Question: I have heard that sometimes in India the deities of Ganesa physically drink milk when offered to them. Is this true?
Answer: Yes. There were such rumors of Ganesa deities drinking milk; but what spirituality do we find there? None. You can add those rumors to the thousands of stories created by Hindus to excite the masses into reaffirming their faith in Hinduism. When these stories are let loose, then millions of Hindus crowd to the Ganesa temples and every Tom, Dick and Santosh claims that he or she saw the phenomena. Then everyone starts claiming that the photos of Ganesa in their homes are drinking milk. This is good business for the dairy industry but does not reflect any spiritual principle whatsoever. Rumor also has it that Ganesa drank beer, 7-UP and engine oil — so you can see how such rumors get carried away. Then after a few months everything is forgotten and it’s back to Hinduism as usual.
However, it is the opinion of some intelligent people here in India that the Ganesa milk phenomena was contrived to compete with some of the Christian evangelist propaganda. The incident certainly sounds like the claims of Christians showing the signs of stigmata on their hands and feet or like the weeping Madonna, etc. The Ganesa phenomena however would probably have been more convincing if he had eaten laddus and not simply drank a few drops of milk.
My conclusion is that, as with the stigmata and the weeping Madonna, etc — the Ganesa ‘milk phenomena’ is also a hoax.
Question: During my many travels in India I have visited certain temples where it is claimed that the Deity of Visnu or Krsna was self-manifest. So my second question is, whether it is possible that God self-manifests His Deity form or is it always necessary that an acarya or representative of God be instrumental in establishing a Deity?
Answer: When traveling in India and visiting holy places and ancient temples a ‘grain of salt’ is sometimes advised before blindly believing everything one hears, but it is a fact that since ancient times until quite recently the Supreme Personality of Godhead has indeed self-manifested His Deity form in many places in India. In every instance these self-manifested Deities can be believed as such when we see that great spiritual personalities such as Ramanuja, Madhvacarya, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and others worshipped these Deities. What great personalities accept, we take to be a reality. Otherwise simply believing at face value every story a priest, a panda or a brahmana tells can be misleading.

Radha-ramana
Some of the ancient self-manifested Deities include; Saligrama in Gandaki, Ranganatha at Srirangam, Nara-Narayana in Badarinatha, Balaji in Tirupati, Narasimha-deva in Mangalagiri, Ahobilam and Nrsimhapalli, Jagannatha in Puri, Vitthala-Krsna in Pandharpur and others. In more recent times, self-manifested Deities include: Radha-Ramana in Vrndavana, Tota-Gopinatha in Puri and Kasisvara Pandita’s Mahaprabhu Deity, now in Jaipur.
All these Deities mentioned above have been accepted by previous acaryas as self-manifest and therefore the same can also be safely accepted today.
An interesting point that I will attempt to make here is that all bona-fide Deities are actually self-manifest. It simply depends on how you define ‘self-manifest’ and under what conditions the ‘self-manifestation’ takes place. That is to say that, the acaryas and those that are near and dear to Krsna and Visnu are non-different from the Lord Himself. Therefore, if a bona-fide acarya or pure devotee installs the Deity we may also consider that it is self-manifest.

acaryam mam vijaniyan navamanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyasuyeta sarva-devamayo guruh
“One should know the acarya to be as good as Myself. One should never disrespect him. Never envy him or consider him to be a mundane man for he is the sum total of all the demigods.”(Srimad Bhagavatam 11.17.27)
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is Subjective Reality or even more strongly put, Super-subjective Reality. The Deity [arca-vigraha] is the manifest form of Godhead that appears to accept service from His devotee or devotees. The potency of pure devotion attracts Krsna and He manifests Himself to accept His devotees service but the point still remains that ‘He manifested Himself,’ thus ‘self-manifest.’
If one is not a pure devotee or acting under the direct order of a pure devotee, then ones attempt to establish a Deity form of the Lord will amount to establishing a lifeless statue and nothing more. India has thousands of such statues.
Most of the principle Deities worshipped by Gaudiya Vaisnavas were either established by the direct family members of Lord Krsna or manifest by the pure devotees of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Many of the main Deities in Vrndavana were established 4,500 years ago by Vajranabha the great grandson of Dvaraka Krsna. Vajranabha’s father was Aniruddha, son of Pradyumna, who was Krsna’s son. Under the direction of Vajranabha [then king of Mathura] the first Deities of Krsna were manifest in the Vraja such as Madan-mohana, Govindaji, Gopala the lifter of Govardhana, Gopinatha, Dauji [Balarama], Harideva, Garuda-Govinda, Kesava, Gopesvara Mahadeva [Siva] and so forth.
During the lila of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the first Deity of Mahaprabhu was established by Visnupriya-devi after Mahaprabhu had accepted sannyasa. The first Deities of Gaura-Gadadhara were established at Campahati by Dvija-Vaninatha, the brother of Gadadhara Pandita and the first Deities of Gaura-Nitai were established by Gauridasa Pandita. For one who has heard the narration of what transpired at Gauridasa Pandita’s house on the day of the installation it is quite clear that these were ‘self-manifest’ Deities in the truest sense of the word [for details of this event please see Chapter Seven of Bhakti-ratnakara].

Guru-Gauranga-Gandharvika-Giridhari
During the time of Bhaktivinoda Thakura the Deity of Gaura-Visnupriya was manifest at Yogapitha in Mayapura. Following Bhaktivinoda, Sarasvati Thakura constructed the Adbhuta Mandira at Yogapitha and established Deities of Gaura-Radha-Madhava, Panca-tattva, Laksmi-Narasimha, Gaura-Gadadhara, Jagannatha Misra, Saci-mata and Nimai. Also the Deity of Ksetrapala Mahadeva was established at Yogapitha. Sarasvati Thakura also established Deities of Guru-Gauranga-Gandharvika-Giridhari and the four sampradaya-acaryas at Sri Caitanya Matha in Mayapura.
Then in various Gaudiya Matha establishments throughout India, Sarasvati Thakura established Deities such as Sri Sri Gaura-Vinoda-Madhava (in Puri), Sri Sri Gaura-Gopi-Gopinatha (in Alalanath), Sri Sri Gaura-Vinoda-Vilasa (in Naimisaranya), Sri Sri Gaura-Vinoda-Ramana (in Cuttack), Sri Sri Gaura-Vinoda-Vaibhavananda (in Mumbai), Sri Sri Gaura-Vinoda-Vinoda (in Benares) and so forth.
Sarasvati Thakura established Deities to preside over the holy places and to establish in this world the highest conception of Gaudiya Vaisnavism — nay, the highest conception of theism ever to see the light of day — Sri Sri Gaura-Radha-Govinda.
mahaprabhu sri-caitanya, radha-krsna nahe anya rupanuga janera jivan
“Mahaprabhu Sri Caitanya is non-different from Sri Sri Radha-Krsna and is the very life of those Vaisnavas who follow Sri Rupa Gosvami.”
Srila Sridhara Maharaja explains:
“Our Guru Maharaja [Bhaktisiddhanta] installed almost everywhere this Mahaprabhu and Radha-Govinda, meaning that Mahaprabhu is combined Radha-Govinda. Mahaprabhu means Radha-Govinda. Svarupa-damodara has given us a sloka about the ontological nature of Mahaprabhu-
radha-krsna pranaya vikrtir hladini saktir asmad
ekatmanav api bhuvi pura deha-bhedam gatau tau
caitanyakhyam prakatam adhuna tad-dvayam caikyam aptam
radha-bhava-dyuti-suvalitam naumi krsna-svarupam
‘The loving affairs of Sri Radha and Krsna are transcendental manifestations of the Lord’s internal pleasure-giving potency. Although Radha and Krsna are one in Their identity, They separated Themselves eternally. Now, these two transcendental identities have again united in the form of Sri Krsna Caitanya. I offer my obeisances unto Him, who has manifested Himself with the sentiment and complexion of Sri Radha although He is Krsna Himself.’ (Caitanya-caritamrta Adi. 1.5)
“Guru Maharaja [Bhaktisiddhanta] wanted to show in this form of installation of the Deities, that the highest order of worship is here – that Mahaprabhu combined, who is giving the rasa, and the Radha Govinda with Their paraphernalia which They are tasting within Their own circle – that highest order of sweetness is being distributed by Mahaprabhu Himself in His lila. They are of the same level, layer, and the same dignity, and same highest position. To show, to represent this to the worldly intellect and devotion, Guru Maharaja has taken this method in the worship, in arcana, as favorable for his preaching about Radha-Govinda in Vrndavana.” [Sridhara Maharaja, transcript: April 23, 1982]
To this end Sarasvati Thakura established many Deities of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu standing by the side of Radha and Krsna — thus giving emphasis to this most high and exalted theistic conception. This above all is the essence of the Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy.
Since the time of Sarasvati Thakura many of his disciples carried on the disciplic succession and established Deities in the holy dhama, throughout India and around the world. These Deities included Gaura-Nitai, Radha-Govinda, Panca-tattva, Sri Narasimha-deva, Jagannatha, Subhadra and Baladeva, Krsna-Balarama, Gaura-Gadadhara, and particularly the Deities of Sri Sri Guru-Gauranga-Gandharvika-Govindasundara, Gaura-Radha-Vinodananda, and Gaura-Radha-Vinodabihari — thus retaining and spreading the Gaudiya concept of mahaprabhu sri caitanya radha krsna nahe anya.
All these Deities and more were established by the bona-fide representatives of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta.

Prabhupada's Radha-Govinda

Iskcon Gaura-Radha-Govinda in Kolkata
Our Guru Maharaja, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, in keeping with the highest conception of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, also established Sri Sri Gaura-Radha- Govinda in Kolkata and Sri Sri Gaura-Radha- Madhava at Mayapura [the center of his preaching activities] but unfortunately after the disappearance of our Guru Maharaja some over intelligent disciples, not understanding our Guru’s intentions and being eager to occupy his position without authority took the post of acarya. In so doing they displeased our Guru Maharaja and eventually lost sight of the proper conception of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Indeed, so many offences were committed during those dreadful years that the original Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, worshipped by our Guru Maharaja since his childhood, disappeared from the altar at Mayapura and a short time later the Deities of Sri Sri Gaura-Radha-Madhava also de-manifested! The details are too painful to recount here, but it is a fact that these things have happened. The saddest part of the story being, that those who are at present in charge of our Guru Maharaja’s institution have developed amnesia and are not willing to take the necessary steps to rectify the situation.

Original Gaura-Radha-Madhava in Mayapura
The point of contention involving the history of the Deities at ISKCON Mayapura and what should be the proper Deity conception in the futuristic temple being planned at ISKCON Mayapura [the Planetarium] is indeed a sensitive issue. Since the original Deities at ISKCON Mayapura disappeared, other much larger Deities have been placed there to right the wrong but the original Deity conception has been over-shadowed and all but forgotten. The fact is that the conception of the highest truth once visible in the original Deity arrangement of Mahaprabhu being the combined form of Radha and Krsna has been lost in the confusion.
In private meetings this was brought to the attention of numerous senior ISKCON members, sannyasis, gurus and GBCs before last years GBC meetings but to little or no avail. None of those approached had any argument or rebuttal to the above statements — most simply had a hazy memory of what had happened and showed apathy towards doing anything to rectify the situation. In fact one senior sannyasi commented that ISKCON was having too many land issue problems at Mayapura and that the leaders would not be willing to give attention to such a minor issue as the Deities.
Unfortunately worrying about land ownership issues and neglecting the Deity is not the way to solve their problems. Try to rectify things at the center and all other maladjusted issues will automatically fall into place. That is Krsna consciousness. Serve the center and all else will be adjusted.
The arrangements that Krsna manifests Himself and the arrangements that Krsna manifests through his pure devotees are non-different. One should give special care and attention to such matters, maintaining them for the benefit of future generations.