It all began on September 21st when an otherwise ordinary man in New Delhi dreamt that Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of Wisdom, craved a little milk. Upon awakening, he rushed in the dark before dawn to the nearest temple, where a skeptical priest allowed him to proffer a spoonful of milk to the small stone image. Both watched in astonishment as it disappeared, magically consumed by the God.
Tens of millions of people of all ages flocked to the nation's temples. The unworldly happening brought worldly New Delhi to a standstill, and its vast stocks of milk - more than a million liters - sold out within hours. Just as suddenly as it started in India, it stopped in just 24 hours.
Technically termed Mass Psychogenic illness (MPI), the milk miracle is a good candidate for mass hysteria.
MPI has been characterized as a constellation of symptoms suggestive of organic disease that lacks an identified cause, which occurs among people who share beliefs regarding those symptoms (Philen et al., 1989). It is seen as a social phenomenon, affecting otherwise healthy individuals (Boss, 1997).
Outbreaks of MPI are often triggered by an environmental event (Boss, 1997).
Outbreaks are often enhanced by a vigorous emergency response and substantial media attention (Hefez, 1985; Philen et al., 1989). Symptoms may spread almost instantaneously and by line of sight, the latter term referring to the apparent spread of outbreak among those who directly observe other affected people.
With growing concerns about bioterrorism, environmental contamination and emerging infections, the frequency of such incidents and the anxiety surrounding episodes of unexplained epidemic illness may increase. It is important for health care providers to recognize the characteristics of mass psychogenic illness.
The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962 was again a case of MPI triggered during a stressful time at a boarding school in the vicinity of the village of Kashasha in modern Tanzania.
The regular occurence of mass hysteria, in my opinion, is the reaction of the stock market to external stimuli - the soars and crashes at the snap of some powerful fingers.