NEW DELHI (AP) — Indians celebrated Diwali on Monday when bright earthen oil lamps and dazzling, colorful lights lit homes and streets across the country to mark the Hindu festival that symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness.
Diwali, a national holiday across India, is usually celebrated by socializing and exchanging gifts with family and friends. Many burn earthen oil lamps or candles, and fireworks are set off as part of the celebrations. In the evening, a special prayer is offered to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, who is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.
Prior to the celebrations, towns and villages across the country were decorated with colorful lights. Millions of Indians thronged bustling bazaars to shop, bringing back the Diwali cheer that had been dampened for the past two years due to coronavirus restrictions. The markets were buzzing with eager shoppers buying flowers, lanterns and candles intended to decorate homes and offices.
As dusk fell on Sunday, more than 1.5 million earthen lamps were lit and kept burning for 45 minutes at Ram ki Paidi, on the banks of the Saryu River in the northern city of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh, marking the Guinness World Record it had set last year was kept.
Senior government official Nitish Kumar said more than 22,000 volunteers, the majority of them students, kept lamps lit for the prescribed time to break last year’s record of 900,000 oil lamps.
Hindus believe that the deity Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya, where he returned after 14 years in exile. To celebrate his return, people light earthen lamps.
The holy city was decorated with Christmas lights prior to the event, and a laser and fireworks show lit up the alleys and riverbanks. Thousands of residents also lit lamps at their homes and temples in the city.
The stunning spectacle along the banks of the Saryu River was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Amid chants of Hindu religious hymns, Modi lit an earthen lamp and performed “aarti” — a common Hindu ritual that involves waving lit lamps in front of an idol.
Earlier, Modi had prayed at a much-anticipated temple of the Hindu god Ram on the site of a demolished 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya.
The Babri Masjid Mosque was destroyed in December 1992 by a Hindu mob with picks and crowbars, leading to massive Hindu-Muslim violence that killed some 2,000 people, most of them Muslims. The Supreme Court verdict in 2019 allowed the construction of a temple instead of the demolished mosque.
It was Modi’s second visit to the temple since he laid the foundations for the temple’s construction in 2020. Modi and his party had long promised to build a temple to Ram where the Mughal-era mosque once stood, in a long-running controversy.
“Lord Ram’s ideals are a beacon of light for those aspiring to a developed India in the next 25 years,” Modi said during his speech there.
In recent years, Diwali celebrations have been tinged with concerns about air pollution, which is typical: shrouds northern India in a poisonous gray smog as the temperature drops and winter sets in.
The pollution problems in northern India during the onset of winter are mainly due to vehicle emissions and the burning of crop stubble to clear fields. But on Diwali night, people also lit up the sky with fireworks and the smoke creates smog that sometimes takes days to clear up.
Some Indian states, including the capital New Delhi, have banned the sale of fireworks and imposed other restrictions to curb the pollution. Authorities have also urged residents to light “green crackers” that emit fewer pollutants than normal firecrackers. But similar prohibitions have often been violated in the past.
Banerjee reported from Lucknow, India.
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