“Whenever one develops faith in Me — in My form as the Deity or in other bona fide manifestations — one should worship Me in that form. I certainly exist both within all created beings and also separately in My original form, since I am the Supreme Soul of all.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.27.48)
The famous movie Cast Away is remembered for many distinct scenes, with one of them being the interaction between the character portrayed by Tom Hanks and his imaginary friend Wilson, who was a volleyball.
The movie’s plot focused on the plight of a worker for a parcel delivery service whose plane crashes, leaving him stranded alone on a deserted island for several years. With no one to talk to, Tom Hanks’ character makes an imaginary friend for himself out of a volleyball found in one of the plane’s packages. After drawing a face on one side of the ball, Hanks names it Wilson and starts talking to it regularly from then on out. Though an inanimate object, Wilson helps Hanks keep his sanity by allowing him to alleviate the pains felt from loneliness.
In the Vedic tradition, one of the processes of devotional service is archanam, or offering prayers and worshiping the deity. Devotional service is also known as bhakti yoga, but it bears no similarity to the modern day definition of yoga. Yoga actually means connecting one’s mind with the Supreme Lord. Breathing exercises and sitting postures were initially invented to help those who are too overly attached to the senses to break free from them. Since this system also had many beneficial side effects relating to health, it gradually morphed into a secular exercise. Bhakti yoga is the highest form of yoga, and it involves nine distinct processes as outlined by Prahlada Maharaja, a great devotee of Lord Krishna. Deity worship is a practice aimed at increasing one’s devotion to God. Krishna has many many different forms and expansions. God is unlimited and omnipresent, so it’s not surprising to know that He can take any form He wishes to.
The archa-vigraha form, or the deity, is usually made out of wood or stone. Still, one shouldn’t consider the deity to be material in any way. Because the raw material of wood or stone is used for serving the Lord and creating an authorized form of His body, the deity is completely spiritual in nature and non-different from the Lord. In the famous movie The Ten Commandments, there is a scene where the followers of Moses decide to worship a golden calf as God for no apparent reason. Moses is very angered by this, and strictly decries the practice of idol worship. One shouldn’t mistake this type of idol worship with archanam. The deity is an authorized form of Krishna and not something concocted by man. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the Lord Himself instructs His good friend Uddhava on the proper way to take care of a deity. It is the Lord’s mercy upon us since He is not always physically present before us in His original form.
There are a great many examples of historical incidences relating to deity worship documented in the Vedic literatures. One such incident involves Lord Rama, the incarnation of Lord Krishna who appeared as a kshatriya king during the Treta Yuga. Lord Rama was strictly devoted to dharma and treated all His citizens equally, and for this reason He enjoyed universal love and adoration from the people of Ayodhya. There was one brahmana, or priest, who was so devoted to Rama that he wouldn’t take his meals without first seeing the Lord. Darshana, or having a vision of the divine, is another spiritual practice. By seeing the Lord, our eyes and mind become purified. This particular brahmana wanted to remember Rama before eating, for God is the source of all our food and sustenance. A problem occurred however, in that part of His kingly duties required Lord Rama to travel to other kingdoms from time to time. The brahmana was so strict that he fasted on these occasions. He thought it to be a great offense to take food without first thinking of God. In this way, he taught future generations a great lesson. While it is nice to ask God to give us food and provide us our daily bread, it is an even higher form of worship to think of Him before we eat, and to offer all food that we prepare to Him first. Lord Rama heard about the fasting of the brahamana and became very disturbed. The Lord never wants His devotees to suffer unnecessarily. So to alleviate the situation, He had His younger brother Lakshmana install a statue of Himself in the brahmana’s home. In this way, the brahmana would never have to starve again. This deity actually existed in Rama’s family before His birth. It has been gradually passed down from generation to generation and according to the authority of great acharyas, this deity is still in existence in India in the town of Mantralayam, and it is worshiped daily.
“Sri Moola Rama the original deity of King Ikshvaku, was given to Maharaj Dasharatha before Rama’s birth, then to Lakshmana who worshiped Them during Rama’s lifetime, who gave Them to Hanuman, who in the forest gave Them then to Bhima, and was given to Narahari Tirtha who gave to Ananda Tirtha – Madhvacharya, now risiding in the Raghavendra Tirtha Swami mutt at Mantralayam” (Salagram.net)
Deity worship is so nice that we should all take advantage of this wonderful gift from the Lord. With modern technology, beautifully crafted statues of the Lord can be found easily on the internet and in temple gift shops around the world. Sincere devotees, who regularly chant the holy names of the Lord and who abide by the four regulative principles, should install these deities in their homes and regularly worship them.
Categories: deity worship