• Raji Writes

California Burning

Agni, the Hindu god of fire, once came in disguise and approached Krishna and Arjuna as they were resting near the Khandava forest. Once he had secured their assurance to help him, he revealed who he was, his golden glow expanding to an awesome brillance. For twelve years, he told them, a ceremony had been conducted where as part of the offering, ghee was poured into the sacrificial flame. Twelve years of consuming ghee had weakened Agni, who longed for some healthy sustenance. A forest!


A few times, he had attempted to burn the Khandava forest to slake his hunger, but a snake who resided in the forest was a friend of Lord Indra, the god of lightning, thunder and rain. Every time Agni set fire to the forest, Indra would protect his friend by sending torrential rains to put out the fires.


“Please help me,” pleaded Agni to Krishna and Arjuna.

“Keep Indra at bay so I can satiate my hunger and restore my health.”

“So be it,” replied the two youths, having learned that Indra’s friend was away from the forest at the time.


Agni rose to resplendence and set a fire which spread all over the forest, consuming everything in sight. Indra saw the fire, and furious at the sight, unleashed rain and storm. With their arrows and celestial weapons given to them by Agni and Varuna, god of the ocean, Arjuna and Krishna kept the rain at bay, allowing not a single drop to fall on the forest. Thus protected, Agni ate to his heart’s content and the Khandava forest burned to the ground.


In mid-August, more than 50,000 lightning strikes hit California over a four-day period, almost a third of which struck the ground, and ignited hundreds of fires. The number, extent and ferocity of the fires was unprecedented. Overwhelmed and besieged firefighters struggled to contain burning forests, save lives and homes. Much was lost.


Here is an extraordinary photo.


As though a pandemic wasn’t bad enough. Thwarted as we are from seeing friends or the occasional get-together, one of the saving graces of life in the pandemic is being able to go outside for a walk, breathe some fresh air. With the horrendous air quality that resulted from the fires, staying in was the best option, with air purifiers whirring around the clock.


The winds blew ash and smoke miles around, and my backyard was covered with a thin layer of ash. As were plants and vegetables in the garden. See the layer of ash coating these tomatoes. But I and those in my immediate vicinity are fortunate. The fires didn't get to us.


I went for a walk with an N95 mask to Bedwell Bayfront Park. The air was orange, and visibility was poor. Here are some photos from that walk, and the neighborhood.




The raging fires made me remember the story of Agni, from the Mahabharata.

As Agni rages around us, I wonder, what celestial pact has now been sealed, to keep the rain away. The mythology likely made more palatable the fact that our human ways change the climate patterns. They change our environment, and eventually destroy it. We are a part of what we change. Sometimes that change is irreversible.


#climatechange #bayareafires

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