Sunday, December 2, 2012

Remembering the Milk Miracle

It is November the 21st year 1995. The sun has not risen yet, but a man in the south of New Delhi visits a Hindu temple to offer prayer to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed good better known as the Remover of Obstacles. Earlier that night, he had a strange dream in which the deity came to him and asked to be fed some milk. The man provides an offering of a small pot of milk in return for all the prosperity He had given him. For some reason, it suddenly occurs to him to feed the deity's idol the milk rather just as requested in his dream. He scoops up a bit of the milk and gently hold it up to the idol's trunk. 

The statue sucks it up. 

The astonished devotee rushes home to tell his family and relatives. But to his surprise, the idol at his local temple does not seem to be the only one performing the miracle. Idols of Ganesha all around the world, from as far as United Kingdom right down under to Australia were seen doing the same thing. 

Many Hindu organisations all around the world proclaimed that it was a miracle. Within hours, it was said that some idols of other deities such as Siva, Amman and Murugan - Ganesha's father, mother and younger brother respectively were seen 'drinking' milk given as offerings. New Delhi witnessed an overwhelming increase in milk sales that day to up to 30%, which is more than there is to sell in the capital of the second most populous country in the world. Even milk sales in other predominant Hindu communities, like a Somerfield store in the UK selling over 25 000 pints of milk that day. 

The first thing to do before recognising a miracle is to prove it is not a natural phenomenon that can be debunked scientifically. Physicists from the Ministry of Science and Technology of India traveled to a New Delhi temple and offered an idol some milk with food colouring. While the milk disappeared as expected, the physicists hypothesised that the coloured milk coated the statue beneath where the spoon was placed. This led to Professor Yash Pal, a prominent Indian scientist to conclude that this was simply a result of capillary action or the movement of liquids within spaces of porous surfaces due to surface tension, adhesion and cohesion. . 

Pal explains that when a spoonful of milk is touched to the idol, the surface tension of the milk pulls the liquid up and out of the spoon, before gravity causes it to run down the front of the statue. Similarly, this surface tension phenomenon can be witnessed in a common water tap, where a drop of water stays suspended and drains away when simply touched. 

But this scientific explanation did nothing to reduce the number of believers who rushed to temples in large numbers, offering large stainless steel cups and clay potss of milk. I remember visiting the local Sivan temple back in Taiping with my family and relatives. The temple was filled with folks from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. I was accompanying my aunt to offer milk to an idol of Murugan. A Chinese man before us commented in full disbelief that he offered the idol milk twice and both times it accepted it. Then it was my turn. I suppose I was too young at that time to understand how big a thing this was. Like other Hindu temples around the world, some folks force-fed the idols but the floor still remained dry. 

So was this truly a miracle by the Lord, or was it simply a mass religious hysteria caused by gullibility and scientific ignorance? Even if the capillary action theory provided some insight into the matter, the fact that the miracle only lasted a day appeared to further prove that there was some divine power behind this. Idols in big cities and well-developed urban areas ceased taking in more milk before noon the following day, though some temples in rural areas, including rubber estate plantations in Malaysia reported the effect continuing for slightly over a week. I remember some of my relatives traveling to these estate temples to witness the miracle before it ended there as well. In some cases like the Northridge California Temple, the miracle was reported to last up to six days. No further reports of the miracle occurring was reported after the beginning of October. 

Looking back, I do see it as a form of miracle since the scientific community to provide an explanation why the phenomenon happened only for slightly over a day. 

But why did the Lord choose this particular day to show us his greatness? Well, it is the age of the Kali Yuga, the final era before the end of the universe as we know it. This is not the first time a divine sign was show to us. According to one Hindu text, the Srimad-Bhagavatam (, it is stated:

"When Kali Yuga began (5000 years ago), disruptions in the normal course of seasons occurred  The idols in the temples seemed to be weeping, lamenting and transpireing. It was as if they wanted to leave." 

The disappearance of offerings to idols has been known to Hindus across the world in different cultures. But the Milk Miracle is unique in a way. For the first time in 5000 years, the deities accepted offerings from regular devotees in such a large world wide scale. The norm was holy men and women who had sacrificed their lives as householders and taken up the role of monks to serve for the needy can witness such physical offerings, and even that through sophisticated ceremonies. 

Pluralism is the very foundation of Hinduism and skeptics are respected equally. But in order for the Lord to prove His greatness, it takes only a day to do that and that is probably what I saw with my own eyes seventeen years ago. But why milk, of everything else mankind can offer Him? It is simply because milk has a deep symbolic meaning according to the sacred texts. It is provided to us by the most sacred of animals, the cow, though I doubt the idols would have rejected an offering of goat's milk.

Here are some newspaper reports from across the world covering the Milk Miracle:

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