The little miracle in Lady Margaret Road

Andrew Brown joins the believers in west London to witness the ritual that has turned a Hindu god into a phenomenon
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The Independent Online
Inside a small, square front room, at 61 Lady Margaret Road, Southall, the television and video recorder had been pushed back against the wall to make room for a kneeling cameraman. He was filming the elephant deity Ganesh, who stood in front of a mirror where once a fireplace had been, and who was, apparently, drinking all the milk he was offered.

"Drink, drink, drink" said a woman as I entered the room. I couldn't see quite what happened. My guide, Ana Pankhania, urged me forward. She had heard from a friend in Nairobi that holy statues all round the world had started drinking milk.

We had met in the Vishwa temple a quarter of a mile down Lady Margaret Road, where hundreds of worshippers were queuing for their turn to offer tablespoonfuls of milk to the marble white deity of Nandi, Shiva's cow. "It actually took my offering," she said. "There is nothing behind it. Lord Shiva is taking the milk."

Nandi was a white cow standing 18in high in a ceramic basin. Water splashed into the far end of it, down a papier mache mountain; containers of fresh milk stood in the water and coins surrounded the deity.

On each side of the deity knelt a woman with a teaspoon, whose job it was to feed the statue. The one nearest me held her spoon against Nandi's nose, and none of the milk vanished that I could see, except when her hand trembled. The woman on the far side held her spoon under his chin. The level diminshed but when she moved it away, the chin dripped milk into the water below.

Ms Pankhania was disappointed with my account of what I had seen. "There is probably an explanation, but there is probably also a divine force coming in." So we set off down the road to number 61.

Ganesh the Elephant God was brightly painted and seemed to be made of ceramic. His trunk curled round in front of him, and when her turn came, Ana Pankhania knelt in front of him with a tablespoon of milk and tipped it against the tip of his trunk. A little ran down and vanished in his navel. The rest was drawn into the trunk.

Yet at the same time, I couldn't help but notice that Ganesh stood on a shining metal tray in a puddle of milk, and as the teaspoon emptied, the milk puddle inexorably grew.

Hindus divided, page 3