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 rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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