New Delhi: Diwali, also known as Deepa or Avali, stands as India’s grand festival of lights, captivating the nation with its vibrant celebrations. The festival not only illuminates the night sky but is also intertwined with the fascinating history of firecrackers, adding a mesmerizing dimension to the cultural festivities. Let’s delve into the story of how firecrackers became an integral part of Diwali, unraveling the connection between this luminous tradition and the rich tapestry of Indian culture.
While numerous narratives surround the origin of firecrackers, historians often point to China as the birthplace of this dazzling tradition. One tale recounts a cook accidentally tossing potassium nitrate into a fire, leading to a burst of colorful flames and a subsequent explosion that unveiled the discovery of gunpowder. Another perspective attributes this discovery to Chinese soldiers, who, by combining potassium nitrate and charcoal, created gunpowder that exploded when exposed to the sun. This explosive mixture was then placed in bamboo tubes, marking the inception of firecrackers made from bamboo.
Around 2200 years ago in China, bamboo was thrown into fire, creating a loud burst upon heating. Chinese folklore believed that this sound would drive away evil spirits, dispel negative thoughts, and usher in happiness and peace. Eventually, firecrackers found their way into joyous occasions like birthdays, festivals, and weddings.
The Mahabharata era also contributes to the firecracker chronicles, with Marathi saint poet Eknath describing a poem from 1570 that narrates the use of fireworks during the wedding of Rukmini and Lord Krishna.
The journey of firecrackers transcending China began in the 13th century. As gunpowder spread from China to Europe and Arab countries, it revolutionized weaponry. Pyrotechnic training schools emerged across Europe, disseminating knowledge on crafting firecrackers and weapons from gunpowder. This period, from the 13th to the 15th century, witnessed the Ming Dynasty introducing gunpowder to Southeast Asia, East India, and Arab countries through military activities.
In India, the historical connection between firecrackers and the BC period is mentioned in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. Centuries-old paintings further attest to the presence of firecrackers in India, showcasing scenes of sparklers and fireworks.
The 15th-century evidence of firecrackers in India includes instances of gunpowder use as a weapon during Babur’s invasion and fireworks depicted in a 1633 painting related to the marriage of Shahjahan’s son, Dara Shikoh. Historian PK Gode’s book highlights a 1518 wedding in Gujarat where fireworks were utilized.
Traveller Francois Bernier, visiting India in the 17th century, noted the use of firecrackers in training large animals like elephants. The loud sounds frightened these animals during battles, leading to a reduction in the use of elephants as weaponry when gunpowder bombs became prevalent.
Sivakasi, located 500 km from Chennai, emerges as the hub of firecracker manufacturing in India. Established by the Nadar brothers in 1922, Sivakasi boasts over 800 firecracker units, producing 80% of the country’s firecrackers. Today, Standard Fire Works and Shri Kalishwari Fire Works, founded by the Nadar brothers, stand as two of the largest firecracker manufacturing companies in India, contributing significantly to the nation’s annual turnover of over Rs 5000 crore. The enchanting luminescence of Diwali, woven with the history of firecrackers, continues to light up the cultural fabric of India, captivating hearts and minds across the nation.