NEW DELHI (AP) — Millions of Indians stocked up on firecrackers, handed out sweets and adorned their homes with glowing lanterns and sparklers ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, on Sunday.

The most important festival of the year in India, Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The biggest — and loudest — celebrations come Sunday, when people set off a near-constant stream of firecrackers that light up the sky before leaving a dark, smoggy cloud that lingers for days.

This year, mindful of the pollution and the dangers of the deafening displays, authorities have made a push to cut down on the number of firecrackers, and some schools sent notices home urging parents not to buy any fireworks.

The country's grim financial straits also may affect this year's celebrations.

At a wholesale market in New Delhi, shopkeeper Mahesh Chand Sagar said the financial downturn is affecting sales.

"Fulfilling one's basic needs has become a problem nowadays," said Sagar, 40, who has been selling candles, garlands and other decorations for the past 10 years. "If people can't afford basic necessities, how will they buy decorative items?"

Typically, people buy gold during Diwali, including jewelry, coins and small statues of the elephant-headed Ganesh. But the government has imposed a steep new tax on gold imports, making the already-high prices far out of reach for many Indians.

Still, it seems unlikely the concerns about pollution and finances will dampen enthusiasm for Diwali too much. In the run-up to the festival, people hand out sweets, give their homes a vigorous cleaning and offer prayers to Ganesh and to the Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Shops have been packed with customers buying new clothes, gifts for friends and co-workers and brightly lit decorations for their homes. Potters ramp up production of popular earthen lamps, known as diyas.

On the night of Diwali, which is a shortened form of the word Deepavali, meaning 'a row of lamps,' families gather for the spectacular fireworks displays held all over the country.

Diwali also is celebrated by Hindus in other parts of the world, including Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Malaysia.


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