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Diwali Fireworks Are Limited In India Over Toxic Smog Concerns

Indian commuters drive through smog in New Delhi on Oct. 31, 2016. Last year's Diwali festival left New Delhi shrouded in a thick blanket of toxic smog, after millions of Indians lit firecrackers to celebrate.
Indian commuters drive through smog in New Delhi on Oct. 31, 2016. Last year's Diwali festival left New Delhi shrouded in a thick blanket of toxic smog, after millions of Indians lit firecrackers to celebrate.

One year after fireworks celebrating Diwali, the religious festival known as the festival of lights, enveloped New Delhi in a thick, choking smog, courts in India have issued bans on fire cracker sales and restrictions on when fireworks can be exploded.

The clampdown has angered critics — including Gov. Tathagata Roy of Tripura in northeast India, who warned via Twitter that the authorities might next "use environmental pollution as an excuse to call for an end to Hindus cremating their dead," the Times of India reports.

Citing air quality and noise levels as their main concern, at least two courts have issued separate rulings seeking to curtail fireworks. India's Supreme Court banned firework sales in the national capital region of Delhi, and in a neighboring area, a high court "fixed the time slot of 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for bursting crackers on Diwali in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh," the Hindustan Times says.

The new rules come after last year's Diwali celebrations were blamed for making the air around New Delhi even more unhealthy than usual. As NPR's Camila Domonoske reported, "levels of extremely small particulate matter more than doubled over the course of a few hours. Those tiny particles, called PM2.5, can travel into the lungs and get stuck there, posing a serious health risk."

An Indian shopkeeper sits at her firecracker shop in New Delhi on Oct. 9, as India's top court ordered a temporary ban on the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi ahead of the Diwali festival.
Money Sharma / AFP/Getty Images
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An Indian shopkeeper sits at her firecracker shop in New Delhi on Oct. 9, as India's top court ordered a temporary ban on the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi ahead of the Diwali festival.

The five-day Diwali festival marks an important holiday for Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. Coinciding with the Hindu New Year, it celebrates the victory of light over darkness through the Hindu god Lord Rama's return to his kingdom after 14 years in exile. It also honors the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.

In 2017, the first day of Diwali (Dhanteras) is on Tuesday, Oct. 17; for most celebrants, the festival peaks on Oct. 19 and ends on Oct. 21.

Diwali is also known as Deepavali a term that is derived from "Deepa meaning light and vali meaning a necklace of light or a row of lamps," as Vasudha Narayanan, a professor of religion at the University of Florida, has told NPR.

Workers in India prepared firecrackers at a workshop on the outskirts of Ahmedabad last month, ahead of the Diwali festival that peaks on Oct. 19.
Sam Panthaky / AFP/Getty Images
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Workers in India prepared firecrackers at a workshop on the outskirts of Ahmedabad last month, ahead of the Diwali festival that peaks on Oct. 19.

Because of the affection and the loud festivities Diwali invokes, Narayanan has called the holiday Christmas on steroids. Here's how she described her personal experience with it:

"Well, first of all, the way we celebrate it is to light lamps all over the house and public spaces. And in addition to that, we have light going off and fireworks very early in the morning. Oh, I'm talking about two or three in the morning. So if you're not getting up, the sound will get you up, wake you up.

"So, while it's called a festival of light, it's more a festival of sound and smells of - the smells of fireworks. And every house has a lot of fireworks. And it's literally, well, as an adult looking on it, it's like - it seems to be like money going up in smoke. But we used to love buying as many fireworks as possible growing up."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.