Millions of Indians set a world record during Diwali celebrations despite concerns about air quality

Millions of Indians celebrated Diwali on Sunday with a record number of bright clay oil lamps, entered into the Guinness World Records, as concerns about air pollution increased in this South Asian country.

Dazzling, colorful lights adorned homes and streets across the country as believers celebrated the annual Hindu festival of lights, symbolizing the victory of light over darkness.

But the impressive and eagerly awaited mass lighting of oil lamps happened, as usual, on the Sarayu River in Ayodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, at the birthplace of their most revered deity, Lord Rama.

On Saturday at dusk, devotees lit over 2.22 million lamps and kept them burning for 45 minutes while Hindu religious hymns filled the air on the riverbanks, setting a new world record. Last year, over 1.5 million clay lamps were lit.

After counting the lamps, representatives from the Guinness World Records presented a record certificate to the state's Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

According to Pratibha Goyal, the Vice-Chancellor of Dr. Rama Manohar Lohia Avadh University in Ayodhya, over 24,000 volunteers, mostly college students, helped prepare for the new record.

Diwali, a national festival throughout India, is marked by socializing and exchanging gifts with family and friends. The festivities include lighting numerous clay oil lamps or candles and launching fireworks. In the evening, a special prayer is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, believed to bring luck and prosperity.

Over the weekend, authorities launched additional trains to accommodate the massive number of people trying to reach their hometowns to join family celebrations.

The festival took place against the backdrop of growing concerns about air quality in India. Last week, the air quality index was recorded at a "dangerous" level of 400-500, more than 10 times the global safety threshold, which can trigger acute and chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks. However, on Saturday, unexpected rain and strong winds reduced the level to 220, according to the state Central Pollution Control Board.

It is expected that air pollution levels will rise again after the end of the Sunday evening 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 season's most severe haze and smog, causing breathing problems for people and enveloping monuments and tall buildings in and around the Indian capital.

Authorities used water sprays and anti-smog guns to control the haze, and many people wore masks to avoid air pollution.

Almost every year, New Delhi tops the list of many Indian cities with poor air quality, especially in winter when the burning of crop residues in neighboring states coincides with lower temperatures that trap deadly smoke.

Some Indian states have banned the sale of fireworks and imposed other restrictions to curb pollution. Authorities also urged residents to use "green crackers" that emit fewer pollutants than regular fireworks. However, in the past, such bans were often ignored.

This year's Diwali celebration was marked by authorities preparing for the opening in January of the long-awaited temple of the Hindu god Rama at the site of the demolished 16th-century Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.

The Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by a crowd of Hindus with pickaxes and hammers in December 1992, triggering mass violence between Hindus and Muslims, resulting in about 2,000 deaths, most of whom were Muslims. The Supreme Court verdict in 2019 allowed the construction of the temple at the site of the demolished mosque.