In a now-deleted article titled “दीप प्रज्ज्वलन के वैज्ञानिक और आध्यात्मिक पक्ष, जानें ये है फायदे” (Translation: Scientific and Spiritual Aspects of Lamp Lighting, Know These Benefits), Hindi news media organisation Jagran recently claimed that lighting diyas (earthen lamps) increased atmospheric oxygen. The report also listed several other benefits of lighting diyas. One can find an archive of the article here.

Dainik Jagran also tweeted the article with the caption, “दीप प्रज्वलन से बढ़ती है घर में ऑक्सीजन की मात्रा, जानिए और क्या है फायदे” (Translation: Lighting diyas increases the amount of oxygen in the house, know the other benefits). The tweet has now been deleted.

According to the article, “Lighting diyas at the door of the house increases the level of oxygen in the house“. It explains that since warm air is lighter it goes up and cold air comes down. The oxygen present in the air rushes towards the flame of the lamp. Due to this, the amount of oxygen around the lamp increases. It is further stated that diyas should be lit at the door of the house on Diwali since lighting too many diyas in a closed space will increase the use of oxygen.

A parallel was drawn between the five elements of the earth and the burning of diyas. “Diyas are made of clay, which symbolizes the earth. The oil and wick burning in it are also found in the ground itself. There is space around the earth in the way space has been imagined around the lamp. There is also fire in the lamp, it needs air to burn and water molecules are also formed in the process of burning oil.”

The author of the article also claims that diyas have several scientific benefits: Heat from the lamp destroys bacteria, viruses, etc. present in the air. Besides, no harmful elements or chemicals are released; fossil fuels are not used in lighting the lamp; the magnesium in the oil reacts with the sulfur and carbon oxides in the air to form sulfates and carbonates which results in heavier elements falling to the ground, making the air lighter and easier to breathe.

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Does lighting Diyas increase oxygen?

To check the veracity of the claims made in the article, it is pertinent to understand the type of reaction that produces fire, or a combustion reaction. A combustion reaction is a high-temperature exothermic (heat-releasing) redox (oxygen-adding) chemical reaction between a fuel and an oxidant, usually, atmospheric oxygen, that produces oxidized, often gaseous products, in a mixture termed as smoke.

Many combustion reactions occur with a hydrocarbon (like Ghee and oil used in the diyas), a compound consisting of carbon and hydrogen. The products of the combustion of hydrocarbons are carbon dioxide and water. Oxygen is thus not produced in the reaction, but is used. During combustion, the level of oxygen reduces and the level of carbon dioxide increases.

It must be noted that the article mentions, “फैटी एसिड का एक मॉलीक्यूल जलने से कार्बन के 56 और पानी के 52 मॉलीक्यूल निकलते हैं। एक फैटी एसिड मॉलीक्यूल को जलाने के लिए हवा में मौजूद ऑक्सीजन के 79 मॉलीक्यूल खर्च होते हैं।” (Translation: Burning one molecule of a fatty acid produces 56 molecules of carbon and 52 molecules of water. It takes 79 molecules of oxygen in the air to burn one fatty acid molecule). Yet, the writer has reiterated that the lighting of diyas increases oxygen several times.

Alt News spoke to Professor Abhijit Majumder, associate professor of chemical engineering at IIT Bombay, who refuted the claims made in the article. He stated, “Burning is a process that uses oxygen. The article itself says, “एक फैटी एसिड मॉलिक्यूल को जलाने के लिए हवा में मौजूद ऑक्सीजन के 79 मॉलिक्यूल खर्च होते हैं।”. Hence, burning anything cannot increase the oxygen in the surroundings”.

We also spoke to Nilesh Ranjan Maiti, who is a teacher of biochemistry and principal of Sishuram Das College in West Bengal. He said, “The claim that oxygen increases due to the lighting of diyas is false. It is common knowledge that the oxygen content in the environment is 21%. Whether it’s a diya or a candle, oxygen is required for combustion. The gases produced are mainly carbon dioxide along with other gases (depending on what is being burnt). It must be remembered that carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide are greenhouse gases. An increase in greenhouse gases is harmful to our health and is responsible for global warming”.

Does heat from the diya destroy the bacteria and viruses present in the air?

The article stated that the heat from the lamp destroys the bacteria and viruses present in the air. This was listed as one of the many scientific benefits of lighting diyas.

Addressing this claim, Professor Majumder said, “In terms of killing the viruses and bacteria, one can easily calculate that the increase in temp happens only for a small area surrounding the flame. Hence, a few diyas at the door cannot kill the bacteria or virus at any significant level.”

Profesor Maiti reiterated the same argument. He states, “Bacteria will be destroyed only in the immediate surrounding of the flame, which is a very insignificant number. There are a lot of harmful bacteria outside the area of the diya”.

To conclude, most of the ‘scientific’ claims made in the article are misleading. The spread of misinformation related to science has been on a steep rise, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Misinformation of all kinds are common on social media platforms and the daily discourse of the common man. When popular media outlets publish misinformation, they give them an air of credibility, and people fall for them even more easily.

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About the Author

Student of Economics at Presidency University. Interested in misinformation.