Once Maharaja of Alwar Prince Mangal Singh was sitting in his Darbar and told Swami Vivekananda that he doesn’t believe in worshipping a vigraha. To explain his point better Swamiji asked for a portrait of the Raja and when it was brought Swamiji asked the Raja’s minister to spit on it. The minister refused to do so even when Swamiji insisted. Swamiji said the portrait even if just an image of the Raja to the ministers it represents him in person. Similarly, a vigraha installed in a temple through the process of Pran Pratishtha is representative of Bhagwan to the devotees.
Pran Pratishtha is not merely a process or ritual. It has great significance because it is a process through which we give form to the formless and establish the formless Parmatma into the form of a murti/vigraha. Pran Pratishtha is done through the chanting of mantras which; as we all know, have immense powers. It is all about concentration and creating the right vibrations through proper pronunciation. Mantras are very potent when said in the right tone.
A Vigraha or Murti is a symbol much like flags and emblems are. Let us say a little child is fascinated by some wild animal he/she has seen on TV and wants to have one as his/her pet; what would we do? Obviously, we are not going to dash off to the forest and bring a lion or elephant or cheetah home, isn’t it? We would instead give the child a stuffed toy miniature of the animal.
The child would happily play with the same but he/she is not going to carry on playing with the toy and think that the toy is the animal itself. As the child grows and begins to understand things, he will learn to differentiate between what is real and what is not.
Vigraha Pooja is merely the starting point. Any learning is a step-by-step process and so is devotion or Bhakti. Each of us is different just like the fingers on our hand. Our capacity to understand things is also different. Parmatma is both Nirgun (formless) and Sagun (with form). We can worship Him in any form we want keeping the Vigraha as our starting point.
Like Kanchi Guru Shankaracharya His Holiness Param Pujya Chandrashekara Saraswati Swamiji says “Water has no colour or any particular shape. But it assumes the colour and shape of the vessel which contains it. Even so, Bhagwan by Himself may have no form; but the mind which thinks of Him is the conditioning medium”.
In the worship of any deity, we have the Pratima (vigraha or image) which we worship, a Yantra which is a geometrical representation of that deity, and a Mantra (Sanskrit prayer), repetition of which invokes the deity associated with the said Mantra. All the three together form the basis of what we call Vigraha Pooja.
Just like the child who outgrows the toy we as devotees are to use the Vigraha as a beginning point in our quest for the divine. Some of us may outgrow the Vigraha fairly quickly and others may take longer. However, we must remember that when we offer pooja and archana to a vigraha we are not simply doing so to a mere image but to the divinity within and all the attributes of our chosen deity.
Hindu Dharma is liberal enough to allow us to choose a deity we feel most comfortable worshipping; for some, it could be Bhagwan Mahadev for yet others it could be Sri Hari Vishnu, some worship Devi, and some Sri Krishna. Here too some could choose Bal Krishna or Bal Ganesha, others may opt for Maa Durga or Maa Kali; depending on their frame of mind and what they feel most happy with.
It is all about celebrating the Nirgun all-pervading Parmatma in a form we feel most closely associated with. At the end of the day, Vigraha Pooja is merely the first step in the long climb on the ladder of spirituality.
1) Advaitam and idol worship- demystified by R. Vasudevan
2) Mahaswami 100 Selected speeches Volume 1
4) A short life of Swami Vivekananda by Swami Tejasananda
(Featured Image Source: ToI)