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New 'green' Pyre to Cool Planet While Burning India's Dead

The average Indian may go through an entire life without contributing a huge amount to the world's production of greenhouse gases, but in death his carbon footprint jumps . Alarmed by the fuel-intensive nature of the funeral rites of Hindus who practice open-air cremation using firewood, an environmental group in New Delhi is promoting a new, more eco-friendly pyre.

"Our faith tells us we must do our last rites in this way," said Vinod Kumar Agarwal, 60, a mechanical engineer who has developed a raised pyre that cuts the amount of wood required and ensuing carbon dioxide emissions by over 60 percent. Hindus believe that burning the body entirely helps to release the soul in a cycle of reincarnation that ends only with salvation. But "all the ashes go into the rivers and carbon dioxide is creating global warming," said Agarwal.

UN figures show close to 10 million people die a year in India, where 85 percent of the billion-plus population are Hindus who practice cremation. That leads to the felling of an estimated 50 million trees, leaves behind half a million tonnes of ash and produces eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, according to research by Agarwal's Mokshda environmental group.

Agarwal first got the idea for what he calls the Mokshda Green Cremation System after an unpleasant experience in 1992 at Haridwar on the banks of the river Ganges. While attending a funeral in the northern Indian city, considered holy by Hindus, Agarwal said he saw a poor family struggling to carry out a cremation with sparse damp wood.

The fire went out repeatedly and the partially burned corpse was finally flung into the Ganges. "This is the river whose water we bring home for praying," said Agarwal, referring to the belief that the river confers salvation on those who bathe in it. The engineer thought there had to be a better way.

Agarwal says it should take only 22 kilograms (44 pounds) of wood to cr
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