NEW DELHI – India celebrated on Thursday Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights similar to Christmas that is observed with much pomp and show, including the bursting of noisy firecrackers that in the past have heightened pollution levels, especially in the capital New Delhi, which is one of the world’s most polluted cities.
However, a recent ban by the country’s top court on its sale in the capital – with 25 million residents – means this year New Delhi residents would have difficulty sourcing firecrackers, although this has not dampened spirits.
“We have been buying lights, sweets and household goods. We also burst firecrackers, but this year it has been banned in Delhi, so we have decided to forego that part,” Prem Shankar, 24, whose family – like most Hindu Indian families – worship the goddess of wealth Laxmi on Diwali evenings, told EFE.
The festival, which symbolizes the victory of good over evil, also marks the start of the Hindu New Year.
During this time, millions of Indians reunite with their families, spring clean their homes and exchange gifts and sweets with friends and acquaintances.
For businessman Tarun Jain, 40, Diwali is not only a time to “meet with family and pray, but also wear new clothes and exchange gifts.”
Besides the prayers, offerings and firecrackers, lights have a significant place in this Hindu tradition that stems from an old legend of Lord Rama, whose return from 14 years of exile – during which he fought and defeated demon King Ravana in the island of Lanka (currently Sri Lanka) – was celebrated with people lighting up their homes with earthen lamps or “diyas.”
However, owing to the Supreme Court ban, many, especially firecracker traders are not happy with the festivities this year.
“We bought a lot of stock and now we cannot sell them,” Sanjay Grover, whose firecrackers shop was shut down a week before Diwali, told EFE.
Following the Supreme Court order, the Delhi police confiscated more than 1,200 kilograms (around 2,645 pounds) of firecrackers and arrested 29 people to curb their illegal sale.
However, it remains to be seen how far the ban manages to subdue the smoke and noise that envelopes the Indian capital until late hours on Diwali, and how it affects the capital’s pollution levels, which touched a record high last year and forced authorities to declare a health emergency.