Indians throughout the nation to begin celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, on Thursday.
Diwali is traditionally marked by social gatherings and gift exchanges with family and friends. Many people burn oil lamps or candles to represent the triumph of light over darkness, and fireworks are often put off as part of the festivities.
Last year’s celebrations in India were thrown off by a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, but they appear to be returning this year. Despite the government’s request that big gatherings be avoided, marketplaces have been bustling in the run-up to Diwali, with enthusiastic throngs buying flowers, lanterns, and candles.
As night came on Wednesday in the northern city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state, over 900,000 clay lights were lighted and continued glowing for 45 minutes, keeping the Guinness World Record established last year. Last year, the city lighted 606,569 oil lamps as part of its Diwali celebrations.
The lamps were lighted at Ram ki Pauri, on the banks of the Saryu River, creating a breathtaking display for thousands of tourists who defied coronavirus social distancing conventions to flock to its shores. Following that, a laser and fireworks extravaganza illuminated the city’s streets and riverbanks. Thousands of city dwellers burned candles in their homes and shrines.
The celebration takes place at a time when India’s pandemic crisis is winding down.
On Thursday, India had over 12,000 new coronavirus cases and 461 fatalities, a far cry from earlier this year, when the country was dealing with hundreds of thousands of new infections every day. According to the Health Ministry, it has resulted in over 35 million illnesses and over 459,000 fatalities. These statistics, like those elsewhere, are very certainly undercounted.
Even places where illnesses were soaring only a few weeks ago, like Kerala on the lush Malabar Coast, have experienced a steady reduction. Last month, India celebrated delivering its billionth COVID-19 vaccination dosage, adding to the sense that life is returning to normal.
Nonetheless, experts have cautioned that if COVID-19 health precautions aren’t strictly followed, the festival season might see an increase in diseases.
There are also concerns about air pollution, which blankets northern India in a poisonous grey haze as temperatures drop and winter approaches.
People also lit up the sky with firecrackers on Diwali night, generating pollution that took days to clean up.
While there is no worldwide prohibition on exploding firecrackers, a handful of states have put limitations in place to reduce pollution, with some permitting citizens to ignite green crackers for a limited time. Green firecrackers emit fewer pollutants than traditional firecrackers. Similar prohibitions have been disobeyed in the past.