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Pratimalakshana In Hindu Religion

Pratima means an ‘icon’, also called vigraha, bera and murti, Icon or image worship has been the keynote of popular Hindu religious life, especially in temple worship. Image worship is considered a necessary step in the spiritual advancement of man. The pratima is not considered merely an image or symbol of the deity, but rather is taken as the deity himself who has incarnated as the icon (archa avatara). All Agamas and Tantras insist on making images as beautiful as possible. Each icon represent the nature of the deity concerned (gentle, calm, aggressive, merciful, etc.).

Even though there was no image worship in the Vedic period, the deities (Agni, Indra, Ushas etc) are described as beautiful and well-decorated. A large number of hands indicate that a particular deity has a large number of attributes or that is tamasika in nature.

The icons have to be constructed according to specific rules given in Shastras. The main Agamic rules are Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakta. These schools generally accept  -

  • A predominant male or female aspect
  • Existence of individual beings
  • Reality of the universe
  • Power of devotion to achieve liberation

To the orthodox Hindu, especially the Vaishnavites, the icon is not a lifeless representation at all, but the very presence of the deity.

The vigraha used for worship may be formless, like salagrama, Shivling, sri yantra, sri chakra etc or with forms having faces, hands, etc. The pratima can be made of metal, stone, timber and plaster. Designs made of flour are also used in making the Srichakra, Sudarshana etc.

According to Varaha Purana, there are standard measurements for making an image. Once the image is created, it should first be consecrated with a ritual worship, only then it is believed to acquire the divine element.