Light and shadow: diwali’s record-setting celebrations amidst environmental concerns
In India, millions of people celebrated Diwali on Sunday, setting a Guinness World Record for the number of brightly lit clay oil lamps. This event coincided with an increase in concerns about the air quality in the South Asian country.
Throughout the country, multicolored lights adorned homes and streets in honor of the annual Hindu festival of lights, which symbolizes the victory of light over darkness. However, the impressive and highly anticipated massive lighting of the oil lamps took place on the Saryu River in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, the birthplace of their most revered deity, the god Ram.
On Saturday evening, devotees lit more than 2.22 million lamps and kept them burning for 45 minutes while Hindu religious hymns resonated on the river banks, setting a new world record. The previous year, over 1.5 million clay lamps were lit. After counting the lamps, representatives from the Guinness World Records presented a certificate to the state’s chief elected official, Yogi Adityanath.
Over 24,000 volunteers, mostly university students, helped prepare for the new record. Pratibha Goyal, Vice Chancellor of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University in Ayodhya, was among the organizers.
Diwali, a national holiday in India, is celebrated by socializing and exchanging gifts with family and friends. Many light clay oil lamps or candles and set off fireworks as part of the celebrations. In the evening, a special prayer is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, believed to bring luck and prosperity.
Over the weekend, authorities put additional trains into operation to accommodate the large number of people trying to reach their hometowns to join in family celebrations.
The festival arrived as concerns about air quality in India were increasing. Last week, a dangerous level of 400-500 was recorded on the air quality index, more than 10 times above the global safety threshold, which can cause acute and chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks. But on Saturday, unexpected rain and strong winds improved the levels to 220, according to the government’s Central Pollution Control Board.
Air pollution levels are expected to rise again after the end of Sunday night’s celebrations due to the use of fireworks.
Last week, officials in New Delhi closed primary schools and banned polluting vehicles and construction work in an attempt to reduce the worst fog and smog of the season, which has caused respiratory problems for people and enveloped monuments and tall buildings in and around the capital of India.