Even though all religions, except Islam, sanction some form of idol-worshiping, Hinduism is synonymous with this practice. In other words, 60% people on the face of the earth partake in some form of worshiping practices with Idols. What’s the rationale of the idol-worshiping? I will try to present herewith the Hindu perspective of idol-worshiping. Some might disagree with my views; I will welcome civil discourse on this issue.
As per Hinduism, Ishwar, the supreme God, has no form. Thus, Hinduism converges with all other religions on the concept of formless supreme God. The question is: how does this formless God interact with other living-beings, especially humans? Contemporary religions suggest that – the interaction between God and human occurs through some messengers. Hinduism, on the other hand, suggests that – Ishwar can assume any form to accomplish His goals. Gods and Goddesses are various forms of Ishwar, appeared on earth to interact with humans. Vedic literatures depict in detail how Gods and Goddesses once existed on the face of this earth alongside humans. Where are those Gods and Goddesses today? The scriptural answer to this question is that – the world is much too sinful today, and it is simply unlivable for Gods and Goddesses. I can’t argue with this logic.
As per Hindu religious scriptures, there are 160 millions of such Gods and Goddesses. Only a handful of them are known and worshiped by Hindus. Where are the others? The followers of Hinduism believe – all human-beings are parts of Ishwar. In other words, God exists in every human-being. May be that is where millions of Gods and Goddesses come from. As per Swami Vivekananda – when you serve living-being, you serve God. Inclusion of the entire living-being into the fold of a religious faith is one of the unique features in Hinduism; thus, the origin of this faith extends to the beginning of life, and hence Hinduism is also known as the Sanatan Dharma (Eternal Religion). According to religious scripture (Bhagvad Gita), God will appear on the earth again, if need be, to establish Sanatan Dharma, meaning that – human is not responsible for establishing Sanatan Dharma on the earth; God will do it; humans are only supposed to follow it. As per Bhagvad-Gita, God remains dormant until do-gooders start to lose the battle against demons; at that instant, God manifests Himself in a human-being and takes charge of the fight. Evidences are apparent in the history of the world. God works in a mysterious way.
Many people may not know that – idol-worshiping is not mandatory in Hinduism; it has option for the spiritual form of worshiping, practiced by Rishis and Saints in the Vedic era. Many Hindus do follow this path also.
The concept of spiritual form of worshiping is undoubtedly difficult to comprehend. It’s like communicating an abstract idea to the public without visual aid. I am sure – some people will have no problem in grasping the idea, but others will find it difficult to conceive. Visual aid makes any presentation rich and easy for everybody; it makes learning fun and enjoyable. In that, the most important point is – one needs to know how to use the visual information to accomplish the ultimate goal. For example, it’s not enough just to recognize the diagram of a triangle; one needs to know how to use this information to solve the geometric and the trigonometric problems. Without that knowledge, it’s just a diagram. Similarly, religious practice becomes fun and easy for devotees with the visual images of idols in front of them. It creates an atmosphere for psychological and mental readiness for the purpose. But, the religious goal of these events is to serve the living-being through these festivities.
In the Vedic era, Gods and Goddesses, commonly known as Deities, would descend on the earth whenever a devotee would seek their help. Since those deities do not visit this sinful earth anymore, the next best thing is to build an idol of those deities to reenact an event that occurred in the past era. One of the goals of these types of worshiping is to impress these deities to gain favors from them. A particular deity can only deliver a particular favor. For example, Swaraswati deity is for education, Durga is for power, Lakshmi is for wealth, Ganesh is for business, etc. Whether idols can grant those favors or not is actually immaterial in the idol-worshiping because the ancillary benefits overweigh anything else. How is that possible? Let’s examine.
Modern day idol-worshipping has three components – 1) Spiritual/ritual, 2) Self-sacrifice, and 3) Festivity.
Spiritual/ritual: In this part, devotees follow all the spiritual and ritualistic steps, practiced by the people in the Vedic era. This part is performed only to please the deity in order to gain his/her favor. This part of the ceremony is only for the devotees.
Self-sacrifice: Self-contentment comes from sacrifices through ancillary acts involving the event. For example, during these occasions, worshipers become friendly, compassionate, and generous. They donate and distribute goods and services to the needy people in the society. In fact, caring, sharing and giving continue for months in some events, and thousands of destitute people, irrespective of their religious affiliations, caste or creed, get free food, clothing, and financial help throughout these events. In other words, worshippers open their hearts, minds, and wallets during these events.
Festivity: This component is open for everyone, young and old, irrespective of religious affiliations. The people from all walks of lives, including from different religious denominations, usually join in this part of the event. This part basically provides cultural enjoyment for everyone.
The self-sacrifice is an important part of an idol-worshiping, without which worshiping will only serve self-interest, and the event will reduce to a commemorative ceremony only. In the Bengali Hindu culture, there are 13 major celebrations throughout the year, i.e., one in every month. As mentioned before, during these celebrations, people are supposed to sacrifice personal wealth, and help those people who are in need. This is how they can serve humanity, and by serving humanity they can serve Ishwar.
As I alluded before, Hindus really do not need the idol-worshiping for religious and spiritual enlightenment. Then, why do they practice idol-worshiping, in spite of mounting opposition from the Islamic fanatics? They do it mainly for self-contentment, which probably provokes fanatical Islamists. As a result, fanatical Islamists have made it a religious duty to stop idol-worshiping in the world. In quest of a prophetic zeal, sometimes, they will enter into the temple and break idols of Gods and Goddess. One such incident just occurred recently on February 5, 2010, at Sonargoan, Bangladesh. In this incident, a group of Islamic fanatics entered into the temple and broke 6 deities into pieces and ransacked the temple in front of hundreds of devotees. They also attacked neighboring Hindu Houses and injured several Hindus during the incident. I want to know – what religious credits they received from such heinous acts, and which God sanctioned these acts.
Let’s examine which parts of the idol-worshiping do offend Islamic fanatics – so that they need to take such extreme measures to disrupt it. Is it ritualistic part? Or, is it self-sacrificial part? Or, is it festive part? The self-sacrificial and festive parts cannot be so bad. Can they? If not, we are left with the ritualistic part only. OK, let’s eliminate this component from the event, and celebrate the occasion just for a ceremonial reason only. In fact, most Hindus do just that. Still it’s worth it. Isn’t it? The entire society benefits from the festivity surrounding the event. In case Hindus stop celebrating these occasions all together – who will gain and who will lose? Undoubtedly, the fanatics will win; but, the greatest losers will be the business communities and the people in the society. In other words, the society will be deprived of the economic benefits as well as fun and amusement associated with these events. Should we let fanatics win, and invite darkness upon us?
I will let you decide.
For perusal of the Vedic Literature: http://www.sabhlokcity.com/metaphysics