“Then I, resembling a cloud and having molten-golden earrings, made my way into Vishvamitra’s ashrama, for I was very proud of my strength due to the boon given to me by Lord Brahma. As soon as I entered, Rama quickly noticed me and raised His weapon. Though He saw me, Rama strung His bow without any fear.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.16-17)
बली दत्तवरोदर्पादाजगाम तदाश्रमम्।।
तेन दृष्टः प्रविष्टोऽहं सहसैवोद्यतायुधः।
मां तु दृष्ट्वा धनुस्सज्यमसम्भ्रान्तश्चकार सः।।
balī dattavarodarpādājagāma tadāśramam।।
tena dṛṣṭaḥ praviṣṭo’haṃ sahasaivodyatāyudhaḥ।
māṃ tu dṛṣṭvā dhanussajyamasambhrāntaścakāra saḥ।।
“I know this question probably comes up often, but it warrants repeated discussion and explanation. The objections are entirely from the point of view of an outsider. To someone raised within the culture, the practice is entirely normal.
“I guess you could compare it to vegetarianism versus meat-eating. If I grow up in a land that protects cows and tries to avoid intentional harm to animals to the greatest extent possible, then the opposite will seem odd and out of place. Someone who enters the area and wants to kill the cows will be seen as the oddball. They will be labeled ‘meat-eater.’
“In the opposite situation, everyone else is eating meat. They kill cows regularly, without mercy. They go after the calves, as well, after extracting enough milk through the love shown by the mother, the cow. The person who enters this scene and abstains from the practice will be the odd one out.
“If we transition to the practice of deity worship, it entirely makes sense to me. The Supreme Lord is anything and everything. Everywhere are His eyes. He is responsible for the material and spiritual worlds. He is not absent from any place.
“The deity is something like a reminder of Him, for people who have forgotten. And we sure do forget; it is easy to. The statue is there so that I can remember, so that I can concentrate and organize my devotional efforts. I can worship in a systematic way in order to gradually purify myself.
“The outsider might not agree with the practice. They think that I am making up false gods to worship. I am directing my attention to an idol. There is no way God could be statue, resin, brass or what have you. They might even call me satanic. What would your response be?”
To those who are strongly against God, the deity will not make sense. They will view it as another object over which they can assert dominance and control. The deity will not fight back, after all. It will not raise an objection. Therefore, how can any sane or rational person view it in high esteem? How could an intelligent person bow down before and conduct celebrations on specific days throughout the year?
An incident from the Ramayana history illustrates how the ignorance extends to direct interactions with the Almighty. In this case the atheist-like Rakshasas from Lanka were accustomed to getting what they wanted. They would obstruct the religious sacrifices of sages living in the forest-areas.
The attacks took place at night. The intruders arrived undetected. They targeted the fires, right as everything was about to complete successfully. The Rakshasas felt no remorse; there was no shame in deploying deception to get their way.
Vishvamitra Muni finally had enough. He went toward civilization and asked for help. He specifically wanted the youth named Rama to accompany him. This was the eldest son of King Dasharatha. Rama was a warrior in training, but Vishvamitra knew there was something special about Him.
Later on, Maricha tried to attack again. He noticed Rama standing guard but wasn’t deterred. Rama barely had any signs of manhood on His face. Like the deity in the temple, how was there anything special to this person? How was a youth with a bow and arrow set going to do anything to defend against a powerful night-ranging ogre who could change shapes at will?
Not only did Rama step up to action, but He did so without hesitation. The arrow Rama released threw Maricha back some eight hundred miles. Maricha’s tag-team partner wasn’t spared; he lost his life. God was there next to Vishvamitra, in a way the less-intelligent could not detect.
And so the same potency can be found within the deity, through the authorized method of worship. The chief resident in the temple will always remain just a statue to the atheist. Even if they should attack, that is all the object will be. To the devotees, the person standing on the altar represents their life and soul, in the same way that He protected the pious Vishvamitra.
To demon a youth projecting,
But that yajna perfectly protecting.
After Maricha drawing near,
Receiving picture clear.
With Deity in temple the same,
Who glorified through holy name.
A statue inanimate to be,
But to wise Supreme Lord is He.