How ban on sale of firecrackers does not infringe upon Hindu traditions

A lot of people seem to share the perspective that the issue with fireworks and the debate on their ban is not environmental, but communal.

Growing up in a Hindu household, the Diwali I knew was that of diyas, aartis and fireworks. That is what gets passed down as a tradition to the younger generation so, the burning argument against the ban on crackers, amid rising pollution levels, does not come as much of a surprise. Following the Supreme Court order placing a ban on the sale of fireworks ahead of Diwali in Delhi and its neighbouring areas, many have taken offence rather than celebrating the move for a noise-free and pollution-free festival. The sale of firecrackers will resume on November 1 as the sole objective is to study whether removing firecrackers as a factor actually helps lower pollution levels in Delhi-NCR.

Ban isn’t communal. You are.

However, a lot of people seem to share the perspective that the issue with fireworks is not environmental, but communal. Apparently, the push for a ban on crackers is a ploy to demean Hinduism through “selective shaming.” Well then, I must have been in the wrong thinking otherwise, as for the longest time, it had been about the rising pollution levels, and the harmful effects of fireworks on animals. The argument in the favour of fireworks is that it they are part of our traditional values.

Indian author Chetan Bhagat even stated in a tweet on Monday, “What’s Diwali for children without crackers?” It seems Bhagat has completely forgotten that there is more to the festival than firecrackers – an element introduced much later in the game.

Originally in Hinduism, the festival was celebrated to mark the return of Lord Rama with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. I suppose firecrackers, a 7th-century innovation, wouldn’t date back to the age of Rama. Or does it?

How is it that fireworks have become such an integral part of our tradition that people are supremely protective about them?

The history of firecrackers

The earliest mention of firecrackers dates back to 7th century in China, where people would put gunpowder inside bamboo tubes to ignite as they believed it would ward off evil spirits. It was long after the discovery of gunpowder that the element made its way to India and even then, it was not used in celebrations until much later.

Scholar PK Gode notes in his 1953 book A History of Fireworks in India that the first mention of fireworks in Sanskrit texts was somewhere between 1497 and 1539 AD. Just for context, for those who get the timeline mixed, Lord Rama is believed to have been born in 5114 BCE (much before the firecrackers were invented).

An 18th-century painting of Dara Shikoh depicted the use of fireworks to celebrate a marriage procession. It is only logical to conclude that our Diwali celebrations were independent of fireworks until somewhere around the past 500-300 years.

The inclusion of firecrackers in the festivities of Diwali is relatively new and does not justify our pollution of our habitat, especially in light of its already fast depleting resources. “Stop using petrol cars and ride a bike to work every day then,” is an argument that we often get to hear. Perhaps in the future, when pollution levels are such we can no longer avoid such a move, this may be possible. But, right now, it is indeed possible to cut down mass-scale bursting of crackers just for a few hours of ‘amusement’.

There isn’t a second Earth

The high levels of pollutants in our atmosphere can lead to several cardiovascular and respiratory disorders. Furthermore, the noise causes extreme distress to animals who have no option but to stay on the streets. The chemicals released from the crackers do no good to these strays (including cows, if that helps you empathise) either.

Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh too recently bore the brunt of such firework-crazed fanatics who suggested that he not use air conditioning on a video where Singh talked about celebrating a pollution-free Diwali. Some even hurled abuses and argued against the bursting of crackers to celebrate victories in cricket matches.

Even so, why is it important to further the defilement of our planet when it can so very easily be avoided? It is not like we haven’t done away with traditions before. We have evolved greatly in the last 100 years alone and our traditions are used to alterations. Playing poker also happens to be a new, foreign inclusion in this list of Diwali traditions for some, but that doesn’t take away the essence of the festival.

It is only in recent times, that we have been forced to put on our communalism glasses. The issues with the wastage of water on Holi, animal cruelty on Bakr-Eid, and pollution on Diwali have prevailed for many years and like everything else, are now being sensationalised. It is important that we understand this- it wouldn’t kill us if we kept ourselves off of fireworks. Bursting crackers, however, just might.

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