The ozone layer enveloping India remained largely undamaged through centuries due to frequent yagyas, organisers of a mahayagya in Meerut claim.
Virendra Singh Rawat reports.
Deteriorating air quality has compelled governments to take stringent steps to reclaim some breathing space for their citizenry.
Citizen action has often been vigorous too. But then there is the bizarre: How else can one describe one particular citizen's initiative of sponsoring a mahayagya (fire ritual) that involves burning some 50 tonnes of wood to 'combat air pollution' and 'save the ozone layer'?
The mahayagya at the Bhainsali ground in Meerut district, western Uttar Pradesh, ended on March 26. But not before enormous quantities of mango wood and edible items -- including 12 tonnes of sesame seeds, six tonnes of rice, three tonnes of barley, 1.5 quintals of raw sugar and 150 cans of ghee -- were offered to placate the gods and bring about a 'noticeable' improvement in air quality.
The man behind this startling initiative, Gyanendra Agarwal, hails from a business family, with interests in textiles and real estate.
He fondly credits his lineage as having bequeathed to him a religious and nationalistic outlook, which manifests in organising and paying for such community events.
"I am always looking to hold such programmes, which are participatory in nature and tend to benefit the community at large," he said.
The nine-day mahayagya began on March 18 under the aegis of the Shri Ayutchandi Mahayagya Samiti founded by Agarwal.
In total, 108 hawankunds (fire pits) had been set up at the venue and about 300 priests invited from Varanasi and Vrindavan to perform the rituals.
The organisers claim that yagya was the preferred ancient Hindu method to purify air.
No modern research has been commissioned to verify this claim, and it remains scientifically unproven.
The Samiti goes on to say that the ozone layer enveloping India remained largely undamaged through the centuries due to frequent yagyas and that citizens would experience the improved air quality in Meerut for themselves after the mahayagya.
The yagya was held in two sessions daily, followed by aarti and singing of religious songs.
The event attracted 3,000 to 4,000 devotees a day, and there was no dearth of people coming forward to donate in cash and kind to keep the event going with due pomp and circumstance.
Meanwhile, Agarwal fondly recalls the contribution of his spiritual guru in mentoring him on his religious and social journey.
"Now, my children look after my business and I am predominantly focussed on these religious and social activities."
The 64 year old's first tryst with religious events dates to 1989 when he organised a big religious discourse in Meerut.
"The idea to organise the mahayagya came after I discussed the issue of air pollution and deteriorating environment with my guru, who suggested I go ahead with the ritual. Soon, I got into the act and things started to fall in place once we went ahead determinedly," he said.
Since there are no laws that bar religious events, including yagya and fire rituals, the district administration had decided not to intervene and allow the event to go full steam ahead, so to speak.
Plenty of precious wood, food and cash had been burnt by the time it wrapped up.
All one can wait to see now is exactly how the event impacted air quality -- and we mean, of course, how many notches higher the pollutant-measuring indices climb.