How I witnessed a miracle

The general secretary of the Hindu council kicks of his series of blogs by explaining just what he l

The thing I love about Hinduism is that it gives me complete freedom to make my own decisions on how to practice my religion, it gives me the flexibility I need and indeed it gives me a great amount of choice. I have always felt from a very young age that there is a higher power beyond this universe, this nature, our world.

Many a time I have seen the results of prayer in my own life and some of those little miracles may well be ascribed to coincidences but when you actually weigh all the arguments in your own mind its difficult not to accept the power of prayer or an intervention by another force. Besides that I did have a very personal experience at the age of 19 which left no doubt in my mind of the existence of a higher power or reality.

One of the very public experiences I had was at the week of the milk miracle of 1995, when Lord Ganesh and generally Lord Shiva’s family was drinking milk. I got a phone call from my mother in law to go to the temple and try and offer milk to Ganesh ji, she insisted that I must go immediately whereas I could hardly believe that a stone idol could consume a liquid. I couldn’t help laughing in my mind though realising that my mother in law would not have phoned me in office hours – I run an accountancy practice - unless it was serious.

So I went to the Vishwa Hindu temple at Lady Margaret Road in Southall and at about 1pm there was a queue of 4 or 5 people in front of me. They were all offering milk in a spoon to the Deity Nandi – a marble idol of the bull that is supposed to be Lord Shiva’s vehicle and his foremost devotee and is worshipped as a family member of Lord Shiva. Incidentally Lord Ganesh is the first son of God which Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, created and infused life into. I was not thinking of Lord Shiva or Ganesh or Parvati at the time but just offered a spoon full of milk to Nandi as directed by the priest.

As I raised the spoon to Nandi’s mouth and the milk touched the idol, very slightly, the level of milk in the spoon started to go down as if someone was actually drinking it, quite evenly.

I was shaking with awe.

This experience made me realise how stupid I had been to be influenced by the negative propaganda against idols by some ideologies of other religions. I did always believe in the almighty and prayed to, say Lord Krishna, or Lord Shiva etc. and of course in my youth did not question much but as I grew up I was influenced by the negative propaganda against idolatry targeted mainly at Hindus and in spite of the Hindu belief that once an idol is consecrated in the temple through Vedic Mantras then spirituality is infused in the idol and for all intents and purposes it becomes God, alive in spirit, I could not bring myself to agree with this belief, which seemed to me just a theory.

Nonetheless I understood that my thoughts had to be directed towards an indescribable reality God through some form of medium and so I prayed to Lord Shiva or Krishna or Goddess Durga whenever I went to the temple, quite sincerely. It was not really important to believe that the idols were alive, what mattered to me were my thoughts and devotion. However after the milk miracle everything changed in that respect. And that to happen through the idol of Nandi, a Bull, associated with Lord Shiva i.e., not even Shiva himself or Ganesh or Parvati.

Though of course as Hindus believe that animals, plants, and all life have a soul, rather the Atma, I have never had any problem in accepting the divinity of all life in any case and whatever other religions propaganda may have been on that point but that afternoon I began to understand that true spirituality, the science of metaphysics, has been with us from the ancient of times. That afternoon was the most wonderful time of that year as it crystallised my faith through experience.

I rang my wife who is a scientist with a PhD and actually works in medicinal research. She too laughed in disbelief. Then I asked her to ring her mother also and in any case, on her way home from work, she stopped at Ram Mandir in King street, Southall. Being a scientist she offered the milk to the “bronze” serpent around Shiva’s neck and the milk went into thin air. Since then her Hindu beliefs consolidated and she now observes various practices much more devoutly than me.

I rang some of my local clients, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians to tell them what had happened. They all went there and had the same experience.

Hinduism is vast and complex and in the next 3 blogs I will attempt to give you a flavour of my religion in three small parts.

Anil Bhanot read Actuarial Science at university but then qualified as a chartered accountant. He was one of the founding members of Hindu Council UK in 1994 and was first elected as general secretary in 2003.
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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.