While many world religions strictly prohibit Idolatry or idol worshiping, the world’s oldest religion – Hinduism widely accepts it even in this present period of time. Most of the temples adhering to the ancient religion house an idol seated over an orchestrated and geometrically designed pedestal. Hindus are associated to many idol-worshiping festivals, such as Durga Puja, Ganesh Chaturthi, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja etc. Apart from these occasions, the “puja” which Hindus perform every morning, is done in front of a chariot, resting idols/images of various Hindu deities.
As a Hindu, I have heard many people condemning this widespread idol worshiping aspect of the religion. Through this article, I mainly want to clear all sorts of wrong facts which non-Hindus have in their minds regarding idol worshiping, and want to convey the message that there is NO harm in the practice.
First of all, Idol ≠ Murti
In terms of Hinduism, the term “Idol worshiping” is itself erroneous, as we Hindus do not worship the idol, but instead we revere the murti, which acts as a medium of communication between the devotees and the deity of which the murti is. It is a fact that murti and “idol” are not synonymous to each other. This Sanskrit word murti means ‘a means of communication between me and the Brahman’. Here, Brahman refers to Shuddha Chaitanya or the Absolute Self, which when related with Maya or illusion, is called GOD. So when we make idols, we make the murtis of the deities. Since I am writing in English, I would however use the word idol for murti. So, we pay homage to the deity, whom the idol personifies, and not to the stone or mud out of which the idol is made.
Why is there a medium of conversation necessary, before direct communication with the Divine?
As many of us would already know, Hinduism is a religion which covers a wide range of schools, ideas and religious thought. When we believe in the Supreme Godhead, generally called Paramatma in Sanskrit and Bhagwan in Hindi, we also worship the different deities associated to our pantheon and astrological arena. And worshiping these deities requires a prescribed set of rituals. These rituals actually purify one’s own self which is a prerequisite for the attainment of Moksha or complete liberation from this illusory world of life and death. While performing the peaceful rituals, our minds get spiritually nourished, and positivity showers in, which is very much necessary to be able to communicate with the Supreme God.
One may choose any of the deities – Shiva, Vishnu or Durga etc. While paying respect to these deities, we are paving the way to reach the Supreme God. Many philosophers also say that by worshiping a deity, we actually worship the Supreme God Himself.
So, to perform these rituals, we need an object to act as a reference to the Divine, or the one who is being worshiped. The idol is this reference. Involving the idol in the rituals shows our respect to the deity, and helps in the growth of our spiritual mindset.
Hinduism does NOT have 330 million GODs
Since idols are made of many deities, I think this is a point worth mentioning. People are often heard saying “The Hindus worship 330 million Gods”. This is totally a WRONG assumption. This 330 million consists of all the deities and heroes present in our ancient mythology and legends. Some are the prime deities, while others are associated to some particular aspect of material life. Many of the deities of this number called 330 million are actually folk heroes of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Others are avatars or manifestations of the prime deities themselves.
We need to understand that ‘God’ and ‘deity’ are distinct. ‘God’ refers to the Supreme Soul, who is all-wise and all-powerful, and who has created this illusory world. The ‘deities’ are the ones who have helped in the development of this world, and many of its happenings and material aspects. Thus we make idols of the DEITIES, not of GODs. This is because the Hindu Vedas clearly say that ‘Bhagwan (God) is Formless, and there can be no image or idol of Him’.
Idol worshiping is not an ancient ritual
Yes, idol worshiping is NOT an ancient ritual. Our ancient Vedas prohibit idol worshiping. In the Pre-Classical and Classical days of Ancient India, idol worshiping was not performed at all, and only the Supreme God or Paramatma was invoked through strong meditation. These were the times of Sat-Yug. But our scriptures also say that as time progresses and Kali-Yug comes in, Evil will rise to its fullest height, and so in this period of time, we also would need to worship the deities of heaven e.g. Vishnu, Krishna etc. Thus with the arrival of Islam and colonialism in India, the Bhakti movement gained momentum in response to increasing loss of righteousness. Thus by the 17th and 18th centuries, several idol worshiping festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja gained popularity in various parts of the nation.
Nevertheless, Hinduism along with its Vedic roots is a constantly evolving religion – our holy texts themselves say this. But however diverse the practices of different Hindus be, our Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and the Bhagavad Geeta hold all of us united.
With this conclusion, I just want to say that there is no HARM in idol worshiping, for when one worships the murti, he does NOT worship the stone, but the deity whom the idol refers to. Perhaps, Idolatry is not just a part of Hinduism, but also of many other religions and faiths. The ancient Greeks and Romans used to make idols and temples housing them. Most Churches have the idol or image of Jesus Christ on the Holy Cross. The Holy Kaaba also has a few idols inside itself. Buddhist shrines have the idol of peaceful Buddha.
So, I hope I am successful in removing the erroneous stereotype regarding Hinduism. Along with worshiping the divine deities, we also worship the Supreme God, through Yoga and meditation. And these two activities are a must-do for every Hindu, I should say. These are not just mentally beneficial, but also bestow physical benefits. I would just conclude by conveying that along with idol worshiping, one should also perform meditation every morning to ensure the eternal connection to the Divine.
A piece by an anonymous writer.