What is an idol? Technically it is a physical substance which denotes the existence of God, his form and his image. Anything which represents God in a physical entity is an idol.
This way isn’t a cross an idol? Or the crucified Jesus? Or his blood? Isn’t the Great Kaaba of Mecca an idol, a so powerful one that every Muslim who is anywhere around the world, (even on a plane), would worship in the direction of Mecca?
In one way or other, every religion follows some sort of idol worship. Its only in Hinduism that idol worship is quite vivid. We have so many different types of idols that is almost impossible to figure out who is the supreme one.
Does Hinduism believe in idol worship? Yes. And No. Hinduism provokes the Hindu to forever keep questioning himself. Is this it, or is there more? Hinduism is all about seeing beyond the cover. Its about soul search.
What is the logic behind idol worship?
The logic is: Its a philosophy, an idea represented through signs and symbols and not through boring moral lectures. To a westerner it is difficult to grab. And also to atheists. But I’ll decipher some of the famous Hindu God idols you have seen or heard of. If you are not a Hindu, just know that every idol has a story of origination.
1 . Ganesha, the elephant headed God:
I have mentioned it in many other answers and comments before. Here’s again I’ll explain it. Ganesha was created as a normal kid with a human head by Goddess Parvati (mother nature). She asked him to gaurd her chambers. Her husband Lord Shiva or Mahakaala (Time) was unaware of his existence. When he went to see Maa Parvati he was stopped by the boy. They had a fight upon which Lord Shiva cut off the boy’s head. Maa came out and was stunned to see the headless child. She asked Lord Shiva to resurrect him. Shiva then installed an elephant’s head on the child’s body. This way Ganesha was born.
The signs and symbols within this idol’s story points to a very huge philosophy of life. Know that “Ganesha” translates to “Leader of people”. If you swap the names of Gods with their meanings (which I gave in the bracket), you will decipher the philosophy immideately. Its the story of leadership, of how a leader is born.
Nature creates us. But our head is filled ego. We fight with time. Time destroys our ego. Our world turns upside down once our ego is crushed. Soon then time heals us too. It installs wisdom in us (represented by elephant’s head). And that is how a true leader is born. If you look at Ganesha’s idol you will not find any weapon, he will in fact just hold “ankush” an instrument which is used to control animal ropes, signifying control of animal instincts or self control. That’s the whole thing that is reflected from the idol. (I’ll let the rest of the symbols for you to guess).
Ganesha is hence always recalled before starting every new project. And he is also remembered at the time of difficulties, because Ganesha reminds you how time tests you, crushes your ego, and turn you into a leader!
2. Durga, the ten handed Goddess, riding a lion who slays Mahishasura, a buffalow-demon.
Her story is that a shape-shifting demon wanted to conquer Goddess Parvati (again mother nature). He could be killed only by a woman who had powers of every other Hindu God. The Gods unite and give Parvati a share of all their powers. She turns into Durga (literall: Fortress) then goes and conquers the demon. The demon hides himself in the form of a buffaloe. Goddess hunts him down. Her lion tears off his buffaloe skin and Goddess kills the demon.
Now Durga is also called “Shakti Swaroopa” which translates to “True power”. Now think what her ten hands adorned with weapons of all other Gods denote? She denotes the power that we all have inside, we just don’t know we had all this time.
Now what does a buffaloe denote? Tell me what is the first thing that comes in your mind when you see a buffaloe. Indians might know that buffaloes are lazy! They are stubborn and just downright arrogant. Thus buffaloe-demon Mahishasura denotes laziness.
Laziness tries to conquer one’s nature. We have to destroy this demon with our own “Shakti” (power). This is the idea behind Durga.
In Bengal the worship of this idol is far more vivid. Here along with Durga there comes Laxmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya. Laxmi is goddess of wealth. Saraswati is goddess of knowledge. Ganesha is God of leadership, and Kartikeya is Lord of valour. Thus we can safely say, once “laziness” is conquered, “wealth”, “knowledge”, “leadership” and “valour” all comes to you at once.