India's thirsty statues drink the nation dry

Tim McGirk New Delhi
Thursday 21 September 1995 23:02

Tens of millions of Indians yesterday claimed to have witnessed a miracle in which stone idols in temples and households around the country drank milk. When excited Indians relayed news of the phenomenon to relatives overseas, there were soon reports of Hindu statues consuming milk in Britain, Canada, Dubai, Nepal and other countries with large Indian communities.

It was generally determined that of all Hinduism's 30 million gods, Ganesh, the elephant-headed deity with the broken tusk and pot-belly, was the thirstiest. But statues of Shiva, the dancing Lord of Destruction, and of his pet cosmic bull, Nandi, also reportedly drank heartily.

The frenzy over the alleged miracle was so great in New Delhi that traffic was blocked for hours by people thronging to the city's biggest temples. Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were caught up in similar scenes. Milk sales soared by 30 per cent. The stock exchange closed in the morning while hundreds of traders carrying milk made an offering at the nearest temple, hoping that statues of Lord Ganesh would slurp it up. But the god refused. One broker said that Ganesh, the god of auspicious beginnings, was evidently opposed to the government's economic reforms.

News of the "miracle" spread by word of mouth across this nation of 900 million at a confounding speed. Sanal Edamakuku, of the Indian Rationalists Association, which exposes bogus fakirs and swamis, saw it all as "mass hysteria, mass illusion".

Mr Edamakuku suspected that followers of a holy man known as Chandraswami initiated the frenzy to distract attention from criminal charges being brought against him for harbouring a murderer.

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