India was celebrating one of its biggest festivals of the year on Wednesday, as the country came to a colourful standstill for the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali.
People shared images on social media of houses lit up with fairy lights, public installations and candles laid out to mark the occasion.
Most Indians spend the day inside with family, exchanging gifts and sharing lavish feasts, but the real festivities will kick off with elaborate firework displays in the evening.
The prime minister, Narendra Modi, travelled to the Himalayan town of Kedarnath, where he offered prayers for Diwali at a Hindu temple, before tweeting: “Happy Diwali! May this festival bring happiness, good health and prosperity in everyone’s lives. May the power of good and brightness always prevail.”
Mr Modi also used the visit to inspect a military post on the India-China border. According to a statement from his office, he compared the soldiers to Diwali lights dispelling darkness and fear. “Through their commitment and discipline, they are also helping to spread the sense of security and fearlessness among the people,” the statement read.
Mr Modi’s office posted images on his official social media channels of the prime minister, wearing a puffer jacket and “PM”-adorned baseball cap, feeding soldiers Diwali treats by hand.
It is the sort of display most Indians have gotten used to from their prime minister, who is gearing up for a crucial and by no means comfortable election in spring next year.
And in a somewhat unusual public exchange on Twitter on Tuesday night, Mr Modi also used the occasion to show off relations with a powerful ally – his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.
Celebrated Diwali with our valorous Army and @ITBP_official personnel at Harsil in Uttarakhand.
India is immensely proud of all those who protect our nation, with utmost dedication and courage.
We salute them! pic.twitter.com/siW4Yz2UUd
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 7, 2018
Bibi, my friend, thank you so much for the Diwali wishes.
Every year, I visit our border areas and surprise our troops. This year too, will spend Diwali with our brave troops. Spending time with them is special.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 6, 2018
Mr Netanyahu posted a tweet in Hindi wishing his “dear friend” Mr Modi a “joyous” Diwali, to which the Indian prime minister replied in Hebrew and English that he would “share photos” with Mr Netanyahu from his trip to visit the troops. He concluded the message: “:)”
The tradition of setting off fireworks for Diwali means that for those in India’s metropolises, the festival comes with an unwanted spike in air pollution.
Combined with seasonal smog from crop-burning and industry, the issue is always particularly bad in the capital Delhi, and this year authorities are attempting to enforce strict rules to curb the toxic smog.
Fireworks in the capital region will only be permitted from 8pm to 10pm on Wednesday night, and the Supreme Court has ordered that fireworks only be used which have reduced emission and decibel levels.
— Elita Promenade Owners Association (@oa_elita) November 7, 2018
— Bollywood Gandu (@BollywoodGandu) November 5, 2018
Green Crackers 😜 pic.twitter.com/waKQ5flCI6
— Troll Tax (@Vishupedia) November 5, 2018
Sc – Burst crackers only between 8-10pm.
*Me at 9:59pm* – pic.twitter.com/A4ln71H8CX
— Mask Ishan (@Mr_LoLwa) November 6, 2018
But there are concerns over how enforceable this will be in a city of more than 20 million people. The police say they have seized over 3.8 tonnes of illegal firecrackers in the last two weeks.
Delhi police spokesperson Madhur Verma said plainclothes officers would be deployed across the city to keep an eye out for illegal activities. “We are fully prepared. We have formed various teams which will be deployed on Diwali day to monitor the situation,” he told the IANS news agency.
Delhi’s environment minister Imran Hussain urged citizens to consider skipping fireworks altogether, asking them to make a “positive contribution” and enjoy “a green and clean Diwali”. Some shopping malls in the city have swapped light displays for elaborate plant-based constructions.
Despite these efforts, Delhi’s air quality deteriorated to the worst level of the season so far on Monday and forecasters expect it to continue to worsen after Wednesday’s night’s festivities.