Millions of Indians celebrated Diwali on Sunday with a Guinness World Record number of bright earthen oil lamps as concerns about air pollution soared in the South Asian country.
Across the nation, dazzling multicolored lights decked homes and streets, as devotees celebrated the annual Hindu festival of light symbolizing the victory of light over darkness.
However, the spectacular and much-awaited massive lighting of the oil lamps took place — as usual —at Saryu River, in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state, the birthplace of their most revered deity, the god Ram.
At dusk on Saturday, devotees lit more than 2.22 million lamps and kept them burning for 45 minutes as Hindu religious hymns filled the air at the banks of the river, setting a new world record. Last year, more than 1.5 million earthen lamps were lit.
After counting the lamps, Guinness Book of World Records representatives presented a record certificate to the state’s top elected official, Yogi Adityanath.
More than 24,000 volunteers, mostly college students, helped prepare for the new record, said Pratibha Goyal, vice chancellor of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University in Ayodhya.
Diwali, a national holiday across India, is celebrated by socializing and exchanging gifts with family and friends. Many light earthen oil lamps or candles, and fireworks are set off as part of the celebrations. In the evening, a special prayer is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, who is believed to bring luck and prosperity.
Over the weekend, authorities ran extra trains to accommodate the huge numbers trying to reach their hometowns to join family celebrations.
The festival came as worries about air quality in India rose. A “hazardous” 400 to 500 level was recorded on the air quality index last week, more than 10 times the global safety threshold, which can cause acute and chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks. However, on Saturday, unexpected rain and a strong wind improved the levels to 220, according to the government-run Central Pollution Control Board.
Air pollution level is expected to soar again after the celebrations end on Sunday night because of the fireworks used.
Last week, officials in New Delhi shut down primary schools and banned polluting vehicles and construction work in an attempt to reduce the worst haze and smog of the season, which has posed respiratory problems for people and enveloped monuments and high-rise buildings in and around India’s capital.
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