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Date: Thu, 2 Nov 1995 07:00:03 -0800
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@msu.edu>
From: Frank Conlon <conlon@u.washington.edu>
Subject: H-ASIA: On the milk drinking images?
To: Multiple recipients of list H-ASIA <H-ASIA@msu.edu>

On the milk drinking images

From a dialog on H_Asia List, 2 November 1995

1.) From: Frank F. Conlon <conlon@u.washington.edu>

James Millward asked the significance of the "milk miracle" that occured in late September when considerable numbers of Hindu worshippers claimed to perceive that milk which they offered in spoons to images of Hindu deities was disappearing, "being consumed" by the images. Press accounts of the phenomena were vivid in their reportage and invocations of the usual overblown representations of the "mysterious East."

To believers, the significance was that it could be a miracle--one that seemed to be occuring throughout the Hindu world. Rationalists and some scientists explained the phenomenon in terms of physics, but just as rationalists and scientists in the West may explain weeping Christs and other "miracles" in Christianity, so too the faithful preferred an alternative view.

Some acquaintances in India suggested that the milk miracle was got up by certain interested parties anxious to promote a public consciousness of Hinduism. Certainly the local government of Delhi, dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party--a party associated with Hindu religious identity and revival--treated the news with an eye to broadcasting the alleged events. The internet and the world media did the rest.

A few acquaintances from India in America expressed to me the view that the whole event was engineered to lead into other Hindu revivalist mobilizing activities. If so, one did not read of those activities in the usual sources. In other words, if the event was got up or promoted for instrumental political ends, the object of such instrumentalism remains unidentified beyond the possible broad, abstact stimulation of the spiritual imaginations of hundreds of thousands of individual Hindus. It may be that some scholar may want to study the event as a sociological and psychological phenomenon akin to the objects of Robert Darnton's researches on 18th century Paris.

It is very easy to grow cynical as public figures invoke genuine religious faith and manipulate it for political ends. But I didn't intend to talk about America...

I suspect that the true significance lay in the capacity of people to see what they want to see, and to interpret experience in that light. Jim Millward might also be impressed at how efficiently an event may be transmitted round the world.

Frank F. Conlon
University of Washington

p.s. Do I personally think that milk was "consumed" by the deities? Nope, but my information also came third hand via the net, so I don't think my opinions would sway someone who believed that milk had been drunk.

2.) From: sqc3887@is2.nyu.edu (Sudipto Chatterjee)

Here's some material I had collected during the recent Ganesha "MILKacle". Maybe readers of H-ASIA will find it useful along with James Millward who has expressed special interest in the phenomenon.


Sudipto Chatterjee
Dept. of Performance Studies
New York University

>From: Hindunet@aol.com
>Newsgroups: soc.religion.hindu
>Subject: News report about Ganesh Idol Drinking Milk
>Date: 22 Sep 1995 19:34:25 GMT
> By Narayanan Madhavan
> NEW DELHI, Sept 21 (Reuter) -- Crowds swamped temples across India and
>neighbouring Nepal on Thursday after reports that idols of Hindu gods were
>drinking milk poured as sacred offerings.
> Hindus packed temples as news spread that milk offered to "lingams"
>(phallic symbols) of Lord Shiva, or idols of Ganesha, the elephant-headed
>deity, disappeared.
> Rationalists protested. "Many people who believe in this kind of thing,
>they look for some miracle and not want to put a critical mind on that,"
>said Sanal Edamarukku, general secreary of the Indian Rationalist
> But believers, including some converted by what they were sure they saw,
>far outnumbered them. Thousands left work or took leave to join long queues
>at temples offering milk in spoons, kept near the tusks of marble Ganesha
> The Hindu nationalist state government in Delhi said scientists would be
>called in to investigate and increased the city's milk supplies by 100,000
>litres as it ran short, pushing up prices.
> "When my friends say they saw it, how can I not believe it," said
>corporate executive K.S. Jolly.
> There were long queues at temples in Delhi and Kathmandu as people
>flocked to see Ganesha, who according to mythology, is Shiva's son.
> Witnesses said milk was offered in spoons to idols of Shiva, either as
>statues of the god in human form with a serpent around his neck or as
> "I thought I saw some milk disappear through a copper snake near the
>idol. Or was I imagining? I certainly saw a lot of milk spread on the
>floor," said a woman in South Delhi.
> "I have been here since 8 a.m. and watched 300 litres of milk poured,
>but look below, can you see that much?," asked Bhagwan Meena at a Shiva
>temple in Delhi's diplomatic enclave.
> "I have seen Shiva drinking milk in another temple," said M.S. Mewati,
>who brought his mother to the temple. "I did not believe it until I saw
>it," he said.
> "I don't know how it is happening, but it is happening," said his
>mother, Narayani Devi.
> Milk is offered to Shiva by religious Hindus, and is traditionally linked
>to the snake, a mystical symbol of hidden energies.
> There was no reason cited for the sudden interest in the offering of the
>milk, although the 12th day of a lunar fortnight -- which Thursday was --is
>sacred to Shiva.
> "At first I did not believe it. But having come here and offered milk I
>have no doubts left," the United News of India (UNI) quoted corporate
>executive Parmesh Soti as saying.
> Another UNI report quoted a scientist discounting a miracle because the
>milk just could not be noticed on the idols' marble surface.
> Even the government's official spokesman received several telephone calls
>on the issue.
> The office of a prime-time Hindi-language news show host received calls
>from far-flung towns such as Ludhiana, hundreds of kilometres from
>Delhi. Reports also came from Bombay and other major cities.
> Even the expatriate Indian community spread across the world heard of it.
>"I got a phone call from my sister in the U.S.. It seems it is happening
>even there," said a Delhi housewife.
>Reut11:51 09-21-95

> From: Hindunet@aol.com
> Newsgroups: soc.religion.hindu
> Date: 23 Sep 1995 16:55:07 GMT
> Organization: none
> (Updates with reports from temples across Britain)
> By Alan Wheatley
> LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuter) - Anila Premji didn't have the slightest doubt.
> It was a miracle.
> Premji was one of hundreds of Hindus who flocked to the Vishwa temple in
> Southall, west London, as word spread like wildfire through the capital's
> large Indian community that religious statues had begun drinking milk
> offerings.
> After waiting patiently in a long queue on Thursday night, Premji
> described the moment when, her hand quivering, she held a spoonful of
> milk up to the temple's 15-inch (38 cm) high marble idol of Nandi, the bull
> ridden by the Hindu deity Shiva.
> "We were told to hold the spoon still because some people had been
> anxious to feed it quickly and the milk was spilling.
> "Another lady sitting next to the idol was holding my hand so it didn't
> shake. I held the spoon out level, and it just disappeared," Premji, who
> describes herself as not particularly religious, said. Her verdict?
> "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.
> "My daughter was with me and she just couldn't believe it."
> By mid-morning on Friday hundreds of happy worshippers, young and old,
> had returned in the autumn sunshine and waited to enter the ornate shrine.
> Attendants hurriedly shunted the devotees up to an onion-domed
> centrepiece where the white marble icon was set in front of an artificial
> running stream.
> Some brought their own milk in bottles and jugs. Others, kneeling
> to make the offering, filled their spoons from bottles that temple
> officials had put next to the tiny icon. Hundreds of faithful carried
> bottles of milk into temples across Britain. Workers at the enormous
> Swaminarayan temple in London said they had to turn away worshippers
> armed with milk cartons.
> The furore started on Thursday in India with rumours that idols of the
> Hindu god Shiva were sipping traditional milk offerings.
> Scientists said the marvel was just mass delusion, explained by
> elementary physics. They said liquids like milk can appear to be
> absorbed into stone but actually molecules in the rough surface create a
> "capillary channel" that sucks in droplets which then spread in a
> thin layer.
> But believers, in Britain as in India, were having none of it, insisting
> that a miracle was at hand. "I believe that some great soul has
> descended on earth," Roshan Lal Bhanbari, chairman of the temple, told
> London's Evening Standard newspaper. Hasmukh Shah of the World
> Council of Hindus told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that more than
> 18,000 people had visited 18 temples in West Yorkshire, northern England.
> "There are allegations against the miracle, claiming blotting paper has
> been used or a porous cavity created," he said. "If that is true, a
> massive organisation with universal power is doing it because it's
> happening all over the world -- India, Hong Kong and Kenya."
> Anila Premji tells of her mother's amazed reaction after she left the
> temple, on an unassuming suburban street in west London. "She was
> absolutely astounded. "There is a God, Anila, there's no doubt
> about it. I've witnessed it myself.""
> Reut19:12 09-22-95
> -- Sudipto Chatterjee
New York University

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