“Those whose minds are distorted by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.20)
कामैस् तैस् तैर् हृत-ज्ञानाः
तं तं नियमम् आस्थाय
प्रकृत्या नियताः स्वया
kāmais tais tair hṛta-jñānāḥ
taṁ taṁ niyamam āsthāya
prakṛtyā niyatāḥ svayā
Friend1: I think one of the biggest crimes you can commit in modern day bhakti-yoga practice is having any sort of worship of someone who isn’t Vishnu directly.
Friend2: Are you referring to “demigod” worship?
Friend2: Who is bringing forth the charges? You mentioned “crime.”
Friend1: Let’s say it’s an established institution. The example we’ll use here is a wedding. Someone who is officially within the order [they have been duly initiated] wants to hold a wedding for someone in the family.
Friend2: Oh, you know there is some worship of Ganesha at the beginning.
Friend1: Exactly! Others who are planning to attend, sort of like the police officers in the institution, they strongly object.
Friend2: Why is that?
Friend1: Because Ganesha is a demigod. It’s worship for a material purpose.
Friend2: Are you serious with this?
Friend1: Why do you think I am bringing this up?
Friend2: It is quite common to worship that beloved son of Shiva and Parvati at the beginning of important ceremonies. In the marriage of Sita and Rama the same worship takes place. Ganesha has that special honor. If you read poems by Vaishnava saints, they often have a prayer to Ganesha as part of the mangalacharana, the plea for auspiciousness.
Friend1: That is the other thing I wanted to mention. If we consult Vedic literature, such worship is quite common. Shri Rama receives the prasada of Mahadeva prior to entering Lanka to fight for Sita against Ravana. Dasharatha engages in a yajna so that his wives will become pregnant, in order to bring an heir to the throne. In the marriage ceremony for Sita and Rama, the same worship of Ganesha takes place. Shiva once describes this to Parvati, and there is the playful mention by the poet that Ganesha worship can take place even if he has not been born in that particular millennium yet.
Friend2: The gopis in Vrindavana pray to Goddess Katyayani to have Krishna as their husband.
Friend1: Even the first Govardhana Puja is predicated on demigod worship. Nanda Maharaja and the community used to regularly worship Indra, the king of heaven, for sufficient rainfall.
Friend1: Isn’t that a contradiction, then? His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada asserts that Krishna, Bhagavan Himself, strongly condemns such worship. Evidence is there in the Bhagavad-gita.
Friend2: I think the direct translation is that a person’s intelligence is stolen.
Friend1: And only then do they surrender to a particular deva, because they don’t understand the temporary nature of the rewards.
Friend1: Obviously, there is a major contradiction here. I can see why the members of the institution would object.
Friend2: I don’t know. Use some common sense. You ask Ganesha for auspiciousness in a marriage ceremony and suddenly that is a big deal?
Friend1: But they do make a big deal of it.
Friend2: The way I understand it is that respect for the demigods is part of the overall culture. There are so many things you are supposed to do throughout the day. We are talking about ideal life here. Rise at a certain time. Eat specific foods on specific days. Follow this ritual at a certain age.
Friend2: There you go. Rites for purification. I have always thought of demigod worship along those lines. I am speaking of proper worship; not where your intelligence is stolen.
Friend2: But since we live in Kali-yuga, the dark age of quarrel and hypocrisy, it is difficult to reach that high standard. And neither is it necessary. If you simply worship the personal God, you will be okay. You will not be lacking anything. I think that is the lesson from the first Govardhana Puja, as well.
Friend1: Where people were concerned with the effects of skipping the Indra-yajna.
Friend2: The immediate impact was devastating, but Krishna took care of everything. This means that if you skip the formal rules, rituals, regulations and the like, but maintain pure devotion to Bhagavan, you will be protected.