Hindus in India’s West Bengal state began burning wood and herbs in over a 1,000 deep pits on Friday in a ceremony they said will heal the ozone layer and cure disease, drawing anger from green campaigners.
Billowing smoke from 1,008 fires, which will blaze for three days, will wipe out parasites which cause outbreaks of dengue fever and malaria, local religious leaders said, and help boost the earth’s natural defenses.
But environmentalists warned the thick blanket of smoke generated would only pose a serious health hazard and dismissed the beliefs as foolish.
“The smoke will cause a deep haze and the ozone layer will only weaken with such foolish acts,” Subhas Dutta, an activist warned. “Someone must stop this madness before it is too late.”
The Gayatri Janakalyan Kendra, a group which believes in the benefits of ancient Hindu philosophy, began kindling the fires in densely populated Howrah, about 6 miles north of the state capital, Kolkata.
Hundreds of priests were supervising the fire ceremony, chanting ancient Hindu verses to invoke gods, as thousands of people, including women clad in yellow robes, looked on.
“Three days after the sacred fire rages, smoke from burnt wood and herbal medicines will strengthen the ozone layer and cure diseases,” Pashupati Nath Misra, Gayatri’s secretary said.
The fires cleanse the atmosphere of evil, he said.
The ozone layer shields the earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and U.S. scientists reported in October that this year’s hole over Antarctica was bigger and deeper than any on record.