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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.