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Swami Venkatesananda on Hindu Idol Worship

What is an idol but a piece of matter, from the point of view of an ignorant man, whatever may be his wealth, position or titles? Yet, the devotee feels the Presence of God within that material substance. The wise sage allowed him to 'play' (pray) with it, as a child might play with a doll.

The child gets its training in mother craft; the devotee gets to know that God indeed does dwell in even that piece of matter. Then, he turns around and sees the sun, moon, etc., and realizes that even as God is the Indweller of the idol, He is the indweller of the sun, moon, etc.

Why did not the sage advocate such a practice of the Presence of God, without prescribing idol-worship as a preliminary? For the simple reason that the human mind is more ready to associate Divinity, pure and untainted by prejudice, with the idol than to see God in the face of a child.

There is another important angle. Idol worship should lead us on to meditation on the Absolute. Without the first step of idol worship, meditation on the Absolute is impossible.

And, if we do not extend the frontiers of divinity beyond the idol, we may get stuck there. Hence, even in the method of worshipping idols, our ancient seers had introduced elements of adoration of the Nameless and the Formless Being.

In the 'mantras' they provided for the worship, they wove expressions like, ‘I bow to the All Pervading,’ ‘I bow to the Eternal’ which are obviously irrelevant to the personalized form of God (eg: Rama or Krishna, who are historical personalities) the devotee worships.

Again, they declared that mental worship of the chosen deity was superior (when we are ready for it, of course!) to gross external worship, and that Para Puja (a way of adorning the Omnipresent God through all our thoughts, words and deeds) was superior to all other forms of worship.

Swami Venkatesananda