The festival of Diwali is a celebration to celebrate the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya. Tulsidas’ epic ‘Ramcharitmanas’ describes the celebrations in detail but makes no mention of firecrackers being set off in Ayodhya. In fact, a certain verse of his creation says, “There was a sound from heaven, all Ayodhya was adorned with flowers, a special fragrance was scattered in the streets.”
So if there is no mention of firecrackers in any known account of Lord Rama’s story, the question arises: when, where and how did firecrackers originate?
History of Fireworks
It was the Chinese who accidentally discovered firecrackers 2000 to 2200 years ago. Local folklore has it that the Chinese burned bamboo to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The air trapped in the bamboo shaft caused it to expand and burst as it caught fire – a good way to ward off evil spirits. The sound it made is believed to be the original firecracker.
Based on this sound, the alchemists of the time experimented with different chemicals and invented a mixture that added more sound to the “bamboo pop”. This mixture was a precursor to today’s gunpowder, which was then perfected over the next century.
From then on, gunpowder technology and the accompanying pyrotechnic amusement mixtures made their way to India via the Arabs.
The late historian PK Gode wrote and published a report “History of Fireworks in India between 1400 and 1900” in 1950. In the report he states that the use of firecrackers in the celebration of Diwali, which is so common in India today, originated after 1400 AD when gunpowder was used in Indian warfare. The earliest reports of fireworks being used in India date from this period. Kautukachintamani, a Sanskrit volume by Gajapati Prataparudradeva (1497-1539), mentions the formulas for making firecrackers.
Timeline of firecracker use in India
Abdur Razzaq, the ambassador of the Timurid Sultan Shahrukh to the court of Deva Raya II of the Vijayanagara Kingdom, mentions one of the earliest reports of fireworks from 1443. His description of the Mahanavami festival mentions, “One cannot mention all without very detailing the various types of pyrotechnics and squibs and various other arrangements that were on display.”
Throughout history there have been various accounts of the use of firecrackers for various reasons. In 1518, fireworks were used in Gujarat to celebrate weddings. In 1609, the Sultan of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah, spent INR 80,000 on firecrackers.
For a few centuries, the use of firecrackers was restricted to royalty, and during the Mughal era it was a sign of wealth and greatness. Weddings and coronations were usually celebrated with fireworks. It was not until the 18th century that the use of fireworks by the masses began when the Maratha rulers began organizing fireworks displays for the general public.
The Fireworks Industry India
Indian started manufacturing fireworks only after manufacturing independence when the first fireworks factory was established in Kolkata. Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu became the fireworks production center. Two brothers, Fr. Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar, set up two factories that first made sparklers, better known as “Pholjhadi”. Even today, more than 6.5 lakh families live in the city of Sivakasi, who depend directly or indirectly on this industry for their livelihood.
Like any other industry, the fireworks industry suffered from the Covid-19 ravaged 2020. For an industry valued at an estimated INR 5,000 crores, it produced only INR 3,000 crores worth of fireworks that year. But the industry’s troubles continued into 2021, when several states, including Odisha, Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana, announced full or partial bans on fireworks.
In 2021, the value of manufactured firecrackers was nearly INR 1500 crores, down 50% from the previous year. Even with lower production, the industry suffered an estimated loss of INR 500 crores.
T. Kannan, director of Sree Balaji Fireworks and general secretary of the Indian Fireworks Manufacturers Association, said: “If the ban continues for the coming years, we would not have a definitive policy on manufacture. We were not prepared for the ban from these states. Firecrackers cause pollution in people’s minds and not much in reality.”
If the fireworks industry is to survive and thrive in the future, it must undergo a transformation to make it environmentally responsible, socially inclusive, and provide decent work for all who depend on it. The industry must be supported by supportive government policies, encourage innovation and be based on a coherent framework.
The future of the fireworks industry depends on various factors. However, there is no evidence that it has any historical connection to the celebrations in Ayodhya upon the arrival of Lord Rama. The only biblical evidence is the lighting of diyas reflecting the joy of the townspeople.
History provides ample evidence that firecrackers are a legacy of the Chinese and Mughals dating back no more than 2,200 years. It is by no means an inseparable part of the Diwali celebrations. Firecracker popping is a recent North Indian phenomenon that gained prominence as firecrackers became available to the masses.
frequently asked Questions
How big is the fireworks industry?
The global fireworks market was valued at US$2485.7 million in 2021 and is projected to grow to US$3219.9 million by 2027.
Why is Diwali celebrated with fireworks?
Diwali is celebrated with fireworks to ward off all evil spirits and add a sense of vibrancy to the festive spirit.
Who first invented firecrackers?
It is believed that it was the Chinese who accidentally discovered firecrackers 2000-2200 years ago.
Which country exports the most fireworks?
The following countries exported the most fireworks in 2021:
- China – $804.6 million
- Netherlands – $24.8 million
- Germany – $17 million
- Poland – $13.5 million
- United States – $13.3 million