Monday, 21 January 2013

Why Hindus Should Learn About Surface Tension: Capillary Action in Indian God Statue

I was watching the news and learned it was Basant Panchami (or Vasant Panchami) which is a Hindu festival celebrating Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and art.  So several million Hindus went to go to the Ganges to bathe as part of this celebration.  Bathing in the Ganges is thought to absorb your impurities.  I am not really here to judge or determine whether this polluted river has magical qualities or can make miracles for the people living around it.  However, I am more interested in another miracle that was recently called 'The Hindu Milk Miracle'. 

Watch this to see what I mean:

 Wait....  WHAT?

Did that statue just drink that milk?  Why did the guy give milk to the statue?  What is going on?

Likely they are giving the statue milk as a sacrifice.  They do this many religions.  Religions sacrifice anything from chickens to giving large amounts of money.  This helps to appease the gods.  This also likely happens to line the pockets of religious mystics.

Unexplained things in science have been often viewed as religious, magic or dark spirits.  In many cases (not all) after learning about these things science has come up with a reasonable, logical and testable answer e.g. Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer's nose.

So in the case of the drinking statues in September 21st, 1995 before dawn a Hindu worshipper in New Dehli made a milk offering to Ganesha (apparently without Corn Flakes).  The liquid disappeared like in the video when the milk was brought up to the statue.  The first and most logical thought at the time was that the statue was drinking the milk.  This went viral quickly.  In a city the size of New Delhi this would go viral with religious and non-religious people seeing the milk drinking.  In the early days of the internet it even spread to outside of India to the UK, Canada, United Arab Emerites and other countries.  This kind of miracle has a huge impact on economics with huge traffic jams happening around the area, an increase in milk consumption (as much as 30%) and the religious men the temples getting a lot of money with the steady flow of patrons.

This somehow struck a nerve with one group in India called the Indian Science and Rationalists' Association.  Since 1949 they have been busy exposing fraudulent "godmen".  These guys have seen it all from levitation, electrical shocks to drinking statues.  They set out to expose these not only for the Hindu religion but also for other religions.  With Hindu being one of the more predominant it seems that they have a lot of gurus and magic men to keep them busy.  Exposing them means putting them out of business.

So what is happening with the milk?  The statue is likely made of a material that has small porous holes.  These holes allow liquids to wick the milk through them making it almost look like the statue is drinking before gravity caused the milk to run down the front of the statue.  The surface tension of the milk allowed the capillary action to take place in these statues.  Likely the statues were made of fine-grained sediments such as silt and clay, with an aggregate surface area which can attract water molecules better.
So how can you test this?  The Indian Science and Rationalists Association just used a little food coloring.  This allowed a cheap but effective scientific explanation.  They now could see that the colored milk was running down the statue after gravity applied its force.  Of course laughed at by the Hindus believing the mystics rather than learning about surface tension.  Mr. Prabhir Ghosh, the critical skeptic scientist, was one of the people to demonstrate how the Hindus were coaxed into believing the miracle. He quoted on the phenomenon after his explanation - "See what it is that the gurus and swamis are up to!".

This video talks about capillary action at the 4 minute mark.

Extra Note: Christian's should also learn about surface tension.  Jesus walking on water is impossible unless the water was frozen or he was the size of an ant.