murtis which God has given for worship by his command are of eight types [of
materials]. God himself personally enters those murtis and resides within them.
A devotee of God who worships those murtis should maintain the same respect for
them as he does for the manifest form of God.”
– Bhagwan Swaminarayan
every Hindu home, you will find a small home altar or mandir for
the proper worship of the homes murtis. A murti is
an embodiment of a Hindu god in any form which is usually a statue of the god
or goddesses. The images or sculptures may be present inside or outside a
home or temple, as part of processional festivities, or as a cultural landmark.
Because it contains the living presence of the Deity, a murti is more than a
physical representation or a meditational tool.
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origin of murtis goes back to Vedic times but evidence of this
cannot be verified with solid affirmations because many of the scripts and
literature of the Indus Valley culture is still a mystery until today (Banerjea
42). However, many scholars have debated over the question of whether Vedic
Indians made images of their gods (murtis) and whether they knew
and practiced image worship or not. From a negative perspective, scholars like
Max Muller argued that image worship was not known during the period of Vedic
Indians. In fact, other scholars went as far as to say that images, idols, and
temples were not even mentioned in the Rigveda (the earliest
existing literature of the Indo-Aryans). From the complete opposite perspective
however, other scholars used specific passages, mainly hymns that contained
anthropomorphic descriptions of different deities (Banerjea 48), from the
same Rigveda text to suggest that the practice of making murtis was
well known among the early Vedic culture (Banerjea 43).
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not all murtis depict the same god nor does it depict every
god in the same way. In fact, the same deity can have more than one murti that
reflects different aspects, features, and roles of it. For example, the god shiva is depicted in his daksinamurti as a teacher; but in
another murti, he is standing as Pasupati protecting animals
and humans (Kramrisch 4323). Additionally, the metaphysics of these murtis are
of great importance because Hindus use a wide variety of distinct features that
are significant to the deity it represents. In fact, the precise shape,
posture, dimension, material, colour and gender vary from one murti to
another, and each of these aspects symbolizes a (usually divine) feature of the
deity that it characterizes. There are also specific instructions and
implements that must be followed when creating a murti, such as the
system of measurements and units of proportions for each body part. “The
appropriate postures, the appropriate number of arms, the gestures of the
hands, the emblems and weapons to be held in the hands, and the appropriate
animal mount” (Eck 39) are all specified to be done in certain ways in ancient
Hindu texts such as the silpasastras (‘texts of artists’).
[Also see ‘canonical manuals of Hindu religious art’ for further information
about the instructions of creating a Murti]. Also, in the ancient Vedic
text, Bhavisyapurana, seven main types of materials from
which murtis can be used are mentioned: stone, metals such as
gold, silver and copper; wood, earth or clay, sand, paint, and gems (Banerjea
209). In this way, it is evident that the notion of murtis certainly
has a complex system and very detailed work is put in every feature of a murti.
Hindus do not simply paint an image of a god and worship it, which is a common
accusation usually applied to Hindus by Western religions, but they developed a
whole system that is based on the human sense of vision (going back to the idea
of darsana) (Eck 33). In fact, the essence of this system has roots
which are deeply connected to the divine realm and it cannot simply be ignored
or dismissed when learning about Hindu worship.
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importantly however, according to many sources when the Mahabharata was
transmitted by Badarayan Vyasa, he asked Ganesha to record down the oral
transmission. So Ganesha is said to have broken off his tusk to write with so
that in return Vyasa would narrate the epic in one continuous sitting without
pausing; and that is why many of his depictions show a broken tusk (Bae 46).
Furthermore, in Mumbai many Hindus worship the god Ganesha each year for ten
days leading up to the final festival. In the festival, a large murti of
Ganesha is brought to be celebrated and offered prayers to while at the same
time ritually disposing the murti in a body of water (Eck 42).
This divine festival again illustrates that murtis are an
embodiment that become a valid vehicle to allow for a transitory union with the
divine, but once the deity departs the murtis, it is no longer
appropriate or valid to worship it and in fact it must be disposed of in
certain ways (See Bae 45-50).
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popular deity that is commonly worshipped throughout India is Vishnu, the
preserver and sustainer of the universe. Like Ganesha, Vishnu is popularly
depicted in a variety of murtis where his posture is sometimes
standing, sitting or reclining. Actually, in South India each murtis,
with a different posture, occupies its own space in many of the three-storied
temples, and are sometimes each worshiped separately (Kramrisch 4325). The
common features in most of his murtis however are his
anthropomorphic form and the four arms with each holding a white conch, a
rotating wheel, a golden mace and a lotus flower. As is usual with most
Hindu murtis, each of these items has an enormous significance and
symbolizes the main characteristics of the god. The white conch signifies the
origins of existence and the elements of creation (Bae 103), the rotating wheel
is a symbol of the cycle of time (i.e. the cycle of birth and death) and it is
also believed that Vishnu has used the rotating wheel to conquer demons and preserve
the world, hence he is known as the sustainer of the universe (Sugirtharajah
79). In the third hand, the golden mace is held and it is symbolic for Vishnu’s
power and authority as it is a weapon of destruction; and lastly, the lotus
flower is the purity and perfection as it is commonly used with many Hindu
goddesses (Bae 103).
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and Vishnu are only two common deities among the thousands other gods and
goddess that are worshipped in Hinduism, and already numerous types of murtis have
been created just to embody and manifest each deity. This clearly indicates
that the concept of this type of worship is regarded with a high degree of
devotion, seriousness and importance; in fact, great respect, honor and
devotion must be firmly present when treating and worshipping any murti of
any deity. Moreover, a murti of a supreme lord “may be seen,
bathed, adorned, touched, and honored” (Eck 35) by any of its devotees. In
fact, it is common to find in a home of a strictly devotional family, sometimes
even in temples, that murtis are treated in the same way that
a servant would treat his master. That is, “gestures such as bowing, kneeling,
prostrating, and in the Hindu world, touching the feet of revered superior”
(Eck 35) are consistently performed during a worship. Another important
practice that is also mandatory during the worship of a murti is
making offerings of sacrifices such as flowers, food, cloth, and incense; also,
some deities require that the sacrifice be of meat, liquor, and/or be smeared
with blood. The act of making these offerings became a significant part of
worship because it was inherited down from the Vedic fire ritual of Agni; in
which throwing sacrifices into the fire was a mandatory part of the ritual.
Havan of All Gods
Overall, the notion of murtis is an important one in the Hindu
religion; in order for sincere worshipers to establish a true union with the
divine deity, they must be able to firmly focus their attention on that deity.
The way that this state of concentration can be perfected is through the human
sense of vision, in which a Hindu is able to see the divine in a physical form
and more importantly also be seen by it.
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