>Idol-worship Develops Devotion by Swami Sivananda

Posted: February 13, 2011 in idol worship, Sadhana, Temple Worship, Worship

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The following is an excerpt from Srila Sri Sivananda Maharaj’s “All About Hinduism” (pg. 114-116, Chap. 7)

An Integral Part Of Virat

For a beginner, Pratima is an absolute necessity. By worshipping an idol, Isvara is pleased. The Pratima is made up of five elements. Five elements constitute the body of the Lord. The idol remains an idol, but the worship goes to the Lord.

If you shake hands with a man, he is highly pleased. You have touched only a small part of his body and yet he is happy. He smiles and welcomes you. Even so, the Lord is highly pleased when a small portion of His Virat (cosmic) body is worshipped. An idol is a part of the body of the Lord. The whole world is His body, Virat form. The devotion goes to the Lord. The worshipper superimposes on the image the Lord and all His attributes. He does Shodasopachara for the idol, the sixteen kinds of paying respects or service to the Lord.

  1. The presence of the Deity is invoked (Avahana).
  2. Then a seat (Asana) is offered.
  3. Then the feet are washed (Padya).
  4. Then offering of water is given (Arghya).
  5. Arghya is offering hospitality.
  6. Then comes bathing (Snana).
  7. Then the image is dressed (Vastra).
  8. Then comes the investiture with the sacred thread (Yajnopavita).
  9. Then sandal paste (Chandana) is offered.
  10. Then comes offering of flowers (Pushpa). They are the symbols of the heart-flowers of devotion, love and reverence.
  11. Then incense is burnt (Dhupa).
  12. Then a lamp is lit and waved before the Deity (Dipa).
  13. Then food is offered (Naivedya).
  14. Then betel is offered (Tambula).
  15. Then camphor is burnt (Nirajana).
  16. Then Svarnapushpa (gift of gold) is offered.

 In the end, the Deity is bidden farewell to (Visarjana).

In these external forms of worship, the inner love finds expression. The wandering mind is fixed now in this form of worship. The aspirant gradually feels the nearness of the Lord. He attains purity of heart and slowly annihilates his egoism.

To the worshipper who believes the symbol, any kind of image is the body of the Lord under the form of stone, clay, brass, picture, Saligrama, etc. Such worship can never be idolatry. All matter is a manifestation of God. God is present in everything which exists. Everything is an object of worship, for all is a manifestation of God who is therein worshipped. The very act of worship implies that the object of worship is superior and conscious. This way of looking at things must be attained by the devotee. The untutored mind must be trained to view things in the above manner.

Idol-Worship Develops Devotion

Idol-worship makes concentration of man simpler and easier. You can bring before your mind’s eye the great Lilas the Lord has played in His particular Avatara in which you view Him. This is one of the easiest modes of Self-realisation.

Just as the picture of a famous warrior evokes heroism in your heart, so also a look at the picture of God will elevate your mind to divine heights. Just as the child develops the maternal Bhava (mother-feeling) of the future caressing, nursing, protecting mother by playing with its imaginary toy-child made up of rags and suckling the child in an imaginary manner, so also the devotee develops the feeling of devotion by worshipping the Pratima and concentrating on it.

Regular Worship Unveils The Divinity In The Idol

Regular worship (Puja) and other modes of demonstrating our inner feeling of recognition of Divinity in the idol unveil the Divinity latent in it. This is truly a wonder and a miracle. The picture comes to life. The idol speaks. It will answer your questions and solve your problems. The God in you has the power to awaken the latent Divinity in the idol. It is like a powerful lens that focuses the sun’s rays on to a bundle of cotton. The lens is not fire and the cotton is not fire either nor can the sun’s rays, by themselves, burn the cotton. When the three are brought together in a particular manner, fire is generated and the cotton is burnt. Similar is the case with the idol, the Sadhaka and the all-pervading Divinity. Puja makes the idol shine with the divine resplendence. God is then enshrined in the idol. From here, He will protect you in a special manner. The idol will perform miracles. The place where it is installed is at once transformed into a temple, nay, a Vaikuntha or Kailasa in reality. Those who live in such a place are freed from miseries, from diseases, from failures and from Samsara itself. The awakened Divinity in the idol acts as a guardian angel blessing all, conferring the highest good on those who bow to it.

The Image, A Mass Of Chaitanya

The idol is only a symbol of the Divine. A devotee does not behold therein a block of stone or a mass of metal. It is an emblem of God for him. He visualises the Indwelling Presence in the Murti or image. All the Saiva Nayanars, saints of South India, attained God-realisation through worship of the Linga, the image of Lord Siva. For a devotee, the image is a mass of Chaitanya or consciousness. He draws inspiration from the image. The image guides him. It talks to him. It assumes human form to help him in a variety of ways. The image of Lord Siva in the temple at Madurai in South India helped the fuel-cutter and the old woman. The image in the temple at Tirupati assumed human form and gave witness in the court to help His devotees. There are marvels and mysteries. Only the devotees understand these.

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