July 05, 2009

Significance of Idol Worship - from Bagavad Gita

I’m listening to Shri Velukudi Krishnan’s upanyasam (commentary) on Bagavad Gita. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. I started listening to Bagavad gita to find out for myself whether our Hindu culture is really as backward in thinking as the present generation makes it out to be. For instance, I believe that life is short and each minute is precious, that’s why this moment is called “present”. Is it correct to brand certain times as “good” and certain others as “bad”? Bagavad Gita has answered most of my doubts and now I know that these irrational things being said in the name of culture or religion have no sanction of the ‘Gita’. In fact I feel Bagavad Gita is a practical cook book for youngsters like us. It is a philosophy for the strong, not for the weak.

On Idol worship

Right from the time a man wakes up in the morning till the time he retires to sleep, he performs such acts that satisfy his senses – Eating, working for money in order to buy things, studying for sharpening his mind etc. However the senses which are part of the human body are bound to die one day or the other. A life which is entirely devoted to satisfying senses, which will perish someday, cannot be meaningful.

Such a person slowly forgets that ‘atma’ and body are different. The Gita says that atma has no death. Atma takes a body and when the body dies, the atma takes another one- Atma is eternal while the body is ephemeral.

In order to understand the atma-body distinction, one has to reduce the addiction to senses. If the senses are muted, then one would be able to give ample time to contemplate on the atma.

Senses can be controlled if they are focused on an object. If you can keep all your senses on an object and enjoy the object and nothing else in this world, your senses will automatically be controlled. Bagavad Gita says that such an object which has the power to control your senses in the lords ‘deham’ (idol).

Why can’t other objects serve the same purpose?

Bagavad Gita says that all men and objects in this world have 3 qualities attached with them – Satva, Rajas, Tamas. The satva quality is the best of all. This quality enables a man to work with the highest order of intellect without wanting anything for himself. The selfless action is the hall mark of the satva quality. The Rajas quality signifies intelligence but with some degree of selfishness. People with Rajas quality don’t involve themselves in any action, if there is nothing in it for them. The Tamas quality signifies low intellect, people with this quality can’t think and act on their own and need to be told what to do. Among the above three qualities Satva is the most desirable.

However, all objects in this world have all of the above qualities in varying amounts. This is why when you keep your senses on these worldly objects, your senses don’t get controlled for although they have a percentage of the Satva quality, the Rajas and Tamas qualities associated with them prevent your senses from being controlled. Only the God’s deham (idol) is entirely made of satva quality, and it is the only one which has the power to control your senses and make you understand the distinction between atma and body.

Once a man understands the distinction between atma and body, he becomes fearless for he does not care for his body anymore. Neither does he care for the results of his action for he knows that the atma does not care whether you succeed or fail in your action. For example, for an atma that would occupy the body of a cow later, it does not matter whether the body that it occupies now passes or fails an examination. The person who has understood the distinction between body and atma lives like a lotus in a pond. The lotus is born in the pond, it lives in the pond and dies in the pond, but it does not get attached with even a drop of water. Likewise, a man may be born in this world, live in this world, and die in this world, yet if he understands the distinction between atma and body, he can live without being bonded with it. Their in lies eternal happiness –Bliss.

Once it is understood that one’s action should not be directed at satisfying the body and that the atma is not affected by the results of one’s action, it is logical to study how to act in the first place. In my next post, I will discuss Karma yoga – The art of doing action.


annacoder said...

Wonderful post. Where can I get access to Shri Velukudi Krishnan’s upanyasam? Is it available in electronic media? online?

vikraman said...

Try this link

Sashi said...

Nice Post, It is sad that many people only perceive Geeta from the story/example perspective and not from the moral/intent perspective.

I think , it is left to the perceiver to find the object that discards him for material world. For many in India, Idol worship as a practice has made this happen.

I would like to add few points/questions:
1. how pujas/rituals/yajnas can lead to betterment of one's future?
Specially nowadays when its an affair of getting few pundits do it for you.
( apart from the concentration that one should have in the course of the puja, which helps us align ourselves to think 'atma' wise not material wise)

2. Wether one's future is really deterministic or not?

Geeta says that one's present actions can change the past Karmic influence and 'good' change can be brought about.

3. One part of Geeta says selfless service ( through our duties) and the other part about realization of God through meditation.

Which one does one choose as the path towards bliss?

vikraman said...


I am attending the lectures of swami Prathasarathy on chapter 5 of Gita "yoga of action and renunciation" -karma yoga and gnyana yoga. I'll post a summary of the lectures shortly. perhaps you may find answers to some of your questions there.

Guru said...

actually i used to find idol worship silly. actually i thought of it as a non-spiritual baseless religious act for the weaker minds. wow i am amazed how much i have overlooked this. good post da. keep it going. how this interest suddenly?

vikraman said...


Until you understand the philosophy of the Bagavad Gita, the pooja/yagna/visiting temples around the world will serve no purpose. They may at best be an exercise to your calf muscles :)

Like i said in my post, when you perform idol worship your senses get controlled. When you perform pooja, youre chanting the god's nama which is a treat to your ears. When you decorate god's idol it is a treat to your eyes. So all these practises are done for satisfying our senses and slowly controlling them.

My post on karma yoga answers your third question.

vikraman said...


I've always wanted to understand the Gita. I listen to the Gita while doing yoga, an exercise for the body and the mind at the same time :) so i don't allocate separate time for it.

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