The purpose behind Idol Worship in Hinduism

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The purpose behind Idol Worship in Hinduism

“kleśo ‘dhikataras teshām
avyaktāsakta-cetasām
avyaktāhi gatir duhkham
dehavadbhir avāpyate”

Severe is the path of those whose minds are set on the Unmanifest, for the goal of the Unmanifest is painful to reach by the embodied beings.

– Bhagavad Geeta Chapter 12, V. 5

In this verse, Bhagwan says that it is very difficult for an embodied being like you and me to worship him in his unmanifest form. The realized person, the sthitaprajna sees Divinity or God in every being, human or animal, the animate or the inanimate. But for ordinary people like you and me, it is easier to focus our thoughts and devotion on something visible, be it a stone, wood or clay. The shape and size of the statue does not matter. Even a picture if you look at it day after day with love and devotion, you will build an unseen bond with the object of your devotion and that regular Abhyasa (practice) will finally make you aware of The Divinity within you.

Gita Upadesha

An idol or an image is a living embodiment (arca) of God. It is not a lifeless form. Life is poured into every image or idol when it is reverentially worshipped with devotion. Devotion has such power. According to our Puranas, with devotion you can awaken the divine power which is hidden in any object. By overcoming the duality of the subject and the object or the knower and the known you can experience oneness with the divinity who is present in all things. Idol worship (murthi puja) or image worship in Hinduism refers to the worship of the names and forms (murti) of God, any divinity or reverential person such as a guru or a saint. The practice is unique to Hinduism. Image worship is also practiced in Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhists worship Buddha, Bodhisattvas and several deities. Jains worship the Thirthankaras and other Jinas. However, both religions do not believe in creator God. Hence, image worship of God is found only in Hinduism.

श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता (काशिनीव्याख्ययालङ्कता) : Srimad Bhagavad Gita (Kashini Vyakhyayalakta)

According to Hinduism, the whole creation is a form of God. Every aspect and form in it reflect his glory because God is hidden in each of them. The whole creation is sacred because it is suffused with the presence of God. Hence, every aspect of it is worthy of worship. When you say, "God is this or that," you are limiting him. When you say, "God should be worshipped in this or that manner only," you are again defining and limiting your methods of worship. It is also said that when a devotee worships an idol, he also worships the deity who is present in him as his hidden Self. All the prayers that you offer to the idols are also simultaneously addressed to the hidden deity. You are the priest in the worship of the deity, while your hidden Self is the silent priest or the Brahman, who makes sure that your prayers reach their destination with augmented power. When a devout Hindu folds his hands in front of a deity to pray or offer his respects, his hands point not only to the deity in front of him but also the deity that lives in him. Thus, thus symbolically in idol worship one not only worships the concrete form of God (murtam) but also the subtle, invisible and formless Self (amurtam) in the body.

Insights Explaining Idol Worship

  1. Easiest way to install faith and devotion
    To intellectuals who are well informed in spiritual knowledge, the abstract concept of God may be engaging, but to an ordinary individual the idea is complex and difficult to comprehend. On the other hand, an ordinary individual like you and me will find a concrete image or idea of God that we can easily grasp far more appealing. For example the image of Ganesha or the idea of Krishna we hear from many stories. An idol will represent God and his many qualities thus making it easier for us to believe in His existence and to devote ourselves to Him rather than attempting to worship the unmanifest or the formless.
  2. A way of acknowledging the omnipresence of God
    From a sub-atomic particle to the great stars, God is manifested in all His creations.
    We believe that God is ‘Omnipresent’. If God is everywhere, then surely He is in that idol. In idol worship, a devotee gives as much love and respect to his/her idol believing that God resides in it.
  3. Idol worship helps devotees to become deeply religious
    Once an idol is installed in the house or in a puja mandir (place of worship in a house), the very house becomes a place of God’s residence, a very sacred place, a temple by itself. The idol reminds household members of the divine presence and of their religious duties and responsibilities. It inspires devout men to keep their houses pure and not to indulge in sacrilegious acts.
  4. Aid to concentration
    More than any abstract concept, an image or a symbol is the best aid to concentrate and control one’s mind and attention. By focusing the mind on an image, the mind can be tamed and stabilized. Today science has been able to proof that images subdued in the subconscious plays a significant role in shaping one’s life and destiny. The ancient Hindus were aware of the potentiality of the mind and therefore did not object to the worship of idols. They knew it was the best way to lead the fickle human mind towards God.
  5. An effective prayer : Communicating with God.
    Idol worship helps us to focus the energies from our prayer into a strong current flowing in one particular direction. Besides, the supposed physical proximity to God intensifies the emotional fervour and charges the prayer with love and devotion.

There are many reasons why a devout Hindu worships idols. To simply explain it, idol worship is the best method of communication with God for many Hindus. Religion is a matter of faith. There is no one right way to attain God. The paths to God are many and many are the ways one can reach Him.

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