It all began on September 21st when an otherwise ordinary man in New Delhi dreamt that Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of Wisdom, craved a little milk. Upon awakening, he rushed in the dark before dawn to the nearest temple, where a skeptical priest allowed him to proffer a spoonful of milk to the small stone image. Both watched in astonishment as it disappeared, magically consumed by the God. What followed is unprecedented in modern Hindu history. Within hours news had spread like a brush fire across India that Ganesha was accepting milk offerings. Tens of millions of people of all ages flocked to the nation's temples. The unworldly happening brought worldly New Delhi to a standstill, and its vast stocks ofmilk-more than a million liters-sold out within hours. Just as suddenly as it started in India, it stopped in just 24 hours.
But it was just beginning elsewhere as Hindus in India called their relatives in other parts of the world. Soon our Hinduism Today offices were flooded with reports from around the world [see sidebar]. Everywhere the story was the same. A teaspoonful of milk offered by touching it to Ganesha's trunk, tusk or mouth would disappear in a few seconds to a few minutes, not always, but with unprecedented frequency. Reuters news service quoted Anila Premji, "I held the spoon out level, and it just disappeared. To me it was just a miracle. It gave me a sense of feeling that there is a God, a sense of Spirit on this Earth." Not only Ganesha, but Siva, Parvati, Nandi and the Naga, Siva's snake, took milk.
This "milk miracle" may go down in history as the most important event shared by Hindus this century, if not in the last millennium. It has brought about an instantaneous religious revival among nearly one billion people. No other religion has ever done that before! It is as if every Hindu who had, say "ten pounds of devotion," suddenly has twenty.
Miracles witnessed by many people happen from time to time in Hinduism as in other faiths, but they're rare. As a young boy, the tenth-century saint, Nambi Ambar, made Lord Ganesha actually eat the offerings placed before Him. Saint Jnanesvara of Maharastra became famous 600 years ago for making a water buffalo recite the Vedas before a group of arrogant priests.
Naturally there are skeptics-10% of Hindus, according to our very unscientific poll, all of whom moved swiftly to distance themselves from the phenomenon. "Capillary action," coupled with "mass hysteria" is the correct explanation, concluded many scientists within a few hours. Aparna Chattopadhyay of New Delhi replied to these scoffers in a letter to the Hindustan Times: "I am a senior scientist of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, New Delhi. I found my offerings of milk in a temple being mysteriously drunk by the deities. How can the scientists explain the copper snake absorbing the milk I offered with a spoon kept at a good distance away from it?" Scientific or not, gallons of milk were disappearing with hardly a trace. A leading barrister in Malaysia was dumfounded when he watched a metal Ganesha attached to an automobile dashboard absorb six teaspoons of milk. In Nepal King Birendra himself made offerings to the God. Deities in Kenya and other countries took gallons of milk while sitting in shallow metal trays with no drains.
The worldwide press coverage has been nearly as amazing as the miracle itself. Of course, the event dominated the news in India for days. But once it started outside of India, local and leading national papers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post in America, and the Financial Times in UK, had picked up the story. The international wire services Reuters and Associated Press carried a dozen articles a day on what had now been named the "Milk Miracle." Many in India are unaware of how warmly the western press embraced the miracle. In many countries reporters came to the temples and personally offered milk. Of course, they too would put forward a "scientific explanation" in their report, but many otherwise detached Western journalists shared their own joyful experience as a fact.
Ironically, the reporting inside India was a completely different matter. The English-language press in India with its Marxist-leaning political slant has never been a friend of Hinduism. Headlines heralded the attitude: "People go Berserk at `Milk Miracle';" "Scientists Dismiss it as Mass Hysteria," and "Milk-Drinking Deities Unleash Mass Hysteria, Scientists Ridicule Miracle Theory." Editorial writers, with logic even less plausible that that of the scientists, claimed it was all a plot by the BJP and VHP to win the next elections. Every attempt continues in Bharat's press to break devotees' renewed faith and dismiss the entire event as a form of universal insanity-and a waste of good milk to boot.
Not every Indian paper was so negative: Tunku Varadarajan of The Times expressed his concern that, "Modern Hindus are often all too apologetic about the apparent angularities in the beliefs of their countrymen. In this, secular Indians are in danger of denying the very logic which has allowed India to be secular in the first place. If that tolerance is now under strain, the blame lies in part with those who would regard as dangers any celebrations of the country's underlying Hindu identity."
Hinduism has its own science to apply to this miracle, that of the interpretation of portents-unusual or supernatural events. Portents are the specific domain of astrologers to interpret, and coincidentally most of this issue of Hinduism Today is devoted to astrology. The "milk miracle," under this analysis, is not the end in itself, but rather signals a future event of great import.
Sri K.N. Rao, one of India's most noted astrologers [see interview, page 10], explained that the involvement of Ganesha means that harm will come to the "commanders of armies." The acceptance of milk, however, is an auspicious sign. Therefore the final result will be a greater good. The portent will take effect in eight months, just about the time of an eclipse in April, 1996.
H.H. Sri Tiruchi Mahaswamigal of Bangalore said incidents of deities accepting offerings occur every 100 years, usually eight or nine days after Ganesha Chaturthi. Swamiji believes it is a very good omen, as do other swamis, astrologers and pundits we have contacted.
In our next issue we will continue to report this monumental, pan-Hindu experience. We request readers outside India to please send us news clippings as well as videotape copies of any television reports.
SIDEBAR: THE "MILK MIRACLE" WORLDWIDE
The Milk Miracle has been reported from: Edmonton, Canada, San Francisco, USA, Los Angeles, USA, Trinidad, Guyana, Toronto, Canada, New York, USA,, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Dubai, UAE, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, Kenya
INDIA:It was around 7:30 am that my father came back from his morning walk and told me, "Rajiv, go to the temple. A great miracle is taking place. Lord Ganesha is having milk. This is happening all over Delhi." I and my wife rushed to the Deepali temple which is next to our house. There were hundreds in a long queue waiting to offer milk. Inside the eight-by-ten-foot sanctum a dozen people at a time were offering milk in spoons to the small Ganesha [see photo below left]. My wife offered milk twice. I could clearly see the milk disappearing in a few seconds.
Many temple priests said they had dreams of Ganesha asking for milk, which they then offered in the early morning. The Deepali temple priest told me, "Somebody came and knocked on my door at 4:30 in the morning. He called, `Ganesha is having milk! Ganesha is having milk!' The man was gone when I answered the door."
Life in Delhi was almost at a standstill. The markets were deserted. Banks and official institutions had very thin attendance. In the last few days I have spoken to about 100 people. Ninety percent of them told me that they had experienced it, and the milk had really been accepted by the deity.
Rajiv Malik, New Delhi
MAURITIUS:Today, September 25th, I've given milk to Ganesha. It is happening at a temple called Tulsi Sham Temple in Beau Bassin. I rushed there, leaving all my jobs behind. I took some milk and brought it close to the trunk without spilling any. The milk was absorbed very quickly. This is something great which is happening all around the world and making us better and better Hindus.
Parmesh Pallanee, Petite Riviere
NEW YORK:Even in cynical, hard-edged New York, the miracle was happening. The milk was actually disappearing. Manisha Lund, a young college student, went to the Hindu temple in Queens, and says it was a virtual stampede. When she offered milk to Lord Ganesha, "It was sucked up, like someone was drinking it with a straw." Many devotees were able to feed Nandi, Lord Siva's mount, and also the Naga or snake. Ganesha seemed to be in a whimsical mood: sometimes He refused the spoonfuls offered by devotees and slurped up that given by non-believers. At the Hindu temple in Flushing, a young African-American woman who is not a Hindu but loves Hindu philosophy wondered aloud whether Siva would accept her offering. She extended her spoon and before the eyes of many worshippers, the milk disappeared into Siva's mouth. Tales of faith and joy were repeated in many homes and offices where devotees offered milk to idols of stone, brass and silver. Young people seemed to have better luck, and delighted in the miracle: Pummy Singh, 14, called Indra, her mother, at work and gave her the exciting news: Ganesha had taken the milk three times from her and her friends. Such was the frenzy that it was hard to gain entrance into the crowded temples, even at 2:00 in the morning. Romanee Kalicharan, 15, reports, "When I tried, Ganesha and Shivji weren't taking, but the Naga took from me. I also gave to Nandi, and He took it from me. Little by little, you see it disappearing. I had my hand underneath, and it was totally dry. So where could the milk go? I think it's a sign from God."
Lavina Melwani, New York
CANADA:The phenomenon began following the 7:30 pm puja, Friday and continued unabated until about 11:45 pm Sunday the 24th at the Edmonton Ganesha temple. The atmosphere around the Ganesha murthi was scintillating. Devotees approached, bowed and offered their prayers and a spoonful of milk. They ran the gamut from sari-clad pious elderly ladies supported on either side to gum-chewing teens in black leather jackets. I simply can't explain what happened to the milk. It would visibly "wick" up from the spoon to the surface of the stone of the trunk. Spoonful after spoonful was absorbed, sometimes as quickly as one could count to three, usually in 20 seconds. At the conservative rate of two teaspoons per minute for 51.5 hours (milk was offered continuously), some 7.7 US gallons of milk were taken up. I could see no significant amount of milk around the Ganesha murthi. Of course, with the number of devotees and dripping spoons, Ganesha's garments became wet on the same side as his trunk, but this didn't begin to account for the volume of milk offered. I was forced to conclude that we were all witnessing something that we could not logically explain.
Aran Veylan, Edmonton
LOS ANGELES:"One of the devotees received a phone call from India about the miracle," recalls Bharat Shastri, priest of the Hindu temple in Norwalk. By evening he had received 600 phone calls. There was a general air of skepticism here and at other temples in Los Angeles. Only a few devotees had their milk offerings taken by Ganesha at Norwalk. Nothing extraordinary happened at the Sri Venkateshwara Temple in Calabasas, where milk was offered only by the priests. At the Chatsworth temple, the miracle seemed to have happened big time. "On Thursday morning, temple president Dinesh Lakhanpal offered milk. It disappeared. Then I offered more, and that too disappeared," said Ravi Sharan, vice president of the temple. CNN and local TV channels came and the miracle reportedly happened for them. "One reporter, Sharon Tae of Channel 5, was so excited she hugged me with tears in her eyes," said Sharan.
Archana Dongre, Los Angeles
Any unnatural behavior observed in the images of Lord Ganapati foreshadows evil to the commander of the army. These portents produce their effects in eight months–Brihat Samhita 46.10-14