For India, milk is more than a drink; it's a gift from gods

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NTP: For India, milk is more than a drink; it's a gift from gods
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For India, milk is more than a drink; it's a gift from gods
In this Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 photo, a Hindu devotee pours milk on to an idol of Nandi, the bull that serves as a mount of Hindu God Shiva, at a Shiva temple in Gauhati, India. Hindus use milk and its products for religious purposes because it is believed to have purifying qualities: ghee, or clarified butter, is used in lamps for rituals; milk is used to bathe Hindu idols on special occasions; sweets made from milk or ghee are used as offerings to gods. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015 photo, Pronoti Devi, 67, maneuvers her way through a muddy field as she takes her cattle to graze in Mayong village, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Gauhati, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Assam, India. India is the worldâs largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer, producing about 140 million metric tons of milk per year by the end of 2014. Every day, milk touches the lives of millions of Indians like Devi who supplies milk from her three cows to a village tea shop. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015 photo, an Indian couple milks a cow at the Sandesar village of Anand district, about 85 kilometers (52 miles) southeast of Ahmadabad, India. The couple gives the milk to a local cooperative dairy who in turn supplies it to Amul dairy. Amul, a co-operative dairy, was born in 1946 out of a revolt by milk producers against unfair trade practice. It now has 3.37 million milk producer members, according to their official website. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
In this Wednesday, Oct 14, 2015 photo, Manas, 17, pours milk as he performs rituals after his fatherâs death at Bhagawatipara village, about 45 kilometers (27 miles) west of Gauhati, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Assam. India is the worldâs largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer, producing about 140 million metric tons of milk per year by the end of 2014. Milk accompanies so much of Hindu life, in rituals from an infantâs first food to the last rituals after death. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
In this Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 photo, Srimoti Mandal, 24, carries milk in a bucket as she holds her one and half year old son Rakesh after milking a cow in Gobhali village, about 35 kilometers (21 miles) east of Gauhati, the capital of the northeastern Indian state of Assam. With her husband unable to work because of asthma, Mandal depends on the milk to support her family of four, which includes two young children. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015 photo, an Indian restaurant worker boils milk to make tea and other drinks in New Delhi, India. India is the worldâs largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer, producing about 140 million metric tons of milk per year by the end of 2014. The one thing common across this large and diverse country is the morning cup of milky tea commonly sold in tiny tea stalls in the early morning usually to migrant laborers. (AP Photo /Tsering Topgyal)
In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015 photo, an Indian man carries milk canisters outside of a train station in New Delhi, India. India is the worldâs largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer, producing about 140 million metric tons of milk per year by the end of 2014. At 4:30 AM, the New Delhi train station is already bustling with milkmen from surrounding towns, who arrive carrying cans of milk that they deliver to neighborhoods across the capital. Most were up hours before the sunâs first rays. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015 photo, an Indian woman carries empty canisters after selling milk in Jammu, India. India is the worldâs largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer, producing about 140 million metric tons of milk per year by the end of 2014. Every day, milk touches the lives of millions of Indians. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
In this Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 photo, a poster of Hindu God Krishna hangs on a wall of a cow shelter in New Delhi, India. Krishna worshippers have special affection for cows because of the Hindu godâs role as a cowherd. Stories about his love for butter are legendary, so much so that he is lovingly called âMakhan chor,â or butter thief. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015 photo, a tea vendor pours milk into a vessel of tea in the old part of New Delhi, India. The one thing common across this large and diverse country is the morning cup of milky tea commonly sold in tiny tea stalls in the early morning usually to migrant laborers. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
In this Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 photo, Indian workers make Sandesh, a sweet made with milk, in Kolkata, India. India is the worldâs largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer, producing about 140 million metric tons of milk per year by the end of 2014. If you are in the country, you cannot escape calorie-filled sweets made with milk. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015 photo, sweets made with milk and ghee, or clarified butter, are displayed for sale in the old part of New Delhi, India. India is the worldâs largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer, producing about 140 million metric tons of milk per year by the end of 2014. If you are in the country, you cannot escape calorie-filled sweets made with milk and ghee. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
In this Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 photo, Hindu devotees perform rituals around a Shivling, a representation of the Hindu God Shiva, surrounded by milk poured on it during an offering at a Shiva temple in in Gauhati, India. Hindus use milk and its products for religious purposes because it is believed to have purifying qualities: ghee, or clarified butter, is used in lamps for rituals; milk is used to bathe Hindu idols on special occasions; sweets made from milk or ghee are used as offerings to gods. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 photo, a Hindu priest holds an earthen lamp filled with ghee, or clarified butter, during a ritual in Bhagawatipara village, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Gauhati, India. Hindus use milk and its products for religious purposes because it is believed to have purifying qualities: ghee, or clarified butter, is used in lamps for rituals; milk is used to bathe Hindu idols on special occasions; sweets made from milk or ghee are used as offerings to gods. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015 photo, empty milk canisters hang from a train belonging to milkmen from surrounding towns delivering milk to neighborhoods across the Indian capital of New Delhi, India. India is the worldâs largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer, producing about 140 million metric tons of milk per year by the end of 2014. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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NEW DELHI (AP) — It is the world's largest producer of milk and also the largest consumer. And for good reason. Because in India, milk is not just the morning glass you drink before you sprint out of the house. Its uses go far beyond the dietary and nutritional.

By the end of 2014, India was producing 140 million metric tons of milk per year — roughly 50 percent more than the United States, the second-biggest producer.

Milk's special significance in India goes back to Hindu mythology and the legend of the Samudra manthan, the churning of the ocean that brought forth the drink of immortality, the amrit, and also the goddess Kamdhenu, which manifested itself as a wish-granting divine cow. Hindus, who make up 81 percent of India's 1.3 billion people, consider cows to be sacred embodiments of Kamdhenu.

Krishna worshippers have special affection for cows because of the Hindu god's role as a cowherd. Stories about his love of butter are legendary, so much so that he is lovingly called "Makhan chor," or butter thief.

Hindus use milk and its products for religious purposes because it is believed to have purifying qualities: ghee, or clarified butter, is used in lamps for rituals; milk is used to bathe Hindu idols on special occasions; sweets made from milk or ghee are used as offerings to gods. It accompanies so much of Hindu life, in rituals from an infant's first food to the last rituals after death.

Milk also transcends religion: Ghee spread on flatbread can be a special treat for the poor; buttermilk is a popular summer drink to soothe the stomach. If you are in India, you cannot escape calorie-filled sweets made with milk. Another thing common across this large and diverse country is the morning cup of milky tea; tiny tea stalls start their businesses early, with migrant laborers normally the first customers.

The dairy industry became the force it is today because of major changes decades ago. Amul, a co-operative dairy, was born in 1946 out of a revolt by milk producers against unfair trade practices, and now has 3.37 million members. Amul was a model for Operation Flood, a nationwide campaign to increase milk production that began in 1970.

Many dairy operations are quite small. In a rural corner of India's northeastern Indian state of Assam, 24-year-old Srimoti Mandal milks her three cows in the early morning, getting an average of about 6 liters per day and selling it for about $3.50. With her husband unable to work because of asthma, she depends on the milk to support her family of four, which includes two young children.

In a neighboring village, a bent Pronoti Devi, 67, supplies milk from her three cows daily to a tea shop.

At 4:30 a.m., the New Delhi train station is bustling with milkmen from surrounding towns who arrive carrying cans of milk that they deliver to neighborhoods across the capital. Most were up hours before the sun's first rays. Some will make a second trip before the day ends. And then they will return to feed the cattle that in turn help feed their families.

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