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When Did Murti Puja – Idol Worship – Begin in Hinduism?

There is only one answer to the question – when did murti puja or idol worship begin in Hinduism? No one exactly knows. We only have theories about the beginning of idol worship – some theories credited to left leaning intellectuals and some theories propagated by right leaning intellectuals. The color of the theories depends on the political belief of the intellectuals. A believer should not be bothered about theories.

For academic interest the theories are:
  • It is believed that there was no idol worship during the Vedic period.
  • But idols have been discovered from the Indus Valley archeological sites.
  • There were also cultures and human settlements outside the Vedic religion and it is believed that they had worshipped murtis.
  • It is generally believed that murti puja became very prominent in Hinduism during the puranic period.
There is no proper proof to any of the above conclusions.

Another interesting theory is that the first murtis were perhaps Shivling which were shining stones that fell from the sky.

What is Murti puja in Hinduism? – As explained by Swami Tejomayananda

The Vedas attach importance to ‘ishtdevta upasana’ or the worship of a chosen deity. And so Hindu temples have the idols of Rama, Krishna, and Shiva among others, for worship. These are not mere idols; they symbolize our ideals. Swami Chinmayananda said: ‘Every idol represents an ideal.’ Through ‘upasana’ a devotee develops deep love for his or her chosen form of the Lord.

Hinduism is widely perceived to be a polytheistic religion. The Upanishads clearly point out that there is only one God, one Truth. The different forms of Hindu gods and goddesses represent one God – His powers are expressed in different ways. This way, people can worship the form of their choice.