Firecrackers on this Diwali: – It’s that time of the year again. The festivals are upon us and bring with them a great sense of celebration.
The buzz is well and truly starting to develop all-around Nepal as schools, colleges, offices, and government institutions have begun to shut down for the festivals.
This is the time when sound of bangs and pops fill the night scene of any and every town in Nepal. Yes, we are talking about the sound of firecrackers. Here are some things to know about them before this year’s festival of lights.
Why do we celebrate with firecrackers during Diwali?
We all know Diwali is the festival of lights. We decorate our houses with plenty of lights, colorful decorations, and rangolis. How exactly does the pop and bang of a firecracker come into this equation? To answer that question, we first need to know why we celebrate Diwali in the first place.
Diwali (Tihar or Deepawali) is a five-day-long festival mainly celebrated by people following Hinduism. The day of Diwali is celebrated as the day Goddess Lakshmi was rescued by Lord Bishnu from the prison of King Bali.
The day of Diwali is also celebrated as the birthday of Goddess Lakshmi. According to the Hindu stories, goddess was first incarnated on the new moon day in the month of Kartik. In Nepal, Lakshmi Pooja is celebrated on the day and is considered as the most important day of the Tihar festival.
The custom to add wealth (dhan) to the household is also celebrated on this day as a tribute to the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. The house is decorated and well lit with Dios and electronic lights as a gesture to welcome Lakshmi into the house. After the sun sets, the Lakshmi Pooja is held and people pray for the prosperity of the household.
The five days of Diwali also symbolize other victories of the deities. On the day before the day of Diwali, is a day also known as Chhoti Diwali. The day symbolizes the day Lord Krishna returned home after defeating the demon king Narakasur in a battle.
With the defeat, Lord Krishna freed all of the 16,000 women held captive by the demon. When he returned home from battle, celebrations began to symbolize the victory of good over evil. Due to the victory over the demon king named Narakasur, the day is also called Naraka Chaturdashi. This day is known as Chhoti Diwali as it is celebrated in a similar style to Diwali but on a smaller scale.
According to the Hindu epic Mahabharat, Diwali is the time when the Pandav brothers (Yudhishthir, Bhim, Arjun, Nakul, and Sahadev) returned home from their 12 years of banishment. According to the story, it was the new moon day of Kartik when the Pandav brothers returned home.
Their banishment was a punishment, according to the story, when they lost to the Kaurav brothers when gambling. Upon the return of the Pandavs back home, celebrations began. Earthen lamps were lit throughout the town to mark the return of the Pandav brothers. And the Diwali celebrations also symbolize the return of the Pandav brothers.
The day of Diwali is also celebrated as the day when Lord Ram, Goddess Sita, and Lakshman returned back home to Ayodhya after defeating the king of Lanka, Ravan.
The battle of Ram and Ravan has been described in another Hindu epic, Ramayan. Ramayan is a story that follows the battle of good versus evil. The epic is filled with plenty of stories of the battles between good and evil.
According to the story, Ram along with Sita and Lakshman defeated the ten-headed king Ravan of Lanka and conquered Lanka. They returned home on the new moon day of Kartik and that is day for the Diwali celebrations.
Now that we have established that Diwali is a time of celebration, we can have a look at what the celebration actually is. Traditionally, the celebrations were primarily done by cleaning the houses well and lighting Dios and lamps to brighten up the night.
The tradition of using firecrackers to celebrate the festivals doesn’t have roots in the Hindu epics which is very interesting as now, firecrackers seem to be an integral part of the celebrations these days. The tradition of using firecrackers in Hindu celebrations is interesting in itself because firecrackers were first made in China. How the firecrackers found their way into the Hindu celebrations is interesting.
In Nepal, the practice of using firecrackers is relatively new. In India, though the tradition apparently dates back to the Mughal period. The use of fireworks has not been found before that period.
After the Mughal rule, fireworks were used in Diwali celebrations. But during the rule of the British Empire in India, the production and use of the explosives were banned.
The rise of fireworks in the modern scenario is largely credited to two brothers. The Nadar brothers are credited with the rise of fireworks in India. Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar worked in a match factory in Calcutta in the 1920s. They then returned to their home in a place called Sivakasi and established a match factory there.
After 1940, some explosives were made legal in India and that is when the Nadar brothers established a fireworks factory. It was the Nadar brothers who tried to tie Diwali and firecrackers together.
They had good coverage all over India thanks to their numerous match factories. They had more than 180 factories in Sivakasi alone by 1980. The factories used to manufacture fireworks and supply them all over India.
It is exactly the reason why the Nadar brothers are believed to be the reason behind the rise of fireworks in India. Thanks to their numerous factories and attempts to make fireworks part of the mainstream Diwali celebrations, the custom has seen a huge rise.
The tradition is therefore not old and is definitely not mentioned in the Hindu history books. The rise of using mass-produced fireworks for Diwali only began in the 1940s largely due to the efforts of the Nadar brothers.
What you need to know about fireworks this Diwali!
As the festival of lights nears, we all have the urge to brighten up our houses and we know that it is only a matter of time before we start hearing the distant bangs and pops of the firecrackers in the city. While it might seem fun in the short term there are some serious concerns that they bring. In Nepal, because of these concerns, firecrackers are banned.
The ban on firecrackers in Nepal
The ban on firecrackers in Nepal dates back as far as the mid-2010s. That’s more than a decade ago. The reasons for the ban on the fireworks in Nepal primarily arise from the adverse effects they have had on public health and safety.
1. Safety Concerns:
The rise in the use of firecrackers in cities has fueled a decline in air quality. Every single pop and bang of a firecracker releases with it a mixture of various gases.
The gases while, not immediately harmful in the short term, they can be very dangerous in the long run. Firecrackers contain chemicals like Sulphur, Aluminum, and Copper. The fuel that causes the firecrackers to pop is mostly charcoal with fire powder.
When charcoal burns gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are released. Carbon monoxide is so dangerous that, even if a small amount of it enters the lungs, it often proves to be fatal. The gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless which makes it even more dangerous.
Even the small sparkles meant for children may look harmless at first but the thick smoke released during the display is very harmful to the respiratory tract.
Severe effects on health have been observed due to fireworks for people suffering from heart disease, nervous system problems, and respiratory problems. People suffering from cold and allergies are also badly affected by the smoke.
Deaths and injuries related to carbon monoxide from firecrackers are rather uncommon but still, other factors are just as bad. The gases released during the explosion remain in suspension in air for much longer and are eventually inhaled by humans.
This inhalation of gases causes damage of lungs and the respiratory tract. Asthma patients are hit the hardest. The inability to breathe due to the bad air quality can be very dangerous.
The coloring compounds in the firecrackers bring dangers of their own. The coloring agents used are often metallic compounds (copper, aluminum, etc.). The burning of these metallic compounds releases gases that are very detrimental to human health.
The green element of the fireworks is brought by the usage of compounds containing barium which is actually radioactive and is very dangerous to human health. Copper compounds used to produce blue color are believed to be cancerous.
The pollution caused by these firecrackers is also not insignificant. Due to the worsening quality of air in Delhi, the government of Delhi had to apply a total ban on the use of any firecrackers a while back.
They also had to ban the open burning of most things including plastics, wastes, and garbage. Schools had to be closed for a long time because it was too dangerous for the children to walk around in the open. Fresh air was scarce.
Although the pollution of this proportion was caused by a combination of several other factors, the firecrackers also have a role to play in this. In India in particular, the use of firecrackers is much more massive than it is in Nepal.
The use of firecrackers in India is not just limited to Diwali, unlike Nepal. Weddings and any other type of celebration see a big use of the fireworks to mark to occasion. Thanks to the huge usage of the fireworks, it is easy to see how they can adversely affect the air and public health.
The air pollution is brought about by the suspension of PM10 particles. PM10 are the particles having a mean diameter of smaller than 10 micrometers. According to a study conducted in India, the density of PM particulates in the air during Diwali was 81% higher than normal.
These particulates when inhaled cause severe respiratory problems leading to asthma. Apart from respiratory problems, air pollution due to fireworks also causes other problems like nausea, headache, irritation in the eyes, sneezing and sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses leading to irritation).
In addition to air pollution, sound pollution is also a big issue. The loud bangs of the firecrackers are very troublesome and disturbing to the tranquility of the night. People affected the most by this are people of old age, people battling depression and people having health issues. Animals, like dogs, are also very vulnerable to the loud bangs of the firecrackers.
Fire Issues: In addition to the pollution concerns, another major reason behind the ban on fireworks is their tendency to ignite house fires. After plenty of instances where a house fire was started due to the lackluster handling of fireworks, a step needed to be taken.
This led to the ban on fireworks in Nepal as well. Significantly fewer instances of house fires have been reported since the fireworks ban in Nepal. This has led the government to double down on their ban, imposing further restrictions and fines on whoever is found in possession of the firecrackers.
Over the years, police have stepped up their efforts to minimize the use of fireworks in Nepal. Raids on shops suspected of trading the banned items have risen year by year.
The security checks in the points of entry to the Kathmandu valley have been made more thorough and rigorous. Every Dashain and Tihar sees more than 3000 policemen (both uniformed and un-uniformed) deployed in the valley to enforce this fireworks ban as much as possible.
Outside of the valley, the border checks and security are also heightened along the border with India. Several lakhs worth of fireworks is seized right at the border every year from the people who try to smuggle the fireworks from India.
3. Immediate Effects:
The immediate effects of the fireworks are just as concerning as the long-term effects. There have been reports of people suffering burns from mishandling the firecrackers.
Scientists have warned, while the firecrackers don’t seem harmful, they are essentially like mini bombs. Fireworks are made with gunpowder and an explosion of gunpowder is not dissimilar to an actual bomb explosion.
There also have been reports of people having problem hearing after exposure to the loud explosions of the firecrackers. Elongated exposure to such explosions can cause permanent damage to the hearing.
4. Visibility Issues:
On top of causing irritation to the eyes, fireworks have another effect on visibility as well. The particulates that they release get suspended in the air for a long time and can cause the air to lose its visibility. Excessive usage of firecrackers in some places can cause the visibility to be so worse that people often mistake the smog for fog.
The particulates suspended in the air seem to be like fog in the morning but actually the fog is a mixture of the PM10 particulates, smoke, and air. Studies conducted in India have proved that a not insignificant part of the thick smog blanketing Delhi every day is caused by the excessive use of fireworks.
These issues have led the Indian government to impose some sort of a ban on the usage of fireworks.
5. Child Labor:
Another troubling thing about the fireworks industry is the fact that a lot of the factories have been found guilty of employing children thus fueling child labor. Factories in India have been found using children, often forcing them to make the fireworks products.
In China, the country that produces the majority of world’s fireworks, child labor has been found. The use of child labor is troubling and this fact alone should be enough to make people aware of the negative impacts of the fireworks
Precautions to be followed while using fireworks on this Diwali or Tihar festival
Despite all the negative impacts of fireworks on public health, air quality, and sound pollution, there will be some usage of fireworks inevitably. If you have to use the fireworks this time, you may want to follow the following precautionary steps:
- Ban has been enforced in almost all forms of fireworks in Nepal. But some forms, like small sparkles might still be legally available. So be sure to purchase only legal fireworks.
- To avoid the storage hazard of the fireworks, only use freshly purchased fireworks. Storing big amounts of fireworks is very dangerous. Once they catch fire, there is a very small chance of putting an end to them quickly.
- Obey all the laws put in place by the government to prevent any legal issues.
- Use safety goggles when lighting if possible.
- Use the fireworks as they come. It is very unsafe to alter fireworks in any way. A lot of the injuries are caused when people try to innovate combining multiple fireworks at once.
- Only use dry fireworks.
- If a firework doesn’t go off, never relight it. It would be safe to pour water on it to kill the danger.
- Remove all dry leaves from the ground and clear the ground properly before using fireworks to prevent any chance of creating a fire.
- Do not wear clothing that catches fire quickly.
- Do not use fireworks near trees, vehicles, roads or children. There are plenty of instances of people trying to scare pedestrians by the use of a firecracker. That can cause serious legal issues and is very dangerous.
- Never light a firework while you are still holding it.
- Use a long match stick to light the firework.
- Never permit children to handle the fireworks under any circumstances. Children are especially vulnerable to smoke and loud noises.
- Never handle fireworks while under the influence of alcohol.
- Do not ignite the fireworks near pets. Animals are also very vulnerable to loud bangs.
- Never aim the fireworks towards other people, houses, vehicles, roads or power lines.
- Do not use the fireworks near schools, hospitals and other places of public gathering.
Facts about fireworks
Despite all the bad effects that fireworks bring with them, they were originally meant for entertainment purposes only. Following are some of the facts about fireworks:
- Fireworks were first used in China. Usage of some sort of fireworks in China can be traced to a time as early as 200 B.C. Back then, people in China used wood to create a bang. They did so to scare away enemies from their villages.
- From China, the fireworks and their usage spread around the world. Marco Polo, the great Italian traveler, is believed by many to have introduced Europe to fireworks. But historians believe that Europeans had been introduced to gun powder much earlier due to their trade relations with the rest of the world, most likely through the Arabs.
- China is the largest exporter and manufacturer of fireworks in the world. As much as 90% of the world’s fireworks come from China.
- Historically, fireworks were used for defense purposes rather than entertainment. People used to use the explosions as a method to scare away invaders and even evil spirits.
- A 13 kg firework rocket produced and launched in Portugal is believed to be the largest in the world.
- Also, in Portugal, the largest firework display consisting of 66,000+ fireworks was created in 2006.
- A firework rocket can reach as high as 200 m up in the air and can get to speeds of over 200 kmph.
- In 1996 in Hongkong, a series of firework explosions lasting more than 20 hours were created to celebrate the new year.
- Major cities around the world now have a custom of marking the beginning of the new year by creating an elaborate display of fireworks in the night sky.
That sums up pretty much everything you need to know about fireworks before this year’s celebrations begin. The thing to take care of always is safety.
By Prajwal Bhandari