HT This Day: September 22, 1995 — A day of devotional frenzy
India was gripped by unprecedented devotional frenzy today as idols of Ganesh and other leading deities of the Hindu pantheon ‘‘consumed” milk offered to them by devotees who thronged temples in thousands since early morning.
Life came to a virtual stand-still in the Capital with large crowds con verging on temples big and small In every corner of the city. Office goers and schoolchildren were also seen queuing up although housewives were predictably, in the forefront.
Reports from State capitals in different corners of India said that similar phenomena had been observed almost everywhere. Be it Bombay, Calcutta or Bangalore, all metropolitan cities were gripped by the same frenzy. Cities like Lucknow, Bhopal, Jaipur and other towns like Indore, Ambala, Shimla, Meerut, Kanpur, Siliguri all reported similar occurrences.
However, places not well-served by telecom links did not seem to be affected. A Hindustan Times correspondent currently visiting Jharsuguda in Orissa was flabbergasted when asked over telephone whether any such phenomenon had happened there.
In Delhi, the police had to intervene outside many major temples as crowds became unmanageably large and disputes erupted about positions. In the queue in a by-lane off Janpath, people were seen climbing on to a Himachal Tourism bus where a small idol of Ganesha on the dash-board apparently also accepting milk.
Such was the impact of the “phenomenon” that supplies of milk ranout by late morning and devotees were seen sharing small bowlfuls among themselves. The milk was usually offered to idols in a smallspoon and in many cases the idols appeared to absorb the offering.
According to the acting Head priest of the Laxmi Narain Temple (Birla Mandir), devotees started arriving around 6 a.m. saying they had heard that Lord Ganesh had broken his “eternal divine fast” and would accept milk.
The 60 year-old priest said he himself then offered a cup of milk to the idol which was “immediately consumed”. By 11 a.m. an estimated 10,000 devotees had visited the temple and offered milk to various idols of the Shiva family and over 100 litres of milk had been“consumed”.
The news of this so-called chamatkar spread with incredible rapidity.While the head priest of the popular Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place said worshippers started arriving by 5.30 a.m., in other places word spread that idols of Ganesha would consume milk only between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The telecom revolution resulted in this phenomenon replicating itself throughout India by Mid-day while the Indian diaspora located in countries as far apart as Hong Kong, Australia and England claimed similar phenomena had been observed there too, at different times during the day. When the phenomenon did not occur in at least two temples in the U.S. preists said it would be because of the time difference.
A distinct pattern was noticeable in Delhi about the spreading of the news. Announcement were made from loudspeakers of the main temple in many localities, resulting in crowds gathering quickly. Thereafter, devotees rushed to smaller temples where the phenomenon appeared to replicate.
Rationalists scoffed at the reports, attributing it to mass hysteria or normal surface tension, while others saw a definite political ploy in what was said to be deliberate bid to invoke religious passion with an eye to the next year’s Lok Sabha poll. But as the day wore on, more and more people appeared to be convinced that a most inexplicable phenomenon had indeed taken place.
By the evening, reports flowed in of even brass and wood idols of Ganesha absorbing milk. Callers claimed to have witnessed plastic statues even of Madonna “consuming” offerings of milk.
People experimented with idols in their homes apparently with missed results. It worked in some case, while in others the deity stubbornly refused to during the offering. Callers claimed that idols at home would consume milk only after a particular chant addressed to Shiva was devoutly recited.