Today is Shivratri. Millions of devotees will pour millions of gallons of milk on Shiv Lingas across the country. I have always found the ritual of pouring milk over stone deities deplorable particularly in a land where millions go to bed hungry every night and thousands of children die of malnutrition every day. 5013 to be exact. This is no exaggeration, it is the sad reality substantiated by cold and harsh statistics. Nothing to be proud of. And the milk devotees will pour today will find its way to a gutter.

A Facebook messages urges us to offer only a tablespoon of milk on the Shiv ling. In India 1000’s of children die of malnutrition, donate the milk to children and gain blessing from their families. I could not agree more. I am a Hindu and proud of being one, but I also feel that my religion gives me the flexibility of interpreting rituals with sagacity and keeping in mind the reality I live in. So if I am asked to offer milk on this blessed day then it could be a teaspoon or even a drop or why not just touch the packet to the deity and then give it to one of the innumerable children that crowd the lanes of temples. I am sure God will approve and send the sought blessing.

My mind goes back to the teachings of Ramaksrishna so lovingly taught to me by my father. Ramakrishna coined the term  daridra-narayana, God in the form of the poor, and asked us to serve Him: ‘Where should you go to seek God—are not all the poor, the miserable, the weak, Gods? Why not worship them first?’ And what better way then by giving the milk we earmarked for a stone deity to the first hungry child we come across.

It is time our rituals got revisited. The situation in our country is alarming: 42% of all the underweight children in the world live in India. 5000 children die every day due to preventable diseases and about 47% of adolescent girls in India are undernourished. Keeping this in mind waste of food of any kind is unacceptable be it the honey and milk of our religious rituals, the waste at weddings and other celebrations or the grains rotting in the open. True we can blame the government for not having sufficient silos or for not implementing pertinent legislation but the buck does not stop there. We as a nation are also responsible and must do our bit. Perhaps we could start today by donating the milk pledged to lord Shiva to hungry children who are the true image of God.

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