“While Vasudeva was carrying his son Krishna in the falling rain, Lord Shesha in the shape of a serpent spread His hood over the head of Vasudeva so that he would not be hampered by the rainfall. Vasudeva came onto the bank of the Yamuna and saw that the water of the Yamuna was roaring with waves and that the whole span was full of foam. Still, in that furious feature, the river gave passage to Vasudeva to cross, just as the great Indian Ocean gave a path to Lord Rama when He was bridging over the gulf.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 3)
“Is there too much imagery in the Vedic tradition? I know that sanatana-dharma focuses on the individual, who is soul, and breaking away from the illusion that is the material nature. However, in the associated formal houses of worship there is one image after another.
“The principal resident in such establishments is the deity, which rests on the altar. This is the saguna form of the Divine. With qualities. Identifiable features. Associated characteristics and activities, charitra.
“Does not this limit the understanding of the Almighty? Shouldn’t the highest consciousness within spiritual life be free of dualities such as large and small, strong and weak, and man and woman?”
The idea is that man itself has limitations in terms of mental capacity. We know that there is diminishing capability with the onset of old age, but even within the ideal situation there are the inconceivable factors of infinite time and infinite space.
There is always a beginning to a beginning and an end to an end. Travel as far back as you can think, and know that there is something prior. Keep moving ahead in terms of days, weeks, months, and years, but understand that nothing will ever be completely annihilated. The individual will always be somewhere.
य एनम् अजम् अव्ययम्
कथं स पुरुषः पार्थ
कं घातयति हन्ति कम्
ya enam ajam avyayam
kathaṁ sa puruṣaḥ pārtha
kaṁ ghātayati hanti kam
“O Partha, how can a person who knows that the soul is indestructible, unborn, eternal and immutable, kill anyone or cause anyone to kill?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.21)
The images help us to relate. We see Shri Krishna on the altar, with Shrimati Radharani standing next to Him. This means that there is both a masculine and a feminine side to God. One is the energetic and the other the energy. Always one, though manifesting as two.
That person standing tall, holding a flute in His hands, with a peacock feather in His hair, has accompanying activities. They are too many to count. They are inconceivable, at the same time, but He arrives within this manifest world and others to give an idea of what is capable in someone who has no distinction between body and spirit.
He does not limit His appearances to one specific identity. The same Krishna is also Vishnu, who effortlessly creates the universes through His breathing, which we typically understand to be involuntary. As if by accident the worlds come together, which are like giant bubbles floating in the ether.
The many images also match the tendency within us to look for them. If not within the Vedic culture, then somewhere else. This explains why streaming video services are so popular. One person can sit down and consume visual programming for hours in a given day, and then repeat the same in the future.
If we are going to appreciate images and what they represent, why not get a lasting benefit from the association? Why not lift up the consciousness, increase intelligence, and decrease hopelessness and despair in the process?
The many images are based on the authority of the sacred sound passed down for many generations. We can still access the original language, Sanskrit. People witnessed the amazing activities of Vishnu, His avataras, and His devotees. They then put those recollections into Sanskrit poetry.
When the need arose, empowered individuals put what they held in memory onto paper. Something like the data held within RAM on a computer being written to a physical disk. Those papers move forward, collected together as sacred texts. They provide vivid imagery and a clear idea of God, without having to personally visit Him.
We are inspired to see Vasudeva carrying Shri Krishna across the Yamuna. In the falling rain, in the dead of night, facing the impending punishment of King Kamsa and his men, not knowing what the future holds, the dedicated father to the newborn succeeded in a most difficult mission.
From a single image we can stay with the Almighty, day after day, and even life after life. Everyone follows Him in all respects, and those who are devoted in the desire to maintain personal association have their wishes come true.
The images everything to me,
After so long finally can see.
That God and His mercy real,
From painting directly to feel.
And in illusion no more,
Boundless opportunity in store.
So future bright and exciting,
For hours in single image delighting.