Hindu priests are burning 50 metric tons of wood to fight pollution

A bogus solution?
A bogus solution?
Image: Reuters/Amit Dave
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Nearly 350 Hindu priests are participating in a mahayagya, or great sacrifice, in the northern India city of Meerut to curb pollution—by burning 50 metric tons of mango wood.

The ritual began on Sunday, March 18, with the group from the Shri Ayutchandi Mahayagya Samiti gathering in the Uttar Pradesh city bordering the national capital, the Times of India newspaper reported. The mahayagya is to be performed over nine days.

Up to 108 sacred fire-pits have been created across over 15,000 square feet in Meerut’s Bhainsali ground for the ritual, which will conclude only after 10 million sacred offerings have been made.

Burning this colossal quantity of wood will do more harm than good to the environment, R K Tyagi, regional officer of the UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB), told the newspaper. “But there is no policy under which a probe can be issued in this matter—so there is little that we can do,” he said.

The smoke this “sacrifice” will emanate is likely to be a harmful combination of particle pollution and an array of toxic air pollutants such as benzene, formaldhyde, and others.

Clearly, the Hindu group, a kind of committee of priests from the holy town of Varanasi, doesn’t get it.

The fire will be lit using ghee (clarified butter), made of cow milk, which is apparently non-polluting, according to Gyanendra Agarwal, president of the Shri Ayutchandi Mahayagya Samiti. ”We are also adding sesame seeds, rice, and barley to aid the purification process,” he told the Times of India. The guild is accepting donations of 10 metric tons of black sesame seeds, six metric tons of rice, three metric tons of barley, and 150 ghee boxes.

The organising of yagya (the sacrificial ritual) and mahayagya are common in India. Often they are private affairs, but sometimes they are meant to be spectacles, too.

In 2016, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian Virendra Singh had recommended hosting one such event to cause rainfall. In the southern state of Karnataka, the BJP held a similar event in January this year, apparently to protect cows. A few days ago, a Hyderabad-based group performed a similar ceremony to make way for Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao to become the next prime minister of India.

In fact, another BJP parliamentarian, Maheish Girri, is currently involved in the Rashtriya Raksha Mahayagya (March 18 to March 25), touted as a “great sacrifice for national security,” near the Red Fort in Delhi.