I am born in a religious family and in the religion that said to have innumerable forms of Idols. Thus the question of worshiping the God’s Idol (Murti Pujan) has always been very close to my spirit.
If one look at the temple of my home, a number of idols will be found. The below is the image of my home temple.
This blogs will help one get a perspective on following question. Why Gods Idol Worship (Murti Pujan)? Does God’s idol have any significance with the supreme Creator? How did the idols of God come to existence? What power does the idol of God possess? Does Idol worship reap any fruits? After deep study on the writings on the scriptures, I found concrete perspectives on above questions.
If we look at any existence, either natural or human, it has a timely meaning to its being. Also does the creation of God’s idol has its own existential significance to human life. So let’s first understand what is the need of God’s idol?
In Bhagvad Gita, Brahma / God (Supreme Creator) can be understood in two parts.
- Without any qualities / forms or character. (Nirgun / Nirakar)
- All potent qualities / forms. (Sagun / Sarvagun)
The combination of sagun and nirgun makes God the only existence that is all pervading. God without form is Imperishable, the Unmanifested, the Omnipresent, as foundation. Besides the above existential qualities of formless god, it may possess all forms/qualities. It is said to be possessed of all forms.
E.g:- From mud one can make innumerable forms of pot. However mud in itself does not have any form.
One who is on the path of spirituality and wants to dedicate all to the supreme (God without form), then on what one should concentrate/ meditate. The same kind of question also came from Arjuna in Bhagvad Gita – Adhyay 12.
“Dear Lord, Who is better versed in Yoga – the ones who worship You in constant devotion with your form or the ones who worship You as the formless?”
If we contemplate on the answer given in Bhagvad Gita, then it explains the whole science of Idol Worship. Below are the translation of the answers of Bhagvad Gita – Adhyay 12.
“Those who fix their minds on me and worship me (with form) ever with supreme faith, I consider them as perfect in Yoga.(Yoga meaning– Union with God). But those who worship me as the formless, as the unchanging, the imperishable and the Omnipresent ONE. Those who have restrained their senses, who are even minded everywhere, who are engaged in the welfare of all the beings, verily, they also come to Me.
But for human beings, it is more difficult to realize the formless God than the One with form. Greater is their trouble whose minds are set on the unmanifested; for the goal—the formless—is very difficult
for the embodied to reach.”
As stated in Gita, the spiritual seeker who wants to meditate upon the supreme, which in itself has no form, is very difficult. But if one try to concentrate on a particular idol, then the seeker can easily concentrate on it.
E.g.– If one is asked to meditate on the sky of his house, one cannot concentrate on the sky, because the sky has no special shape and keeps changing. However if one ask to meditate on chair of its dining table then one can easily meditate on that chair. Therefore, a constant object is required for meditation.
Among the 8 limbs of Yoga mentioned in Patanjali Yoga Sutra, the Sixth is “Dharana”- It’s like binding, holding, concentrating the mind to one place, idea or object. Thus idol worship is the understanding of the existential qualities of formless god, translate it to some form (idols) and focus one’s mind on it. Thus the primary significance of the idol of God is to foresee the glory of formless God in a certain form and to meditate on that form.
Next, after looking at the need for the Idol of God, let us look at how these idols came into existence.
Is God’s idol only Imagery?
I’ve always had this question, is the form of God’s idol real or imagery?
Many claim that it was the sculptor who built these idols. I just don’t think it’s true as sculptor creation does not stay so long with people and their experience. When one says that the Idol of God is imagery, one must not understand it in black and white.
Imagination has many different kinds. And we may need to examine all kinds of imaginations, and see what fit best into God’s form creation.
Let’s understand the concept of imagery idol by including two kinds of imagination mainly creative imagination (Sarjanatmak Kalpana) and reproductive imagination (Punrutpadak Kalpana)
- Creative imagination is coming up with imaginative solutions or making crafts that had never been done before. Creative inspiration may be notoriously elusive.
E.g.– Many created idol in which lord Ganpati is playing cricket. However it could not last long because it could not make impression in the minds of people. As behind the idol, there was not a real experience of Ganpati playing cricket.
- Reproductive imagination (also known as simple memory recall) is an activity in which previously seen objects or images are recalled from memory and reproduced in front of the mind’s eye.
E.g.- The idol of God created by the reproductive imagination of the ancient saint, who took the help of the sculptor to give a physical form to their imagination.
This reproductive imagination was then followed by the millions of people’s experience afterwards. Thus this kind of Idol is indestructible in people’s minds and become the truth. Thus the glory of formless god when translated to form, it becomes God Idol.
Idol Worship to Quality Worship (Murti Pujan to Gun Pujan).
One might have noticed that the form of each idol has a profound stories attached to that form. Also each form of idols has immense significance because it also provides lessons for understanding the formless god. A devout role is to select the idol according to the qualities they want to impregnate in their life.
E.g.- In Ganapati Atharvanasirsha Upanishad we find the profound symbolical significance of the form of Lord Ganesha. Where each specifics from the head of the elephant to the big belly to the importance of the mouse in the feet is explained. One can understand the form of Lord Ganesha in the below article http://m.timesofindia.com/articleshow/68207007.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
Each forms, if studied deeply, give deep meaning to understand formless god. Also the stories behind lord help us to imbibe the divine qualities. There are stories to learn self-restraint from Lord Ram, to learn devotion and strength from Lord Hanuman, to learn sacrifice from Lord Jesus, to learn humility from Lord Buddha, etc. Idol is not limited to worship in form of decoration (Shringar), food (Prasad) or bhajan (Shruti), it is much beyond. If one instill the learning of the qualities of idol, and learn the lesson of the essence of its form, then this devotion has completely a different experience towards the supreme. Thus, a very important aspect of Idol is to take Idol worship to quality worship (Murti Pujan to Gun Pujan).
Are there any Power of God’s Idol?
Many knowledgeable men make fun of Idol. A big noble man once went to the temple and saw a rat wandering in the head of the idol of Shiva. He believed that if the rat can roam in its head then what power these idol has. Educated people say that in the generation of science how can we be so outdated that we see the power in an Idol. That idol, anybody can make it out of metal or mud. One can also submerge Idol according to individual whims and fantasies. So how powerful is the idol of God?
The idol’s power is found in beholder’s faith. We can use stick to hit people or we can use stick to born fire. It depends on the user’s need and ability to use the stick. Similarly, the power of the idol of God rests with the worshiper. Let’s understand the idol’s power with the example of the battery.
E.g. Once a person went to pick up a battery for his torch and asked the shop owner that he wants a battery for a journey of 20 miles in the dark night. After shop owner gave the battery, the person asked how many miles that battery would take him. The shop owner replied 100 ft. The person in amazement again asked that he needs to walk 20 miles and how 100 ft. would go to help him. The calm and composed shop owner replied that no matter where he takes the torch, the battery will help him get light 100 ft. ahead. In the same way, the Idol of God has the power to step 100 ft. ahead from our faith. That’s the power of God’s Idol.
Idol Worshipper and Idol Destroyer.
In Hinduism, there is also a tradition to immerse the God in water.
E.g:- People get lord Ganesha at home for few days and then immerse back it to the nature after 3 to 10 days.
The invitation to the Idol in the house is a reminder that there is a power beyond one’s body, mind and intellect that is continuously generating, operating and destroying the facets of the universe. Once God’s Idol is established in house, one focuses on that form of idol, try to impregnate the qualities and learn about the formless god all around. After understanding the Idol Power, immerse the idol back to the nature.
Thus this science of immersion of idol worship helps one enlarge the means to attain the supreme formless god. After immersion, start seeing the lord in one’s parents, kids and surrounding, and start feeling the divine all around. Vendanta philiosophy has clearly stated the Idol worship as one of the means to reach to the supreme formless god. Idol worship, by many, has been misunderstood as an end. However this idol immersion tradition has beautifully demonstrated how to go beyond idol worship.
Why there are so many Idols ?
We may wonder, why we have so many Idols, so many religions, why not one. If the goal is one, why different paths to reach one goal.
Why not everyone is a sports person, or a military person, or a politician, or a scientist, etc. It’s because everyone works according to their past impressions. The beauty of this world is to live with difference in uniformity and to feel uniformity in difference. This world existence lies in this difference among one another. We have innumerable minds, innumerable impressions of those mind, and everyone follow according to the impressions. And thus we have also innumerable choices to reach that meditative state where we understand the roots of creation and immerse back to the creation. There are innumerable way to reach one supreme God. There are so many ways because it wants to reach the maximum minds. Basic fundamentals of all is to help one reach a meditative state towards the supreme God. Select one way / form of Idol, make that form possessed of all potent divine qualities. And try to imbibe that qualities in you and be one with the divine.
Hinduism also have forms of lord, which includes many different facets of nature too. It teaches to see form of lord in river, mountains, trees, animals, birds, etc. Once wise man said “If there has to be reconstruction of human, then there has to be integration of human with nature”. This tradition to see and worship different facets of nature is to see the divine presence in each form of nature. Certain western philosophy always have this philosophy to fight the odds of the nature and control and overpower the nature, however our ancient scriptures and its traditions have always shown as signs to integrate our self with the nature. We are not above nature but the nature itself. Thus this type of Idols that are also the facets of nature has the deep rooted science that helps human integrate with nature.
Today there are two sets of ignorance in large scale, one is to make fun of Idol worship without understanding the science and other is to do idol worship without understanding of science. These both set of ignorance is equally unfortunate. This ignorance prevalence is because we have not understood the cause of creation of God’s idol and just given importance of the effect. Effect of seeing one religion as better than other religion, seeing one form of god as better than other God. That religions that should have integrated equanimous mindset for all have unfortunately created the difference for one another. We are all sailing for same destination on different paths. Personally, I have never put forth any importance of Idol Worship. Rarely do I go to my home temple too. Even after gaining perspective of Idol Worship, I still averse for Idol worship for myself. I believe I should not limit the supreme god which is Omni present to just one or few forms. However I know Idol Worship as one of the scientific way to reach the supreme.
After realizing this science of idol worship, I am simply amazed by our ancestors/saints for creating such a scientific way of reaching the Supreme. Each of our traditions revolves around the science of nature. I just use to hate theorems in science. However now I understood the reason for the theorems, was to know why we reach some formula. Spiritual and religious science functions similarly. Idol worship is a formula, but to understand the formula, it is also important to work on the hypothesis, construct and proof of this formula. One cannot use the formula more effectively if we do not know why and where it came from.
Idol worship is a very vast science and very difficult to include all aspects of it in a single blog. However feel free to comment or DM for any feedback or aspects you want to add or know anything other than this blog. I would also like to see your point of view for idol worship in the commentary section. What do you think, Is God’s Idol Worship a way to reach supreme reality?.