Idol Worship (Criticisms of Hinduism Series)

Idol Worship (Criticisms of Hinduism Series) March 18, 2015

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about reclaiming this phrase “idol worship.” I still think that if it’s something people accuse us of, it’s fair to say: “So what? What’s it to you?” However, it turns out that I struck a nerve and a lot of Hindus are very upset at our murti being called idols.

They pointed out to me that when someone says idol worship, they mean literally bowing down to the brass, plastic, plaster, or marble that the statue is made from. And for the vast majority of Hindus that’s not accurate. Words have meaning, they said to me, and “idol” does not mean “murti.”

Even though I still think that we should defy Abrahamic religions and be proud to use statues in our worship, I can see that this accusation of idol worship has been used to make Hinduism sound primitive and lesser (from the point of view of someone who assumes that Christianity is the default and makes the most sense!)

The truth is that God’s energy is invoked into the murti (the statue/image) at the time of worship. We ask the God to come and inhabit this form so that we have somewhere to direct our energy and our focus. 

It reminds me a little bit of the Christian communion concept where the bread and wine become (for some metaphorically and for others literally) the body and blood of Jesus. When you think about how Christianity involves the ritualistic eating of flesh, the idea that God could embody a a murti for the purpose of worship doesn’t seem unreasonable if you ask me.

Because the word “idol” is used to dismiss and diminish my faith and my brethren, I will strive to use the term “murti” only. At the same time I’m not going to start “correcting” my fellow Hindus if they call their murti “idols.” I continue to refuse to live in a world where Christianity is the default. 

From a favorite online retailer: Dolls of India
From a favorite online retailer: Dolls of India

My Fellow Patheos Hindu Bloggers Also Wrote About This Topic:

 Why Do Hindus Do Idol Worship? A Scientific and Spiritual Exploration by Desh Kapoor

Seeking Shanti with How a Journey to a Temple Reveals that Hindus Don’t Worship Idols

 

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  • Saurabh Singh

    well explained …thanks

  • HARRY

    Slow Clapping. 🙂

  • Yes! I also refuse to live in a world where Christianity is the default. Perhaps you could come down to Texas, where you see the Christian cross in many ways, such as symbols on a building or a structure, on billboards, on fatal accident sites by roads, in the form of jewelry and other merchandise such as purses and clothes, and even tattoos. Some gas stations sell Christian paraphernalia, as well as some grocery stores, even general hardware stores in the small towns. I know of several that have high up on one of the walls of a grocery store a sign saying, “God Bless America.”

    I appreciate you writing this article because it helps me to understand as a seeker like Naciketa why Sanātanis worship murtis. It wasn’t that I couldn’t deal with worshipping plastic, plaster, wood, and metal on the wall when I was a child. I could not deal with worshipping the idea of Jesus in the Abrahamic framework, period.

  • Malai

    A couple of months ago I wrote a post about reclaiming this phrase “idol worship.”
    I still think that if it’s something people accuse us of, it’s fair to
    say: “So what? What’s it to you?”

    Right on! Religious freedom!

    “However, it turns out that I struck a nerve and a lot of Hindus are very upset at our murti being called idols.”

    Their minds have been colonized.

    “They pointed out to me that when someone says idol worship,they mean literally bowing down to the brass, plastic, plaster, or marble that the statue is made from.”

    So? If someone wants to bow down to brass, plastic, plaster, or marble – that’s called freedom of choice. I’m very disappointed in my fellow Hindus for jumping on the anti-idol, anti-freedom bandwagon.

    • mike3
      • Malai

        “too much political correctness.”

        Yeah I know. Who gives a flip if nutters think idol worship is “sinful”?

        • mike3

          apparently the hindus who are telling ambaa not to use the term.

          • Malai

            Yeah I know. I’ve encountered this amongst a minority of my Hindu friends and family. I always set them straight that by catapulting to the Abrahmic concept of “idol equals bad, bad, bad” we are allowing them to control the narrative.

    • Lokesh

      On the contrary I was surprised, Why not simply call it a statue or an idol? Probably because I’m in India and it doesn’t bother what other fellows think of my religious practice

  • Tej pratap

    Dear Amba, there is pure scientific explanation behind the installation and worship of the Vigrahas or the Murtis. When a temple is constructed..it is constructed on the strict rules of Agama Shastras, which are like codices based on the universal vaastu. Mantra, Tantra and Yantra are used to charge the Vigraha. Verbal chants of Mantras resonating with certain frequencies create energies which are used to charge the Yantra that is placed beneath the Vigraha in Temples and Tantra or set of rules governing the mantras and the yantra are set forth to make sure that the Vigraha is powerful enough to start emitting vibrant energies. It goes this way…over a period of time, thousands of people visit the temple/temples to offer their prayers. Ofcourse! They come into the premises with a positive frame of mind and energy. Everything in this universe is in constant motion, some in very subtle form. The charged up vigraha keeps receiving the positive vibrations. The mass of any object has the saturation point and after the saturation point..it starts giving back. Same with the vigrahas. After being fully charged up…these Vigrahas give out positive energies, which will help the seekers and visitors into the premises of the temples with blessings and boons. Energy creates realities. Even the small moorties in our homes, though not charged with the yantra or tantra, are still charged with the mantras or the simple chants and they too give positive vibes and energies. When someone says Idol worship…I smile..I smile and pray for their happiness…since they too carry the minute vigraha of the creator in the form of divine spark without knowing that..that they are also the carriers of the energetic”idol” in their hearts and souls. My humble namastes to you
    Sat chit ekam brahmah

    • Ambaa

      “I smile and pray for their happiness…since they too carry the minute vigraha of the creator in the form of divine spark without knowing that..that they are also the carriers of the energetic”idol” in their hearts and souls”

      Gorgeous!

      • Tej pratap

        Once again my humble Namastes to you. Let the mother supreme bless you and your family with happiness and everlasting abundance and inner peace. _/_
        Tej

  • Ayan

    Real Hinduism is about chanting mantras, doing yoga & yagnas. Bowing to idols is secondary. During vedic era yagnas were done to appease gods, idols were never worshipped. During the buddhist era idol became popular, hindus started copying the buddhists by building statues to hindu gods & goddesses, not realizing that buddhists are not idol worshipers. Buddhists consider buddha as a teacher not a god…Many sects within hinduism are against idolatory.. Like hindus in bali indonesia do not worship idols… Then again idol worship is not considered a sin in hinduism unlike other religions.. So it is a personal choice of the hindus….

    • Ambaa

      Despite that, I still think many people can go far in spiritual practice by their devotion to murti.

  • Amar

    thaks a lot for correction, murti seems right word, I’ll search & find equal english word.

    • Ambaa

      Let me know what you find!

      • Amar

        replica is closest I could find, though search is still on.

  • your concept of differentiating murti and idol is really refreshing/enlightening in the sense that there are so many people from other religions who are obsessed with the concept that idol is made up of material etc…. this vid talks about the idol worship and the message encrypted or whatever,
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCHtATDFG30

  • J N

    Worshiping the formless reality by unthought thought is the best kind of worship. But when one is not fit for such formless worship of God, worship of form alone is suitable. Formless worship is possible only for people who are devoid of the ego-form. Know that all the worship done by people who possess the ego-form is only worship of form.

    We project ourselves into the idols and worship them because we do not understand true inward worship. Therefore, the Knowledge of the Self, which knows all, is Knowledge in perfection.
    -Sri Ramana Maharshi.

    Worshippers of the saguna (qualified or with form) and the nirguna (unqualified or without form) Brahman (God) reach the same goal. But the path of the nirguna (formless) is very hard and arduous, because the aspirant has to give up attachment to the body from the very beginning of his spiritual practice.

    The imperishable Brahman (the Supreme Reality) is very hard to reach for those who are attached to their bodies. Further, it is extremely difficult to fix the restless mind on the formless and attributeless Brahman. He who meditates on the unmanifested (formless) should possess the four means and who have sharp and subtle intellect and bold understanding.

    The four means are discrimination, dispassion, sixfold virtues, and longing for liberation. The sixfold virtues are: control of the mind, control of the senses, fortitude (endurance), turning away from the objects of the world, faith and tranquillity.

  • Uma

    Tell me one religion which doesn’t use any form of God in their worship? Christianity uses statues of saints, Jesus, Mary and cross. Pagans worship nature. Muslims displays writing/ goes to Mecca (atoms in abundance) or say Quran.Trying to say what to be used and what not to be used for ones spiritual journey is absurd. Hindus have been using stones ( least evolved consciously ) to human beings (the most consciously evolved) in their search of divinity. It is just to find faults with other religion people try to bring out silly excuses. I wish religious leaders concentrate on their own religion and bring out the best in them