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  • Do Hindu religious scriptures strictly forbid worshiping and making idols/images of God?
  • Who started making idols and images of God for the first time and why?
  • If God forbids making idols/images then why were these made and worshiped?
    If God does not like his images or idols then why do you make these?
  • Who is the ultimate authority in bringing such big changes in religion - man or God?
    Who decides the way of worship - man or God?

Following are some references from Bhagavat Gita, Yajur Veda, Rig Veda and a few Upanishads that forbid worshiping idols and images of God.

  • Bhagavat Gita 7-[19-21]:

    All those who do idol worship, All those who worship demigods are materialistic people.

  • Bhagavad Gita 7:20:

    Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.

  • Bhagavat Gita 7-22:

    Endowed with such a faith, he endeavors to worship a particular demigod and obtains his desires. But in actuality these benefits are bestowed by Me alone.

    Purport: The demigods cannot award benedictions to their devotees without the permission of the Supreme Lord. The less intelligent living entity does not know this, and therefore he foolishly goes to the demigods for some benefit. But the pure devotee, when in need of something, pray only to the Supreme Lord. A living entity goes to the demigods usually because he is mad to fulfill his lust [for material things]. Devotional service to the Supreme Lord and the worship of a demigod cannot be on the same platform, because worship of a demigod is material and devotional service to the Supreme Lord is completely spiritual.

  • Bhagavat Gita 7-23:

    Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.

    Purport: Some commentators on the BG say that one who worships a demigod can reach the Supreme Lord, but here it is clearly stated that the worshipers of demigods go to the different planetary systems where various demigods are situated, just as a worshiper of the sun achieves the sun or a worshiper of the demigod of the moon achieves the moon. It is not that everyone, regardless of whatever demigod is worshiped, will reach the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is denied here, for it is clearly stated that the worshipers of demigods go to different planets in the material world but the devotee of the Supreme Lord goes directly to the supreme planet of the Personality of Godhead.

  • Bhagavat Gita 7-24:

    The ignorant believe that un-manifest Para Brahma (One God) incarnates or takes manifestations, because they do not completely understand My highest, immutable, incomparable, and transcendental existence.

  • Yajur Veda 3:32:

    ...Of that God you cannot make any images.

  • Yajur Veda 32:3:

    na tasya pratima asti
    There is no image of Him.
    God is formless and bodiless

  • Yajur Veda 40:8:

    shudhama poapvidham
    He is bodyless and pure.
    All those who worship the uncreated things, they are in darkness, and you'll enter more into darkness if you worship the created things.

  • Yajur Veda 40:9:

    Andhatama pravishanti ye asambhuti mupaste
    They enter darkness, those who worship the natural elements (Air, Water, Fire, etc.) They sink deeper in darkness, those who worship sambhuti. (Sambhuti means created things, for example table, chair, idol, etc.)

  • Rig Veda, Vol.6,45:16:

    There is only One God, worship Him.

  • Rig Veda, Vol.8,1:1:

    All Praise are to Him alone

  • Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1:

    Ekam evadvitiyam
    He is One only without a second.

  • Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:19:

    Na tasya pratima asti
    There is no likeness of Him.

  • Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:20:

    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 6:9:

    Na casya kascij janita na cadhipah.
    Of Him there are neither parents nor lord.

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    Many of your translations are not good. You have misinterpreted many of the scriptures you quote. If you worship an idol as God then a person is wrong in their worship. But if you worship God through an idol then that is good. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 1 '15 at 12:37
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    example: suppose you look at a picture of your loved one (parent/child/husband/wife), it immediately brings out some kind of emotion from you. Why? It is not that the picture is actually your beloved. But the picture arouses the memory of your beloved, isn't it? Similarly when Hindus worship idols, what actually happens is that the idol is a tool to help them remember and contemplate on the God within. It is a greatest misconception to say that Hindus worship stones. But good question, that is what this site is for sir. All the best!! – Sai Jul 1 '15 at 14:32
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    Some of these translations are just bizarre: for example, Bhagavadgīta 7.23 says devān devayajo yānti madbhaktā yānti mām api, which straightforwardly means "those who worship devas go to the devas; those who worship me surely go to me." There's absolutely nothing about planets. If you want to improve the question, I suggest you replace the English (which I assume you copied from a list of proof texts somewhere) with neutral, scholarly translations (you can find several online) and limit your question to either polytheism or idolatry. Right now your question conflates the two. – Raghav Jul 1 '15 at 15:29
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In his book, Vivekananda: A Biography, Swami Nikhilananda relates a story about when Vivekananda met a Maharaja in Alwar in 1891. He says:

Next, the Maharaja ridiculed the worship of images, which to him were nothing but figures of stone, clay, or metal. The Swami tried in vain to explain to him that Hindus worshiped God alone, using the images as symbols. The Prince was not convinced. Thereupon the Swami asked the Prime Minister to take down a picture of the Maharaja, hanging on the wall, and spit on it. Everyone present was horror struck at this effrontery. The Swami turned to the Prince and said that though the picture was not the Maharaja himself, in flesh and blood, yet it reminded everyone of his person and thus was held in high respect; likewise the image brought to the devotee's mind the presence of the Deity and was therefore helpful for concentration, especially at the beginning of his spiritual life. The Maharaja apologized for his rudeness.

Idols are not God, they represent, they are symbols of God.

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    Just as a note, though it's anathema to modern reform movements like Brahmo Samaj, the orthodox Śrīvaiṣṇava belief is that Nārāyaṇa is manifested in certain physical idols, or arcāvatāras (which should be distinguished from mere symbols, or pratīkas). Most of these are consecrated through human agency (i.e., samprokṣaṇa/pratiṣṭha), but he is present of his own will (svayamvaktā) at certain temples (Srirangam, Tirupati, Kanchipuram, Melkote), as well as in the śālagrāma (ammonite fossil). See generally the Viṣṇu Saṃhita 3:5-8 and Piḷḷailokācārya's Śrīvacanabhūṣana and Arthapañcaka. – Raghav Jul 1 '15 at 15:26
  • Idol, rather deity or Icon worship is as old as Vedas. – user808 Jul 1 '15 at 15:41
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    Typo correction: svayamvyaktā. – Raghav Jul 1 '15 at 15:57
  • @Raghav See Uddhava Gita Chapter XXII for Krishna's teaching as to how He is to be worshiped through idols/images. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 2 '15 at 7:22
  • @Raghav When you say Vishnu Samhita, are you referring to the 100-chapter Dharma Shastra that's also known as the Vishnu Smriti, or are you referring to the 30-chapter Pancharatra text called the Vishnu Samhita? – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 2 '15 at 21:40
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Hindu scriptures explicitly recommend murthi puja or image worship as can be seen below.

58.Till the realisation of perfect knowledge a man should continue the ritualistic worship of Shiva. 59-60. In order to convince the world, the rituals must be continued. Just as the sun is reflected in many vessels, in the same manner, O devas, know that the supreme Brahman, Shiva, assumes the form of whatever is seen or heard in the world real or unreal. 59.There is difference in vessels but not in the water they contain. This is what those who know the real meaning of the Vedas say. 60."Lord Shiva is within the heart of beings in this world." Of what avail are images to those who have the real knowledge? 61.Having an image is very auspicious for a person who has no such knowledge. It is a ladder that enables him to climb to a higher position. 62.It is very difficult to climb to a position without a support. The image is only a means to achieve the Nirguna Shiva. 63.The attainment of the Nirguna through a Saguna is certainly possible. In this manner, the symbols of all lords are conductive to steady faith and belief. 64.This lord is very great and this is the mode of worship of that lord. If there is no image, of what avail are scents, sandal paste, flowers etc? 65.Till the realisation of true knowledge, the image shall necessarily be worshipped. If any one does not worship the image before he attains perfect knowledge, his downfall is sure.

Shiva Purana, Rudra Samhita Section I, Creation, Chapter 12

Whoever makes an offering to Me with devotion, be it of leaf, flower, fruit or water - that devout offering made by a pure-hearted man, I accept with joy.

Gita 9.26

It would be impossible to offer leaf or flower if there is no image.

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Bhagavad Gita 7- Verse 24

Ayakta vyaktAmapanam manyantey maamabhuddhayaha! Param bhavamajananto maamaavyayamanutamam !!

Meaning: Not knowing my higher nature, immutable and unsurpassed, the ignorant think of me as an unmanifested entity who is now become manifest.

Here Krishna is saying that fools and ignorant people do not know his higher nature, immutable and unsurpassed. They dont know that it is I (Krishna), who is worshipped through tne rites, who is Lord of all and whose nature is beyond speech and mind, that has incarnated as son of vasudeva, without abandoning my divine nature, out of supreme compassion for those who resort to me and in order that i may be refuge of all. They (fools) consider me as just a worldly prince who was not manifest before and who has now become manifest by karma and has secured a special form. Therefore, they dont resort to me, nor do they worship me.

Where does this verse say idol worship is invalid? In fact it is just saying the other way, i.e. fools deride Krishna as some prince, but in truth it he the unmanifest, unmuttable supreme who has manifested as Krishna.

BG verse 19

Bahunaam janmanamantey jnanavan mam prapadhyatey ! Vasudevaha sarvamiti sa mahthma sudurlabaha!!

Meaning : At the end of many births, the man of knoqledge finds refuge in me, realising that VASUDEVA IS ALL. It is very hard to find such a great souled person.

Similarly BG verses 20, 21 doesnt talk about any idol worship being invalid.

None of the verses from BG verses 19-21 has got anything to do with invalidation of idol worship.

Infact, BG is clearly advocating saguna form of worship only.

  • See Uddhava Gita Chapter XXII for Krishna's detailed teaching as to how He is to be worshiped through idols/images. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 2 '15 at 7:24

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