Idols and idolatry

Cambridge Dictionary says, ‘An idol can be a religious image or a person who people admire and maybe even seem to worship. A statue of a Hindu god is a religious idol, but Madame Curie is an idol to aspiring scientists.’ We are familiar with the terms K-pop idols, American Idol, Indian Idol – all referring to popular celebrities who are icons and role models, adept at music or acting, or any other form of entertainment. A popular leader or public figure who inspires others is also called an idol. However, to refer to images and statues of gods and goddesses as idols, could carry with it a negative connotation.

This is because all Abrahamic religions use the term idol and idolatry to denote ‘that which is worshipped but which is other than god’. That is, perhaps, alluding to a false god, which is why most orthodox Christians and Muslims shun any kind of worship that involves praying to an ‘idol’. In the Hindu way of life, any pratima, image or statue representing one’s ishta devta, favourite god or goddess, is meant as a means to focus and concentrate either via prayer, chanting, puja or other rituals, to help centre the mind to seek the spiritual path. It is a positive tool or means toward achieving one’s spiritual goals. It is easier to focus one’s attention on a tangible object rather than imagine it in abstraction. Although Brahmn, universal consciousness, is formless, it is in its various manifestations in different forms that prove attractive to the seeker. Hence, we need to rid the stigma associated with ‘idol worship’ and view this practice in a positive way.


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