--> Skip to main content

Idol Is the Wrong Term to Use to Describe Hindu Temple Deities

Idol is a term that is constantly used to refer to the Murti worshipped in a Hindu Temple and many Hindus find it disturbing and uncomfortable. The definition for idol is a picture or statue that is worshipped as a god. But the definition of murti in Hindu concept is different - the formless and omnipotent God (Brahman) can easily assume form for the sake of devotees. It is this form that a Hindu worships at temple or at a sacred place.

The problem is that there is no apt word in English to explain the concept of Murti. So even Hindus have to depend on the word idol to explain the concept of deities in Hindu temples to non-Hindus.

For example if I write ‘murti’ most people (even Hindus) start to wonder what is it? So many times I have to write murti (idol). 
Padma Kuppa Writes in the Patheos on this subject
 One thing that I find similar is the use of the word "idol" in referring to the sacred: the deities installed in the temples, found in Hindu homes, and a critical part of the Hindu religious culture. 
While "idol" has one definition that is fairly accurate—an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed—the etymology, especially as used in a Christian context, is that these idols are "false gods." In fact, a secondary definition from dictionary.com says an idol is "a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom." But as I know from the millions of people who line up to have darshan -- holy vision—at temples around the world, the deities in Hindu temples are far from phantoms. 
You can read more of this article here at Patheos.