Diwali - the Festival of Lights - Binds Together Communities
This festival symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
Every single ritual of Diwali has their significance and story. When people lights up their homes with diyas, lights and skies, it signifies their homage offered to the heavens to attain health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. One particular belief is of the view that the sound of fire-crackers indicates joy of the people living on earth. This makes the gods in the heavens aware about the mass existence of humans on earth, it is believed.
The period from mid-October to mid-November is the month for the festival of lights for Indians. It is the time when 'diyas' and lights decorate the nation and the bursting sounds of crackers and 'dhols' creates a pandemonium in the darkest of the nights. This festival, although it is majorly meant to be celebrated by the Hindus, Jains and Sikhs of the country, people of every religion and community jump in for its celebration. The festival also has other names such as Jain Diwali, Bandi Chhor Divas, Tihar, Swanti, Sohrai and Bandna.
This festival lasts for a period of five or six days in most of the regions of the nation. This festival symbolizes the spiritual significance of the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.
It is also a celebration of Lord Ram's return to Ayodhya along with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman after they defeated the demon king Ravana in Lanka. This return also marked the completion of 14 years of their exile. People celebrated by lighting lamps.
As time progresses into the occasion of Deepavali or Diwali, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes and workplaces with diyas (traditional oil lamps) and makes colorful 'rangolis'.
Early Sanskrit texts and scriptures mentioned about Diwali. The celebration of Diwali commences twenty days after the Vijayadashami (Dussehra).
The Five days of Diwali
The celebration starts with Dhanteras, which is the first day of Diwali. People are of the view that this day is auspicious to buy something metallic. This can include kitchen equipment, appliances, gold and silver coins and even jewellery.
In the North, the second day is referred to as the Choti Diwali, whereas in the West and South it is known as Naraka Chaturdashi. Lastly in the East, it is known as Bhoot Chaturdashi. It is the day prior to actual Diwali.
The third day of the celebration marks the actual celebration of Diwali. In an Amavasya Night, the day of the new moon, the Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in the North. Families decorate their houses with diyas and light. It is followed by a display of fireworks and feast of sweets and gifts.
Govardhan Puja is celebrated on the fourth day. This celebration is organized to mark the feat that Lord Krishna carried out. He lifted the Govardhan Mountain in order to protect the people from the wrath of Lord Indra. The day sees beautiful presentation of miniature clay and cow dung figures.
Significance of Lights and Firecrackers
Every single ritual of Diwali has their significance and story. When people lights up their homes with diyas, lights and skies, it signifies their homage offered to the heavens to attain health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. One particular belief is of the view that the sound of fire-crackers indicates joy of the people living on earth. This makes the gods in the heavens aware about the mass existence of humans on earth, it is believed. Another scientific perspective states that the fumes produced by the firecrackers kill plenty of insects and mosquitoes, which exist in large numbers after the rains.
Diwali and Air Pollution
Lighting of firecrackers is a major source of air pollution. This massive use of firecrackers paves way for the increase of concentration of dust and pollutants in the air. Moreover, the finer dust particles settle down on the surrounding surfaces which are usually incorporated with copper, zinc, sodium, lead, magnesium, cadmium and other pollutants like oxides of sulfur and nitrogen. This contamination of air by the harmful particles puts people health at a risk.
People's respiratory tract gets affected with the thick smoke generated by the lighting of firecrackers. Conditions of cold and allergies become more severe as an aftereffect of firecrackers. The harmful fumes which are produced during burning firecrackers are also capable of inducing a miscarriage.
Diwali and Sound Pollution
Noise Pollution is another issue caused greatly by Diwali celebrations.
Research states that continuous exposure to sounds above 85 db can lead to progressive hearing loss. A person when exposed to sounds above 85 db of noise requires hearing protection.
Firecrackers are an integral part of Diwali celebration. However it affects noise quality. Fire crackers generate a noise level as high as 140 dB. A short blast of loud noise can cause severe to profound Sensorineural hearing loss, pain, or Hyperacusis (pain associated with loud noise). This usually involves exposure to noise greater than 120 to 155 dB.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board Fire crackers noise rules, "the manufacture, sale or use of fire-crackers generating noise level exceeding 125 dB(AI) or 145 dB(C)pk at 4 meters distance from the point of bursting shall be prohibited"..
This year too, bursting of noise- emitting firecrackers has been prohibited from 10 PM to 6 AM across Assam.
Controlling noise pollution should be a major concern of the authorities and of individuals. There is a need for sensitization of people to the adverse health impact of noise pollution.
The Firecracker industry of Assam
Assam's firecracker industry dates back to around 135 years. The firecracker industry has been considered as one of the important industries of Assam for a long time. A large section of this firecracker industry is located in Barpeta area of Lower Assam.
The firecracker industry, which has experienced massive growth in recent years, contributes immensely to the economy of Assam. The handmade firecrackers in Assam have a great demand and are also known to uphold the cultural significance of Diwali.
The manufacturers make use of bamboo sticks, chemical powder, and some hard work by artisans who have mastered this craft over many generations to create these handmade firecrackers. However, the trend of handmade firecrackers is also facing a threat due to a lack of raw materials and high production costs.
Reports state that, about 15,000 households are involved in making handmade firecrackers. These households are spread across 50 villages in Assam's Barpeta district.
The small-scale firecracker-making industry in Assam comprises of highly-skilled, labour-intensive process that requires a lot of raw material.
The handmade firecrackers have been part of the cultural heritage of Assam for centuries. However, their popularity has been declining as new trends are taking over. People in present times prefer to buy factory- made crackers at lower prices than those made by hand.
Green crackers in Assam
The Supreme Court laid down certain rules and limitations for the occasion of Diwali. Since then everyone is looking for green crackers. But the problem is that green crackers are not easily available in the market.
Luckily, the firecracker industry in Assam has been practicing the art of making eco-friendly crackers for a long time. A village in Assam consists of people who have been producing eco-friendly crackers since 1885.
In recent times, more than 1,100 people have begun making crackers in Ganakkuchi village. This movement has also paved the way for employment of many and protecting the environment as well. That leaves independent bodies such as the Central Pollution Control Board and state pollution control boards to conduct spot checks on manufacturers.
Green crackers contain non-polluting chemicals and do not contain any toxic elements.
GreenCracker is a project developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The process involves the emission of water vapour and carbon dioxide as waste. Green crackers contain non-polluting chemicals, which do not contain any toxic elements. These crackers are made of a combination of sodium nitrate, charcoal, sulphur, and potassium nitrate.