Indian funeral pyres and their relation with melting glaciers, global warming

A recent study has claimed that the fumes arising from temple incense and funeral pyres in countries like India and Nepal are contributing to nearly a quarter of the total carbon emissions.


The study establishes that the holy smoke generated from Buddhist temples, Muslim cemeteries and Hindu funeral pyres have so far been responsible for the generation of nearly a quarter of the amount of greenhouse gases that have been blamed for the Himalayan glaciers melting and increased global warming above the Indian subcontinent.

These religiously significant rituals are followed devotedly in India, Nepal and other countries in South Asia. And researchers believe that they may be contributing to the increased levels of soot and brown carbon pollutants in the region. However, they are yet to discover a standard procedure to quantify the amount of damage that is estimated.

Researchers at the Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla University which is located in Chhattisgarh in South East India, and the Desert Research Institute in Nevada have claimed that the damage is large, and that nearly 23% of the emissions from the fossil fuels used for these rituals as well as the latter themselves can lead to an increase in the amount of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere.


The religious significance of these rituals have prevented authorities from looking into the same. However, the researchers of both institutes have warned that at the current scale of environmental deterioration in the subcontinent, it would be imperative that the issue be further studied.

Studies conducted by the researchers between the years of 2011 and 2012 dealt with measuring the amount of emissions from several marriage ceremonies, incense sticks in temples as well as graveyards, funeral cremations and the burning of items like mango wood, camphor, cow dung, leaves, cow urine and vermillion. The studies revealed the emission of nearly 14 different kinds of deadly organic compounds due to these actions, some of the most deadly being identified as formaldehyde, styrene, benzene and butadiene.

The studies also established the fact that funeral pyres around the country were responsible for the emission of brown carbon aerosol gases, which are considered to be second largest contributors to worldwide global warming. These gases absorb the sunlight and give out heat in its place while the dark particles settle on glaciers and snow, causing them to melt in the process.

It is alarming to note that India alone has over 3 million religious places of worship where these rituals are conducted on a daily basis. The nation sees over 10 million marriages on yearly basis (based on a census taken in 2011). And researchers indicate that when the emissions were calculated proportionately with these numbers, the end results were literally baffling.

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