Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The worship of images

by Mantra & shlokas on Monday, May 23, 2011 at 3:23pm

The worship of images - derisively termed as "idolatory", is common to most ancient civilisations.In Greece, Rome, the Mesopotamian, Mayan, Incan, Egyptian and last but not the least, the Hindu civilisation, people looked upon the images as the gods themselves and worshipped them accordingly. However, almost all the civilisations mentioned have given up the worship of idols as gods and have simplified image worship, instead offering their prayers to symbols such as the Cross, the Holy Book, totem poles, etc.

The uniqueness of Hindu culture is its continuity and its adaptation of the different aspects of the religious and cultural practices of peoples who came to be absorbed into its fold. The Hindu Trinity, namely, Brahma ,Vishnu, Siva, and their consorts, the Vahanas, The Upadevatas, have all been depicted in different forms. The intriguing aspect about our image worship is its continuity and relevance. The worship of images continues to grow, adding more and more colourful forms to the pantheon of Gods. This substantiates the inclusive nature of the religion, which thereby caters to the needs of all its followers.

During the early Vedic Age, people were nomads, fearing and worshipping Nature. They worshipped Rudra, the God of violent storms, destroying everything that came His way. The early worshippers beseeched Rudra to not inflict any harm on them.As they settled on the river banks, the terrible Rudra became the auspicious Siva, Guru, bestower of Knowledge, and later the family man (Somaskanda).

Vishnu as Matsya,Varaha and Mohini, creates images of the deluge and the churning of the oceans.One can also see the evolution of life forms in the avataras of Vishnu, from the fish (Matsya), reptiles (Kurma tortoise), the anima (Varaha,the boar) etc. The Hindu pantheon also includes the animal kingdom - to name a few- Hanuman (monkey), Ganesa (elephant), Kamadhenu (cow), Adhisesha (snake), Garuda (eagle), etc.

Our ancients did not leave out the trees. Peepul (tree of enlightenment for the Buddha), the banyan tree (Siva as Dakshinamurthy, taught the Ultimate Truth sitting under this tree) and the neem tree.

The rivers were female goddesses, Ganga, Yamuna, the mythical Saraswati, Cauvery and so on to be worshipped as abundant water resources. The oceans came to be personified by Samudra Raja.

All these gods were honoured and worshipped during different festivals spread over the entire year, thereby keeping our traditions alive. The evolution of Hinduism beginning with Nature worship and worship of animals and all living beings finally culminated in the worship of gods in human forms. This shows the importance we attach to all living things and representations of Nature on the earth.

Both Siva and Vishnu are credited with many avataras, aspects that are very colourfully portrayed by our artisans. Our Gods are described as 'Saumya',when they bestow unbounded Grace on the followers, 'RAudra',when they assume terrible forms to destry evil. To name a few, Nataraja, Narasimha, etc.

The many avataras of Vishnu have given our artists enormous scope for portraying them in many interesting forms, each with its own mythological story. Matsya, Kurma, Vamana, Balarama, Parasurama and Kalki are not popular forms of worship. But Rama, Krishna, Narasimha and Varaha are presented with distinct iconographical features each with their own symbols and emblems.

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