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Friday, June 9, 2023

Murthi Puja : A Misunderstood Form of Worship

Recently, in a conversation with a practicing Hindu who is a follower of one of the modern neo advaitin acharyas, I came to know about the hatred they possess towards the worship of Archaavataara (murthis of the gods). When I said that once a prathishta (installion) of a murthi is done, it is very necessary to perform worship every single day. This was tackled by saying, “what is the use in worshipping a stone as god when you have the presence of god inside yourself?” Why is it that the idea of murthi puja has gained so much hatred within people claiming themselves as modern Hindus? Let us have a detailed analysis over this issue.

As stated in our previous article about caste divisions, Hindu Dharma or Sanathana Dharma is more about preserving diversity rather than imposing a uniform rule like the monotheistic religions. So, if at all certain modern neo advaitins are not comfortable with murthi puja, does it really give them the right to attack the other group which has been practicing it for thousands of years under the guidance of some unmatchable scholars like Adi Shankara, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya etc.? Can their progress towards wisdom be considered as greater than these minds which are responsible for social reforms taking on unfavorable situations which can be least expected by these modern ‘greats’? There is also one group of people in Hindu Dharma who say that temple worship and murthi puja were not present during Vedic period, so why care about them? Isn’t it an act of dishonor to our ancestors who have been responsible in keeping our Dharma alive despite of all invasions?

First of all people saying ‘superstitious practices’ like murthi puja, which they claim is not a practice of Vedic period, are hindering Dharma from progress must understand murthi puja itself came as people wanted progress. During the Vedic period, Yagnaagni (sacred fire) installed in a vedi (platform) was considered as the Mukha (face) of all the devatas and all the worship was done to it. As it was difficult for people to worship all the devatas when needed by installing agni, the practice of murthi puja came into being. So, people asserting such statements must understand that they are actually making Dharmikas go back, rather than helping them to progress. Also, the vaikhaanasa sutra which is a text from later Vedic period talks about murthi puja, contradicting the claim of such people.

Now coming back to the people asking the use of worshipping a statue by saying Brahman is within one, he/she must understand that various texts say the same Brahman to be within each and every thing/place irrespective of it being a stone, person, animal etc. So, if he/she is worshipping the gods within, why is he/she uncomfortable with others worshipping the gods present in the murthis? Murthi puja actually makes it easy for worshipping gods by looking at their murthis.

This is actually explained well by Thirumangai Azhwar in Siriya Thirumadal with the verse “Eraar muyal vitu Kaakai pin povadel” which means, “Going to worship the gods within one as a formless being ignoring his archaavataara is like a hungry hunter trying to catch a flying crow leaving all the rabbits, which can be easily caught, besides him”. This explains that while the Acharyas of ancient days have accepted the worship of gods through yoga, they have actually established temples and murthis for people to gain access to the gods easily.

Coming to the concept of prasada, which is once again despised by such people who say, “What is the use of offering food to a statue?”, one must understand that Sanathana Dharma is more about diversity. Just because one sees the murthi as a statue doesn’t mean that none other can see it as gods just because he/she didn’t do so. Prasada is more about accepting the food blessed by gods. How can the practice of partaking a food blessed by the gods be ridiculed when bhakti is more about love and one is merely showing his love towards the gods by getting his food blessed by sharing it with the gods? Rather than trying to create a uniform practice of worship making Hindu Dharma more like any other monotheistic religion, one must accept and understand the diversity it possesses making it unique and giving it an important place among all the other religions in the world.

(Featured Image credit : https://maisappho.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/murti-the-living-divine-image/)

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  1. A growing up child while learning about different objects i nthe world, sentient or insentient might need the help of pictures or toys to understand its nature, form etc. But once grown up ,the same child will instantly recognize say an elephant, lion, fan or a bulb without the help of those toys or picture book. Idol worship is also similar. Its a beginning step for those people who cannot see the divinity in everyone as Sanatana Dharma says. Once that divinity or bhakti or compassion swells up within you, you are not bound to the idols and a spiritual expansion takes place within. The problem only begins when one starts this “My Idol/God is greater or superior to your Idol/God” or “Discrimination of people who are allowed or disallowed to do idol worship”. However this does not mean that the practice of idol worship is inherently the issue, it is an issue of mindset, one needs to practice inclusiveness as opposed to exclusiveness to overcome these barriers.

  2. Nice one. Swami vibeknanda explained Murti-puja in his various lectures including the one in Chcago. Murti-puja is easy and best for concentration


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