NEW DELHI – India was celebrating on Wednesday Diwali, one of the largest Hindu festivals, also known as the festival of lights, with prayers, fairy lights, clay lamps, and some auspicious gambling in honor of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Frenzied, last-minute preparations have been underway in Indian homes since Tuesday evening, including buying of religious paraphernalia, idols, clay lamps, flowers, sweets and gifts for family and friends.
“Happy Diwali! May this festival bring happiness, good health and prosperity in everyone’s lives. May the power of good and brightness always prevail,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in a statement while greeting the nation for Diwali.
“May the Festival of Lights illuminate every home and every family, in our country and across our shared planet,” India’s president Ram Nath Kovind said on Twitter.
Over the last month, especially during the past week, Indians have been cleaning their homes, repainting and decorating them with fairy lights.
On Wednesday evening, candles and clay lamps as well as intricate floral or geometric designs drawn with the help of colors or flower petals will brighten entrances to Indian homes.
India will be illuminated as night falls, with important landmarks and monuments, and well as houses, apartment complexes, shops and markets covered in sheaths of fairy lights.
Dressed in their fineries, Indians will distribute sweets and gifts among friends and families and employees and burst fire crackers in the evenings.
Indians are known to burst an inordinate amount of fire crackers every year, although celebrations are likely to be muted this time around, particularly in the Indian capital, where pollution this week had crossed toxic levels.
The Delhi government had urged people to burst crackers at designated community areas and only for two hours, between 8 and 10 pm.
According to India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), PM10 – particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers – levels had reached 700 micrograms per cubic meter in several parts of the capital on Monday.
According to the WHO, a concentration of more than 100 micrograms per cubic meters of PM10 could be detrimental to human health, while levels above 200 and 300 are harmful and toxic.
India experiences severe air pollution just before winter sets in every year owing to burning of crop stubble in northern India and changing weather patterns, as well as the bursting of firecrackers during Diwali.
Last year, PM10 levels had reached around 1,000 during the festival.