Murti Puja or Idol Worship in Hinduism
There is a general misconception created by non-Hindus regarding Idol worship (Murti Puja) in Hinduism.
The most common verses used by the detractors of Idol worship are:
- “Andhatama pravishanti ye asambhuti mupaste” [Yajurveda 40:9]
The twisted explanation of this verse, which they give is as follows :
“They enter darkness, those who worship the natural elements” (Air, Water, Fire, etc.). “They sink deeper in darkness, those who worship sambhuti.”
- “Na tasya pratima asti” There is no likeness of Him. [Svetasvatara Upanishad; chapter 4:19]
- “Na samdrse tisthati rupam asya, na caksusa pasyati kas canainam.” His form is not to be seen; no one sees Him with the eye. [Svetasvatara Upanishad; chapter 4:20]
- “na tasya pratima asti” There is no image of Him. [Yajurveda; chapter 32:3]
- “shudhama poapvidham” He is bodyless and pure. [Yajurveda; chapter 40:8]
Let’s now discuss the above verses in detail. Yajurveda is one of the 4 Vedas in Hinduism. There two parts in Yejurveda: Shukla Yejurveda and Krishna Yejurveda. Shukla Yejurveda consists of Isha(vasya) Upanishad and Brhaharadanyaka Upanishad. Isha(vasya) Upanishad forms the 40th chapter of the shukla Yejurveda. The above quoted verse (1) is 9th verse of the shukla Yejurveda chapter 40 and which is incomplete unless the following two verses are considered to make the complete meaning. So, verses 9 -11 of 40th chapter of shulka Yejurveda are from Isha(vasya) Upanishad’s verses 12 – 14.
The Rishi of Isha(vasya) Upanishad is Svayambhuva Manu. When he was in the danger of attack from some demons, who were intent to destroy him and as well the whole world, he praised the BHAGAVAN with these verses. Isha(vasya) Upanishad has 18 verses, in which verses 1 – 8 talk about the tenets and supremacy of the BHAGAVAN along with how to worship Him. Verses 9 – 14 talk about wrong way of worship, while remaining verses (15-18) talk about the realisation of the BHAGAVAN.
Now coming to the above quoted verse (1), the complete sequence of verses from 12 – 14 is given below with actual translation.
andham tamah pravisanti ye’sambhutimupasate
tato bhuya iva te tamo ya u sambhutyam ratah — 12
andham tamah = relentless, blinding darkness; pravisanti = enter into, obtain; ye = those who; asambhutim = `srstikarta na’ = “not Creator,” having failed to grasp BHAGAVAN as the Creator; upasate = worship, meditate upon; tatah = and then, than that; bhuyah = greater; iva = undoubtedly; te = they, those who; tamah = darkness; ya = who; u = but; sambhutyam = as Creator only; ratah = engaged in, devoted to.
Those who worship [BHAGAVAN] with the understanding that He is not the Creator, enter dense, unrelenting darkness; to a greater darkness than that go they, who merely think of Him as the Creator alone [but not as the Sustainer or Destroyer].
iti susruma dhiranam ye nastadvicacaksire
anyat = the other, different; eva = only; ahuh = they (the learned) say; sambhavat = by correct understanding as Creator; asambhavat = by correct understanding as Destroyer; iti = thus; susrumah = we have heard; dhiranam = dhimatam = persons of sound understanding; ye = who; nah = us; tad = that; vicacaksire = vyacacaksire = explained, taught.
We have heard from the wise, who explained to us that the result of having knowledge of Him as Creator is different from the result of knowing Him as the Destroyer.
sambhutim ca vinasam ca yastadvedobhayam saha
vinasena mrtyum tirtva sambhutya’mrtamasnute
sambhutim = knowledge of BHAGAVAN as Creator; vinasam = knowledge of Him as Destroyer; ca = and (in conjunction with); yah = who; tad = that; veda = knows; ubhayam = both; saha = together, at the same time; vinasena = by means of knowing Him as Destroyer; mrtyum = death (and other undesirables such as suffering and ignorance); tirtva = having overcome, crossed over; sambhutya = by means of knowing Him as Creator; amrtam = moksa characterized by enjoyment; asnute = obtains.
One who knows BHAGAVAN as Creator, and also as the Destroyer, for him, by knowledge of Him as Destroyer, he overcomes death/suffering/ignorance, and by knowing Him as Creator, he obtains mukti.
Therefore, from the complete translation of the verses 12 – 14 from Isha(vasya) Upanishad shows that no where these verses say Idol worship leads to blinding darkness. One might argue that how does ‘asambhutim’ mean destroyer? It is very clear from Verse 14 where vinasam is used in stead of asambhutim (‘sambhutim ca vinasam ca’). Therefore, those who do not know the vedic (etymological) meaning of the Sanskrit words and depend only on the dictionary meaning can only form wrong and incomplete translation to suit their purpose.
Let us now look at the above quoted verse (5) from 8th verse of Yejurveda chapter 40. The complete verse and its translation is given below:
sa paryagacchukramakayamavranamasnaviram suddhamapapaviddham
kavirmanisi paribhuh svayambhuryathatathyato’rthan vyadadhacchasvatibhyah samabhyah — 8
sa = he (the qualified seeker who understands as previously indicated); paryagat = (having) attained; sukram = sokarahitam = free from sorrow; akayam = liñgasariravarjitam = lacking a subtle body; avranam = complete, not suffering from limitations of time, space or capacity; asnaviram = lacking a physical body (literally: lacking sinews, lacking muscles; lacking a body of the kind that includes sinews and other physical features); suddham = being the source of all purity, the purifier; apapaviddham = untouched by sin; kavih = one knowing all, omniscient; manisi = one who controls the minds of all; paribhuh = omnipresent and the controller of all, “the best there is”; svayambhuh = self-sustaining, lacking any dependence on any other; yathatathyatatah = having the quality of yatha tatha or “as is,” i.e., “in reality,” “truly and properly,” as distinguished from “deceitfully,” “in a dream or illusion,” &c.; arthan = entities, objects; vyadadhat = created, ordained; sasvatibhyah = eternally, since time immemorial; samabhyah = years, ages.
He (the one who knows as previously described in previous verse) attains the BHAGAVAN who is completely free from sorrow, lacking the subtle body (linga sharira), and the gross body (sthula shariara that is the cause of physical suffering), but He (BHAGAVAN) is pure and untouched by sin. That omniscient self-sustaining BHAGAVAN, the controller of all minds, has eternally created all entities (in an infinitude of cycles of Creation) in reality.
The gist of above verse is that the BHAGAVAN does not have a form with deficiencies such as sorrow, limitations of time, space or capacity. But He has a pure body without any sin, and He is omniscient, self-sustaining, omnipresent and controls all.
Now let me go the above quoted verses 2 and 3 (quote 4 is same as 2). These two verses come from Svetasvatara Upanishad, which is part of Krishna Yajurveda. Let me start with a summary of svetasvatara Upanishad. In the 1st chapter, the seekers who know the Vedas started discussing among themselves questions such as who is that Brahman – the root cause of this world, from what have we been born, due to what we live, under whose command we undergo pain and pleasure and from what set rules are we being governed?
They discovered the creative power, belonging to the Lord Himself or Brahman was the root cause for the universe and concluded that this Brahman has to be known and beyond which there is nothing to be known.
The 2nd chapter dealt with the means of knowing Brahman It started with a prayer to the Sun Bhagavan and elaborated on the practice of yoga to have the vision of Bhagavan. It was pointed out that the yogi, who realizes the truth of Atman, becomes one with the non-dual Atman and attains the goal and is free from grief. This chapter concluded with an appeal to adore this Self-luminous Lord who pervades the whole world.
The 3rd and subsequent chapters of this Upanishad deal with the nature and different aspects of the Lord, prayers and eulogies to Him and the state of a seeker on knowing Him. Therefore, the quoted verses (2 and 3) eulogise Bhagavan. The complete verses along with the meaning are given below.
Verse -4.19 (svetasvatara Upanishad)
Nainamurdhvam na tiryancham na madhye parijagrabhat
Na tasya pratima asti yasya nama mahad yashah – 19
Urdhvam – above tiryancham – across madhye – in the middle enam – Him na parijagrabhat – no one can grasp. Yasya – whose nama – name mahad yashah – is great glory tasya pratima na asti – there is none equal to him
No one can grasp Him above or across or in the middle. There is none equal to Him whose name is great glory.
Since this verse is about praising Bhagavan, the word ‘pratima’ should be translated as equal or likeness. This word does not refer to image as it goes against the wish of the seeker i.e praising/eulogising Bhagavan.
Verse – 4.20 (Svetasvatara Upanishad)
Na samdrashe tishtati rupam asya na chakshusha pashyati kashchanainam/
Hrada hradisyam manasa ya enamevam viduramrataste bhavanti – 20
Asya – His rupam – form samdrashe – in the field of vision na tishtati – does not stand. Enam – Him chakshusha – with the eye kashchana – anaybody na pashyati – does not see. Ye – who enam – Him hrada manasa – by the heart and mind (i.e. through intuition) evam hradisyam – as thus seated in the heart vedhuh – realise te – they amruta – immortal (moksha) bhavanti – become.
His form does not stand in the range of the senses. No one perceives Him with the eye. Those who know Him through the intuition as thus seated in their heart become immortal.
From the translation of the first part of the first line the above clearly emphasise the all pervading nature of Bhagavan and His omnipotence unlike the twisted meaning given to it by the detractors. Therefore, Bhagavan can take any form and size which cannot be perceived by human beings.
Now, I would request those who comment about Idol worship by presenting incomplete meaning to read the Veda, Upanishad, Gita and Purana properly before making such comment. Otherwise, this will only shows their ignorance and place for them is delusion or sorrow according to Veda. Also, I challenge them to prove they don’t worship/respect any image, emblem of their religion.