Diwali in Delhi was quite the experience, but not quite what Katey was expecting!

Diwali is the festival of lights, and that certainly holds true! The city is decorated with millions of twinkling lights, people are out celebrating with their friends and families, and the fireworks are rattling the windows. It’s certainly exciting! However, in between the traditions and the festivities, it seems that things are not as joyful they could be.

Diwali is broken up over a few days with different traditions for each. On the main day, lights are lit, sweets are eaten, and gambling games are played in order to entice the goddess Lakshmi to bless the home and family with luck and wealth for the coming year. The sweets are to ensure the blessings of Ganesha as the remover of obstacles to help Lakshmi. Fireworks are used to scare away bad spirits. The next biggest day is two days after which is the day in which brothers and sisters reaffirm their relationship with gifts and blessings exchanged.

While the traffic was mercifully light due to the holidays, many other aspects of life in the city become more difficult during Diwali, in particularly the air quality is horrendous. During the evening of Nov. 11, the air quality index (AQI) sensors maxed out at 999 due in part to the massive quantities of fireworks in the stagnant air above Delhi. In contrast, Seattle’s AQI is hanging out between 20 – 25. In the aftermath of Diwali night, the AQI in South Delhi is hovering around 330. According the the AQI, a rating under 50 is considered good, and anything over 300 is hazardous. Technically, the official scales caps at 500. The repeated exposure to high levels of particles and pollution in the air is leaving many in Delhi with prolonged health issues, particularly those who have no other option but to remain in the city.

Another aspect of the holiday which has been overshadowing the core traditions, much like many other holidays throughout the world, is the renewed focus on the consumerism. Diwali is traditionally a time of giving gifts to friends and family, as well as the time of year when new clothes are worn to usher in the new year. This has been exploited by the major retailers in massive ad campaigns that focus on what should be purchased, such as new appliances, jewelry, cars, etc. rather than gifts from the heart, and within the means of the individual.

Despite all of the issues surrounding Diwali, it really is an amazing time to be in India, and was incredibly fun for Katey to be a part of it this year!

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