Diwali celebrations across India and the world, in pictures

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Streets and homes across India were aglow on Sunday night as millions of people celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

The celebration broke a record for the largest display of clay oil lamps – 2.2 million – lit in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Crowds, defying a ban on firemen, lit sparklers and candles and set off fireworks in towns and cities, including the main -city, New Delhi.

Indian officials had warned of worsening air pollution this weekend, which reached dangerous levels in New Delhi last week before a brief period of rain brought some relief. On Sunday, however, the celebration had already produced a new cloud of smog in the capital, whose wider metro is home to nearly 33 million people.

By midnight local time, major urban areas, including New Delhi and Kolkata in eastern India, saw their air quality deteriorate dangerously. This time of year usually marks the beginning of “pollution season” in New Delhi. It lasts for several months and is caused by vehicle exhaust, construction dust, industrial emissions and crop burning in neighboring states.

But the festival is so respectable and widely celebrated that the ban on burning fire is hardly enforced. This year, India’s Supreme Court declined to implement a blanket ban on all fire extinguishers and instead reminded states to ban the sale of fire extinguishers that are attached to or contain banned chemicals.

Symbolizing the victory of light over darkness, Diwali is an annual festival which, although Hindu, is celebrated across religions, including Sikhs and Jains, who live mostly in western India. It is seen throughout the South Asian diaspora as well. Sri Lanka and Nepal also celebrate, as do Indian and Hindu populations in Singapore, Fiji and Malaysia, among other countries.

Those who celebrate usually light candles, set off fireworks and line houses, temples and river banks with rows of diyas, or clay oil lamps – a tradition that gives a name for the celebration. “Deepvali” means “string of lights.”

During the five days of Diwali, participants also feast, share sweets, worship and spend time with loved ones. Some decorate their homes with rangoli, a traditional art form where vibrant patterns are created on the floor with colored rice or sand.

In Uttar Pradesh on Saturday, devotees lit more than 2.2 million oil lamps, the state’s tourism body said, breaking previous records of just under 2 million. The great light took place in Ayodhya on the banks of the Saryu River, the birthplace of the Hindu god, Ram.

The oil lamp display set a new Guinness World Record, according to the Associated Press. After counting the lamps, Guinness Book of World Records representatives presented the state’s elected chief executive Yogi Adityanath with a certificate of registration, the AP reported.

Andrew Jeong contributed to the report.

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