Hinduism – how idol worship started?
October 4, 2016Uncategorized
Hinduism is not a simple religion., it has various philosophies, belief systems, mythology etc., It has evolved greatly during the course of time (from Vedic to Puranic periods).
It’s difficult to grasp all about Hinduism in a small post but I am trying it here to make you understand the turf war between Vishnu and Shiva as I see lot of argument is happening on this. Pls read with patience, it will be give everyone a good historical background of facts. If you have any objection to any of the facts presented here, I am ready to correct my views if presented with sufficient authentic evidence.
Vedas, the oldest Hindu scriptures contain hymns (mantras) to worship devatas who number around 33. Indra, Agni, Varuna, surya, vaayu so on.. including Vishnu and Rudra (later became Shiva). Indra was God of lightning, Agni is fire, Varuna – God of rain etc., Anyone who has a little knowledge of Vedas know that Indra, Agni, Varuna are the prominent or most important devatas in Vedas; Vishnu and rudra are mentioned very few times (vs hundreds of hymns for Indra,agni, varuna).
Apart from devata worship, some philosophy is also there in Vedas which seems to be closer to monism (idea that all existence is one). You might have come across the famous Vedic statement- “ekam sat, vipra bahdua vadanti” (Truth is one, scholars call it with various names). Actually here “sat” means “all that is”. Various other hymns introduce purusha, hiranya garbha describing them as the entities who themselves became this entire creation. This is called Monism. Please read about Monism if you want to understand this concept further.
There was no Idol worship during Vedic period. How these devatas were worshipped then? Through Fire. Havyas (liquids made of ghee and some other herbs) were poured in to the fire (called Homa) while chanting hymns related to each devata. Agni (fire) was considered as mouth to all other devatas meaning it was believed that Agni will carry all the offerings (havyas) to other devatas. The person chanting mantras was called Hota and person conducting the whole process was known as Yajman (owner of Yagna). This is how the famous south Indian word “Yajman” came about (people call the owner of a shop or boss as Yajman).
After Vedic period came the Upanishadic period. The philosophical thought (monism) that began with Vedas was carried further and various philosophies (some of which are known as monistic idealism or idealistic monism) emerged in Upanishads which are often at odds with each other. One of the predominant philosophies of Upanishads can be called as Adwaita (non-dualism) which is explained by 4 maha vakyas (great statements of Upanishads). Here God is termed as Brahman (different from Brahma of Puranas) and defined as the consciousness present in all living beings.
Prajnanam Brahman (Aitareya upanishad) – Consciousness or spirit which is there in all living beings is Brahman (God)
Ayamatma Brahman (Mandukya upanishad) – This atma (which is in me) is Brahman (God)
Tatvam asi (Chandogya upanishad) – That is you (your identity is same as that)
Aham Brahmaasmi (Brihadarnyaka upanishad) – I am Brahman (God)
There are more than 108 Upanishads, of which 12 are considered very important. There are contradictory concepts in them and to explain different concepts in them Hindu scholars have written shad-darshans (6 views) on Upanishads. Also pancha bhashyams (5 commentaries) are very important in Hinduism.
Brahma sutras are most important of shad-darshans in which Brahman (God), Jeeva (individual soul) and Jagat (world) are discussed.
In the 5 bhashyams, first one is of Adishankara’s (Kerala) Adwaita bhashyam.
Adwaita is defined by Adishankara as – “Brahma satyam, jaganmidhya, jeevo brahmaiva naa paraha..” Brahman is the only Truth (existence), this world is an illusion, Brahman and Jeeva are not separate (means Aham Brahmaasmi, I am Brahman). Jnana (knowledge) is the only way to salvation which is to realise that one’s self is same as Brahman. Once that is achieved no more lives (janmas) and salvation is achieved.
Brahman is defined by Adishankara as nirguna, niraakara, suddha chaitanya (attribute less, formless, pure consciousness).
It is said that Adishankara has wiped Buddhism off from India with his philosophy of Adwaita and preaching of the same across India.
Adwaita led to asceticism and monastic way of life. There was a parallel movement by People who were more inclined towards devotion (bhakti). This is where Puranas come in to picture.
Worship of Vishnu started in Tamilnadu by Alwars (during 7-9th centuries) and later propagated by Acharyas. If you remember Vishnu was one of the not so important Vedic devatas (important ones being Indra, agni, varuna). Through Puranas – mythological stories, Indra’s popularity was weakened (for example, Indra loses war with asuras and goes to Vishnu for help who saves him, several such stories were written to undermine Indra) and lot of mythology was written around Vishnu and Shiva to raise their popularity. Both competed in proving that only their deity is the greatest. This is why you can see such verses in each purana that condemn the worshipers of other deity. Also idol worship started in India due to the influence of Buddhism and Jainism., so people started giving idol forms to all their puranic figures and started worshiping them.
Ramanuja (Tamilnadu), the proponent of 2nd bhashyam belongs to the lineage of acharyas. He opposed the concept of Brahman in adwaita and proposed Vishistadwaitam.
Ramanuja argued Brahman can not be attribute less, form less, pure consciousness. He opposed every element of it and said Brahman is saguna (full of attributes), saakara (having form) and equated him with Vishnu. He further said Jnana alone is not enough, only devotion (bhakti) is the way to salvation.
Here if you notice carefully – Adwaita is a philosophy – defining God as the spirit or consciousness in all living beings. What Ramanuja did is he modified this philosophy and combined it with mythology (by equating Brahman with Vishnu). Similarly in Shaivism Brahman is equated to Shiva (rudra in vedas). So philosophy and mythology were inter-mixed.
In adwaita, there is no difference between Jeeva (individual soul) and Brahman. Where as in Vishistadwaita, ramanuja said Brahman is like sun and jeevas are like rays. Rays are different from sun but are still coming from sun. Here Brahman has two special qualities of jeeva and jagat so its called vishistadwaita.
Next came the 3rd bhashyam from Madhvacharya (Udipi, Karnataka) – who proposed Dwaita philosophy. He opposed both adwaita and vishistadwaita and said Brahman, Jeeva and Jagat are all three separate. He equated Brahman with Krishna (again mythological figure).
Other 2 bhashyams are from Andhrapradesh – Dwaitadwaita (nimbarka) Sudhadwaita (vallabha). Nimbarka said along with Krishna (Brahman), radha is also worthy of worship. Vallabha said there is a place (golok) where Krishna and radha live. Salvation is to reach there and live there eternally in their presence.
Ok, there are the 5 bhashyams.
Bhagavat Geeta – part of mahabharata can also be considered as an Upanishad (its also known as geetopanishad). It has influence of different philosophical thoughts of Upanishads.
This covers the most important concepts in Hinduism.
A quick recap:
Vedas – 33 devatas, no idol worship, little bit of philosophy (monism)
Upanishads – Philosophical (monistic idealism, idealistic monism), aham brahmaasmi concept
Puranas – mythology full of idol worship.
Shad-darshans and pancha-bhashyams – Commentaries on Upanishads.
So different Hindus follow different concepts from above. Some follow Vedas strictly and shun idol worship. Some are philosophical Adwaitists, some are involved in Krishna devotion, some worship various other puranic figures and their idols.. there are mix and matches also.
So please dont fight if idol worship is there are not etc., Everything is there in Hinduism. Atheism, monism, polytheism are all there.
The real question should be how can we understand the Truth about GOD out of all this confusion.
Main sourse.. https://followrevelation.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/hinduism-how-idol-worship-started/