Thoughts on Idol Worship
*Missing Works Cited*
The concept of God, gods, and goddesses in Hinduism is such a complex kaleidoscope of philosophies and origins it would be futile to admit of any simple explanation. In the same nature, we see the vast numbers of idols that have come to represent it. Throughout the ages God has been transformed into countless forms in the Hindu pantheon. He/She has been sculpted, painted, aniconicized into symbols and has been represented in nature. However, in doing so, many believe that Hindus have unknowingly transformed the religion into polytheistic form, as one Indian theist states,
" (That) polytheism sways the men of this religion (Hinduism)..." (Kapoor 61).
If this is so, then it could be viewed that because of the idolization of countless gods and goddesses, Hindus have lost their connection with one true impersonal God. Therefore Hinduism is not monotheistic, but a "lower form of worship" (Kapoor 61). It shall be shown that philosophers such as Swami Dayananda Swami stood firmly against the act of idol worship and had tried to (and succeeded) in many ways to rekindle Vedic Hinduism in the form of the Arya Samaj. While other philosophers such as Sri Paramahamsa Ramkrishna was in no rejection to the act of idol worship and felt that all the spiritual texts led to only one God.
From this essay, arguments from both Dayananda who had represented the Vedas and Ramkrishna who chose no particular text, will be examined and ultimately it shall be decided whether iconic worship is at all needed in Hinduism.
God almighty according to Hinduism, is the ultimate Reality behind the universe and all the diverse objects, activities and events therein. All laws of nature, all forms of energy, space and time are nothing but the manifestation of God (Balakrishnan 1). Therefore it seems inconceivable to portray God of any form or attribute, to do so would be to depose such an omnipotent being. This is the belief of some philosophers of India, one of who is Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
Swami Dayananda began to question his faith in idol worship despite being brought up in an orthodox Shaivite family. It was on the auspicious Shivaratri that he had observed mice lingering around the Shiva Lingam of which was so highly worshipped but which now seemed a helpless image. Dayananda couldn't reconcile the aniconic image of Shiva before him and the Great Mahadeva as described in the scriptures.
Dayananda condemned the act of idol worship for two main reasons, both seem to root from his reliance on the Veda. The first of his arguments was that idol worship was never mentioned in the Vedas and so there was no justification for doing so. He stated in a pivotal debate at Kashi Shastrartha that,
"None of the vedic texts quoted on the favoring of idol worship…how could they (the rival pundits) show idol worship in the Vedas, when there was none?" (Arya & Shastri 71)
And to this,...