Are Hindus Idol Worshipers? Does Hinduism Allow Idolatry?
If Idol Worship means to worship God using forms- Then YES, Hindus are Idol worshipers.
If Idol Worship means to revere an idol, a stone, an object without personality, a thing without defined qualities or character- Then NO, Hindus are not Idol Worshipers.
Hindus use Forms of :
- Deities as Supreme Reality: Vinshu for Vaishnavas is the form of supreme Lord, Shiva for Shaivas is the Supreme Lord, Goddess Kali for Shaaktas and so on.
- Deities as Controllers of natural forces: Saraswati is worshiped as the giver of knowledge, Lord Ganesha as the remover of Obstacles, Goddess Lakshmi as the presiding deity of Wealth and so on.
- Avatars: Avatars like Rama and Krishna are worshiped as the incarnation of Divine (or the perfected sages) in the human form.
- Saints: Saints who have attained at least a glimpse of reality are revered.
What do Hindu Scriptures Say about Idol Worship?
"Of Him there is no likeness, whose glory is infinite". -- Shukla Yajurveda
Andhaṁ tamaḥ praviśanti ye 'vidyām upāsate
tato bhūya iva te tamo ya u vidyāyām ratāḥ- Isha Upanishad
[Those who worship only the non-manifest or those who worship only the manifesting Go to Darkness; Meaning: Understanding of Both the Manifestation of God into various worlds and also the non-Manifesting is necessary]
Dve vāva brahmaṇo rūpe, mūrtaṃ caivāmūrtaṃ ca [Brihadaranyaka Upanishad - 2.3.1]
[God has two modes: Formless as well as form]
The Deity form of the Lord is said to appear in eight varieties — stone, wood, metal, earth, paint, sand, the mind or jewels- Srimad Bhagavatam 11.27.12
Do not worship anybody but Him, the divine one Praise Him alone- Rigveda, Book 8, Hymn 1, Verse 1
There is No image of God, But there is no image that is Not of God -Tripura Rahasya
No matter which way (form) you worship me, I instil your focus and help you grow spiritually- Bhagavad Gita
No matter who you worship, all that comes to me alone- Bhagavad Gita
"Though God has no form, he takes on various forms for the sake of his devotees" -Smritis
Conclusion: Scriptures say "No Form can represent God in entirety." and also agree "All forms are representation of God alone, since God alone exists and nothing else." Hinduism doesn't Condemn use of Idols, nor does it Prescribe it as the best means to truth. However according to each person's qualities it is considered helpful.
Note: Building of Temples and installation of Idols is said to have positive spiritual effect on a seeker if installed in a prescribed way, Usually spiritual energy called "Prana" is instilled through the vehicle of a self-realized Yogi.
Uses of Idol Worshiping:
- Ease of Access: One can keep Images/ Idols at home and worship at will.
- Easy to Concentrate on: A form makes it easier to focus attention towards
- Easy to form relationship with God: God can be seen as a friend, father/mother, child. With form & thus character attached to it, it is easier to progress spiritually. RamaKrishna attained enlightenment worshiping Goddess Kali in Form. KanakaDasa worshiped Krishna in form and made him come to Life.
- Spiritual Vibrations: Prana is instilled into idols with certain Yogic Procedures at the time of Installation, it is said to grow a person spiritually even if one just sits around in such places.
- Ideal Worship: Each deity has a personality, it makes it easy to find resonance with that quality as the deity which it represents.
- Continued spiritual thinking: India being India one can see images and idols everywhere, thus one remains throughout the day to be conscious of God.
- God is omniscient: Seeing God everywhere keeps one glued to God, various forms affirming the Multiple forms of the ONE. And makes one aware that God is everywhere and sees us all the time.
- Tolerance: Seeing God worshiped in various forms, each praising a particular aspect over the other makes the society tolerant of other's beliefs and practices. Different sects rarely fought or insisted that their own version is the right or purest.
Hinduism is not a limiting religion, it has over the time tried to open Humans into higher reality through various means. What would be generally considered taboo was also experimented and made into a spiritual path to help attain a spiritual Goal. There are as many personality types as there are people and thus necessity to have a path one could personally feel connected to, thus Hinduism keeps churning out different ways.
There are many things like Sex, Drugs (in prescribed quantity), Alcohol, Fasting, Singing, Dancing, Reading, Writing, Chanting (Mantras), Meditating, Mindfulness, Discussing, Self-analyzing, Righteous Living, Pilgrimage, Charity which are all various paths, Idol Worship is one among them.