The Great Ganapati Milk Udyog
THE TIMES OF INDIA (September 22, 1995) reports on
- `Milk-drinking' idol creates countrywide frenzy
- Joshi, Munde differ on `miracle' issue
- Chandraswami claims credit for `miracle'
- Experiments conducted to unravel the `mystery'
Bombay, like several other parts of the country, was today swept by rumours that idols of the god Ganesh were accepting offerings of milk.
Thousands of devotees of the elephant god who visited temples for the morning pooja claimed that the deity actually drank the milk offered to it. However, not all idols were said to have obliged.
The word spread like wildfire as excited people thronged temples to witness the miracle. Some were overwhelmed with emotion, others dismissed it as a hoax.
Prominent astrologer and Ganesh devotee Jayant Salgaonkar said: "I myself witnessed it. I went early this morning to the Siddhivinayak temple at Prabhadevi, Ganeshji drank the milk."
Scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research refused to comment on "such religious matters." On the other hand, a leading rationalist in Calcutta, Prabir Ghosh, called it absurd. "I can prove that it is no miracle".
Miracle or not, there were long serpentine queues outside temples in Calcutta, Delhi, Madras and Ahmedabad, leading to traffic bottlenecks at several places.
Said a senior government official of West Bengal: "I have been trying to get through to Writer's Building for three hours. But the mass frenzy over Ganesh remains unabated."
Chaos prevailed in Delhi's temples and out on the streets as devotees jostled one another to offer milk to Ganesh, Parvati and Shiva. Some even claimed that the idols drank a bucketful of milk.
In Madras, devotees who patiently held sweetened milk in silver spoons at the trunk of the god, said that the milk disappeared within minutes. Ms Shalini Binani, 16, who said that she had heard about the incidents from an aunt in Calcutta, tried about the incidents from an aunt in Calcutta, tried offering milk in a stainless steel spoon, but the idol did not respond. However, she claimed, when the milk was offered in a silver spoon, it was accepted.
By noon, newspaper offices in Bombay were flooded with calls inquiring about the veracity of the claims. Other callers narrated their "experiences" in temples or at home.
"I was performing a Ganesh pooja early this morning," said Mr Ravindra Mahadeo Rahate, an employee of the Bank of India. "Suddenly I realised that the milk I had offered was disappearing slowly." Surprised by this development, Mr Rahate offered the deity some more milk. "That too disappeared," he claimed.
Rukmini Patil, an elderly woman from Girgaum, who offered milk to the Ganesh idol in her home, said, "When I placed a spoonful of milk below the trunk of our glass idol, which we have had for years, the milk just vanished."
The city police went around in vans denying the reports, but many office employees left work to rush to the nearest Ganesh temple. Some suburban schools even closed early.
Said young Shilpa Salvi: "This is confusing. One does not know what exactly is happening." said Shankar Kambekar, a taxi driver, "The end of the world is near. The lord has come to save us."
Miracle fever helped some persons to make a fast buck. Private milkmen had a field day. In Bandra, milk was reportedly sold at Rs 40 a litre.
Roadside hawkers selling audio-cassettes changed their tunes. Instead of the usual bawdy Hindi songs, they played Ganesh aartis in keeping with the spirit of the day. Cable operators too suspended transmission of their popular programmes to telecast temple scenes.
Police headquarters received numerous calls requesting bandobasts. At some places, the police had to intervene to rein in frenzied crowds. Telephone lines at the police control room were jammed with calls.
The mass hysteria did not leave the stock market untouched. Brokers said that there was brisk trading some companies with a small floating stock on the Bombay stock exchange. This was presumably because their names started with lord or Ganesh.
Market sources joked that a company -- named after the deity -- whose promoters had concealed material information about their forthcoming public issue, may well escape unscathed, thanks to the "lord's blessings."
Sociologists and psychiatrists, however, refused to accept the phenomenon as a miracle. "One needs to explore this with the help of eye-witnesses. It is mob mentality to accept such incidents as a miracle," said Janaki Andharia, lecturer at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
"It is possible that a political party is behind this. A similar strategy was used to propagate religion in the past. People are swayed, but only for a while. This will not last," said Edwin Masihi, former professor of sociology at Gujarat University.
The Shrimant Dagduseth Halwai Ganesh Mandal at Pune, the richest and biggest mandal in the city, put up a board using devotees not to believe in the strange occurrence. It also closed the temple to avoid traffic jams in the heart of the city.
University of Pune vice-chancellor and former scientific advisor to the Union government Vasant Gowarikar has appealed to the state government to scientifically evaluate the issue before drawing any conclusions.
Maharashtra's Andhashradha Nirmulan Samiti president Narendra Dabholkar said in Satara that his organisation would pay Rs 5 lakhs to anyone who could prove that the idols were actually drinking milk.
In Ahmedabad, word started spreading first about four famous Ganapati and Mahadev temples in the Shahibaug, Navrangpura, Nehru Nagar and Bhadral localities.
While the Rajasthan deputy chief minister Harishankar Bhabhra claimed he had offered milk to a Ganesh idol in the Udyog Bhavan temple complex, the Jaipur district administration contradicted such claims.
The office of the Times of India here received calls from Argentina, Thailand and Indonesia inquiring about the incident.
Chief minister Manohar Joshi and his deputy Gopinath Munde responded differently to the "miracle" at their house, Mr Munde dismissed reports of the phenomenon received from different parts of the state.
Mr Joshi said when he received reports of the "miracle", he and his wife offered milk to the Ganesh idol in their house and found the offering being accepted by deity. The chief minister said he did not believe in superstitions, but added that he had personally experienced the miracle.
Mr Munde said reports of the miracle were received by the police from 22 places in the metropolis. He ordered the police to conduct an inquiry at the famous Siddhi Vinayak temple at Prabhadevi. The cops offered milk to a silver idol of Lord Ganesh kept near the main idol, but it was not accepted.
Mr Munde scoffed at claims of the miracle as mere rumours. He ruled out that there was conspiracy behind the phenomenon. He said police bandobast was ordered at various spots for maintaining law and order.
The slogan "Chandraswami ka chamatkar, Ganesh piye doodh ki dhar," (It's Chandraswami's miracle that god Ganesh is drinking the milk), rent the air in Chandraswami's ashram and at several temples in the capital, attributing the miracle of idols of gods and goddesses accepting milk from devotees.
The godman when contacted in his ashram at south Delhi's Qutub Institutional area, indirectly owned responsibility for the "milk miracle".
Chandraswami said he had yesterday "invoked" god Ganesha -- the deity whom he had been worshipping since childhood -- and added: "This is only the beginning of godly miracles." -- UNI
Baffled by reports of clay and stone, idols of god Ganesh drinking milk offered by devotees in temples all over the country, we tried to replicate the process in our office to try and find a plausible explanation. While we do not want to question what happened in the various temples, this is what took place in our office.
Our staff photographer K.K. Laskar held a spoonful of milk to the mouth of a clay statue of Ganesha. Sure enough, within a minute or so, the spoon emptied. He then repeated the experiment, this time with a spoonful of water held against the spout of an ordinary plastic jug. The water too disappeared, although a few seconds slower than the milk.
Laskar, a student of physics, explained the phenomenon as being a combination of surface tension, capillary action and syphoning. It can be easily replicated, he said, with clay or stone images or even plastic and metal jugs with a snout.
When the surface of the liquid touches the protruding tip of any surface, capillary action lifts the liquid, with the surface of the idol or any other object acting as the larger end of syphon. The surface tension allows the liquid to flow freely in a particular direction. This explanation was confirmed by the various scientists we spoke to.
In fact, two teams of scientists visited various temples in New Delhi and found no evidence to support the widespread belief about some idols sudden love for milk.
"It is a hoax," said Biman Basu, a scientist at the Publication and Information Directorate of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Mr Basu and a team from the laboratory visited three temples in central Delhi.
"When the spoonful of milk is offered horizontally, nothing happens," Mr Basu said. "Only when the spoon is tilted does it empty."'
On the other hand, stone idols were not found to drink milk. In the case of clay idols, milk is either soaked up by the porous material or it flows into the hollow inner surface.
It was also noticed that the idols did not retain the milk they were supposed to have drunk. Behind some of the temples, our photographers took pictures of buckets being filled by the milk flowing imperceptibly down the idols and emptying out through channels travelling to the backyards.
The reason for this, according to one scientist, is that most Ganesh idols in north Indian cities are made of white marble. Due to milk's low surface tension, it flows down the idol in such a thin film that it is not easily visible against the marble.
In fact, scientists from the National Council of Science and Technology Communication -- the government's wing to popularise science -- coloured the milk and saw it flow down the side of an idol. Mr Jagdesh Chandra and Mr Manoj Patariya of the Council also called the reports about miracles a "hoax".
Said another scientist who requested anonymity: "There is something in the Indian psyche which makes people believe such miracles. Also, when someone reports it, mob psychology takes over and everyone adds their own bits to the story."
But not all scientists dismissed the milk-drinking episode. A Delhi University science professor, A.M. Gangadharan Nair, said he offered milk to a Ganesh idol in central Delhi very carefully. He claimed that the offering disappeared. "I checked whether the idol was new or whether there was any vacuum device attached to it, but there was none. How can we rationally explain this phenomenon?" he asked.