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

emate the average human body. But Hindu funerals often use much more because of inefficient combustion. A formal Hindu cremation -- in which a dead body is burned for more than six hours in a three foot (one-metre) high open-air pyre -- can consume more than 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of wood to reduce the body to ashes, he said.

That much wood costs about 1,300 rupees (30 dollars) so poorer families sometimes try to get by with much less and end up having to dispose of partially burned bodies, or even whole corpses, in rivers. In 1993, Agarwal built his first pyre, a raised human-sized brazier under a roof with slats that could be lowered to maintain heat. The elevation allowed air to circulate and feed the fire.

Unlike electric crematoriums, however, Agarwal's pyre still allowed family members to congregate to perform last rites. "But no one used it," said Agarwal, even though it needed only about 100 kilos of wood and reduced the burning process to two hours.

"We had to get religion on our side." Consultations with priests, bureaucrats and environmentalists led to major design modifications. Agarwal settled on a system four years ago that included finer touches such as marble flooring and a statue of the god Shiva. Literature for the unit dropped references to the use of iron after priests pointed out the metal was considered inauspicious because of its association with "the dark force".

The latest model also has a chimney that traps much of the particle matter produced by the fire and releases clean emissions. Since then the Mokshda group has been actively promoting it across the country. Mokshda has installed 41 pyres, while some cities, including India's financial hub Mumbai, have independently adapted the design.

The group expects to put up about 20 more pyres this year. In Faridabad, 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Delhi, 15 of the 75 cremations carried out each month at one cremation ground
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