- Idol worship
Let us first make it absolutely clear that we never ever worshipped idols as such. What we worship is the Parabrahman, or the Paraashakthi -- the immanent Reality (which by definition has no form) in the masculine or feminine form. Purely to help us visualise the invisible, to make palpable the impalpable, we invented for our own human convenience, and for ritualistic purposes only, a tangible form and object to represent the intangible.
That is why, before starting any worship, we first make a little, roughly pyramidal, representation from some moistened turmeric powder, and solemnly infuse into it the spirit of the Paramaathma as represented by Sree Mahaa Ganapathy -- by chanting the appropriate manthram and making the appropriate gestures. We then piously offer shodachopachaara pooja to the Paramaathma infused into this pyramid and, when the pooja is over, we de-consecrate it and destroy it by dissolving it in water, and dispose of it in running water, or in a secluded place where no one will pollute it.
We then move on to similarly infuse the spirit of the Paramaathma or Parashakthi in some other form, into another object, such as a statuette, a ghee-lamp flame, a geometric diagram, a sketch, a colour picture, or even a stone or a bit of moulded moistened clay. On conclusion of worship, we solemnly send back the spirit to its place of abode, and de-consecrate the object.
In some instances, to show greater reverence and as a social gesture, we instal a stone object, such as a lingam or a statue, under a sacred tree or under a pandal or a roofed shed, or even in an ornate temple specially constructed at great cost, and we consecrate both the temple and the stone object, by performing tantric, mantric, or yantric rituals and fire-ceremonies prior to infusing the spirit of God into the lingam or statue. We do this so that it is more convenient for people to assemble together as a community, and to worship God jointly in one common place, and thereby achieve the greater benefits to be derived from congregational adoration of omnipresent God.
The idol, or stone, or statue, or diagram, or picture has, of itself, no divinity whatsoever. We all know this. It is just an object, even if made of solid gold and studded with gems, or made of rare and precious crystal, or from fusion of various special metals or rare tree-saps. We do NOT worship the mere object at any time. We worship only the duly infused prathishta-devatha represented by it.
The quotations below from the two popular Upanishads are interesting.
The first one reads in full as follows:-
सदेव सोम्येदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयम् |
तद्वैक आहुरसदेवेदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयं तस्मादसतः सज्जायत ||
"O good-looking one, in the beginning this was Existence alone. One only, without a second. With regard to that, some say: 'In the beginning this was non-existence alone, one only, without a second. from that non-existence issued existence.'"
Sat = Existence Eva = alone
The first rhetorical question being answered is, "What is that which is being determined?"
The answer: "That which is idam, this, the universe which is perceived as a modification possessed of name, form, and movement; that aasit, was Existence alone. The word sat-eva is connected with aasit."
The second question, "When was all this Existence alone?"
Answer: "In the beginning, before the creation of the universe."
Question, "Is it not Existence now?"
Answer: "Even now it is surely Existence. But now it stands qualified by name and form, and also as an object of the word and idea 'this'. Therefore it is termed 'this'. But before creation, in the very beginning, this was only an object of the word and idea 'Existence'.
"Someone, who had earlier seen a lump of clay spread by a potter, later sees different products like pots, plates, etc would say, 'These pots, plates, etc. were but earth earlier,' so it is said here, 'In the beginning this was Existence alone.'
"By the words, 'without a second' this is meant: As in the case of the pot, etc. some other efficient causes like potters, who are different from earth, but transform earth into pots, etc. are seen, similarly the possibility exists of there being some other second thing which is different from Existence. This is denied by the phrase 'without a second.'
"So, 'without a second' means that it (Existence) has no second thing different from itself."
Note:- The second and fourth quotations appear verbatim, with additional manthrams, including the twelve principal gaayathris (other than the Mahaa Gaayathri), at the beginning of the Mahaa-Naaraayana Upanishad under the section headed "Ambasya paare".
The second quotation reads (in full):
नैनमूर्दध्वं न तिर्यञ्चं न मध्ये परिजग्रभत् न तस्य प्रतिमा अस्ति यस्य नाम महद्यशः
"No person ever grasped by his understanding the upward limit of this Paramaathman, nor His limit across, not His middle portion. His name is 'great glory' for no one limits His nature by definition."
"In previous slokams Paramaathman was described as the material and efficient cause of the universe. The universe and its contents are essentially Paramaathman alone. If God has become the universe it is easy to perceive Him in the manifold objects presented before the senses. But seeing the world is not grasping God. If it were so, one could easily understand the length, breadth, and central part of God. This slokam says that man cannot grasp like that by his understanding. Paramaathman whose power and dominion cannot be grasped even by the exceptional understanding of man is alone worthy of being called 'the Great Glory'."
The third quotation reads(in full):
न तस्य कश्चित् पतिरस्ति लोके न चेशिता नैव च तस्य लिङ्गं | स कारणं करणाधिपाधिपो न चास्य कश्चित् जनिता न चाधिपः ||
"In the whole of the universe there is no power which is superior to or even equal to Paramaathman. Paramaathman, as the sole cause and creator of this entire universe, is neither male, nor female, nor neutral in gender. Just as the living being is master of all the five senses and of all its faculties, so reigns Paramaathman over the universe and all within it. For such a Paramaathman there is no parent (nor equal) nor any superior being." Interpretation:
"Being self-sufficient, being self-authoritative, with no connotations of gender, and with no progenitors or ancestors nor superior authority above, Paramaathman is uniquely supreme and unequalled. Paramaathman is the cause and creator of everything that exists, and of their well-being. Paramathman's effulgence shines through everything. It is only through realisation of such Parabrahman that living beings attain the goal of their very existence."
The fourth quotation merely repeats the substance of the other quotations -- that Paramaathman is supreme, unique, incomparable; and needs to be realised through superior intellect and not through the senses.
If the Paramaathman is present invisibly everywhere that the human mind can conceive, why can he not be imagined in a particular form (dhyaanam) by the devotee, and be infused into an object of worship (aavaahanam, or prathishta)? Why, at conclusion of aaraadhana, cannot the Paramaathman be made to resume his former state of immanence?
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