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Chapter Ten
Icons, Images and Idols

From the lofty ideals of the Word, how did India became idolatrous?
Early Vedic teachings do not envisage idol worship or worship of lower gods.

In the beginning God was there and he was a spirit.  (Iathereya Upanishad:1/1/1)

The one that does not obey to words, and the one that makes the words to work and that is Brahma. Anything other than this is not Brahma. (Kena Upanishad:1/5)

He that cannot be seen and he that is glorious and great, he that is not known by anybody ever, is that God, for whom you must not make any idols. He is Hiranyagarban, and he is glory. He that is without beginning and end let him save and protect us. We must worship him only.  (Yajur Veda:32/3)

When those who offer sacrifices sees him in the fire, and when the sages see him in their hearts, and when others see him everywhere, those who are ignorant and low in knowledge see him in idols and search god in idols and worship the idols.  (Uthara geetha and Agni purana)

"Na pratheeke nahisa"
There is no spirit in the idols. (Brahma suthram:4/1:4) 

You should worship the god that is spirit only thru your minds. Those who worship him through idols and other means will eventually get to death.  (Brah: Upanishishad: 4/4/19) 

"Those who do only deeds and wait for their moksha are living in utter darkness. Even after abandoning their good deeds, those who worship different kind of goddesses and gods without worshipping the God who is only a spirit will go to greater damnation than everybody else."  (Isha Upanishad:1/9)

The purushan that you see in your eyes is that spirit. (Chandakya Upanishad:8/7/4)

They are going away without knowing and understanding the the God, who is a spirit. Those who worship the images as the spirit or god blindly will enventually be damned, even if they are men or asuras or (angels or men), because they do not realize the truth. (Chanda:Upanishad:8/8/4)

Those who worship many goddesses without worshipping the God who is a Spirit, do not know the truth. And they are like animals among those who know the truth. (Satpatha Brahmana)


However idol worship and worship of many lower gods are a part of Hinduism today.  This must have developed out of the need for popular modes of communications.  We all use symbols to express the inexpressible concepts. The symbols and models and artistic presentations improves impact and produces long term memory of what is taught.  Power Point presentations are the norm of today.  Icons were produced for the same purpose.

 Iconography is defined as  (a) Pictorial illustration of a subject.  (b) The collected representations illustrating a subject. (c) A set of specified or traditional symbolic forms associated with the subject or theme of a stylized work of art.


Icons are the traditional art form of the Early Church. During the early years of the Christian Church, a new art form was created to help reveal this new faith to the world. This art's chief goal was to express the view of the world held by the Church -- God's interaction with man, man's calling to be a new creation, ...the breath, and the look of holiness. An icon at its very root is a portrayal of Christ's image and imprint on the world, thus helping us better understand who God is and what He is like.  ….   .


The appearance of icons is justified in the essence of the following sentence: "In the Old Testament God was heard, in the New Testament he was seen." In other words, in the Old Testament the pre-image, the archetype, is given whereas in the New Testament it is a requirement.  ….  Supplementing Dionysius Aeropagiticus (6th c.), Theodore of Studios (9th c.) wrote: "The shadow is not the same as the mass which casts it;... the icon is a visualization..." The icon is a theological mark and a mark of theology; its application is in its vocabulary. For the faithful it is a reverence, an observance of faith; for the eye it is a visualization; for the reason it is a distinguishing mark; for the spiritual perception it is a pre-image. The pre-image is an archetype, the first depiction a prototype, the visualization is an icon - this is the axiom of Orthodoxy, the Eastern Christianity….

The language of signs was enriched and made more complex. Allegories, metaphors and personifications which the Byzantine rhetoricians and the liturgists had been uttering for centuries were utilized….

Aneta Serafimova


But in most Eastern Churches it went much further than that to idolatory.  Here is how the Eastern Churches presents this:

In the fullness of time, God put on flesh; He made himself a man. Now, not only had we seen God in the flesh, but we had seen His face. Now there was a certain obligation to make an icon of God in the flesh as a means of education and veneration.. The failure to depict Him in images suggested that He had not become man. One cannot separate God from Jesus Christ; it is impossible to create an icon of Christ without, at the same time, making God present……It is not idolatry when reverencing the Saint, because the veneration is not to the human person, but to God who dwells in him, who sanctifies him. We venerate and worship the icon, but adoration belongs to God.

The Church has taught Her people that, in the icon of Christ, we also "see" God the Father. Christ is the very Image or Icon of the Father; so where One is present so is the Other.

The iconographer possesses an unbelievable gift from God. He/She is able to bring the Saints, the angels, the Theotokos, and even Christ God Himself to earth. They are present with us, in their icons. They are there in a very literal way; mystically, spiritually

The Icon: A Manifestation of Theology


Does this not sound more like the following quote from the Hinduwebsite?

1.It is the easiest way to instill faith and devotion in man. As an abstract concept God may be appealing to the intellectual minds, but to the ordinary individual who is busy with his own household responsibilities and not well versed in the scriptural knowledge, scholarship or the path of knowledge may not be very appealing. On the contrary an image can appeal to him instantly and draw him into religious life. The idol becomes to him all that God represents to others: the all compassionate giver of boons and blessings, who would pay attention to their woes and help them in times of distress.

2. It is a way of acknowledging the omniscience and omnipresence of God. If God is omnipresent, then every thing in the universe, including the idol one worships, is filled with His energy and presence. Every thing in the universe becomes equally sacred and worth worshipping. When we look at the photograph of a person, we almost feel as if we are looking at the person though we all know that it is just an image. If the photograph belongs to a great personality, some one like a national or religious leader, we treat it with the great respect as if we are treating the real person. It would hurt our sentiments greatly if some one shows disrespect to it openly in the public or in front of us. In idol worship the approach of a devotee is much the same. He ascribes a particular form or image to his personal God and gives Him as much love and respect as he would give to God Himself.

3. In Hinduism there is a religious sanction for such a practice …... Besides idol worship gives immense freedom to an individual to worship God in his own way. This is in line with the true traditions of Hinduism which gives unlimited choice to its followers to approach God in whatever they choose to worship Him.

4. The idols help the devotee to become deeply religious. A devout Hindu goes to a temple and worships his favorite deity to charge himself with religious currents and keep himself going for days together amidst busy worldly activity. It reinforces his faith in God and his confidence to face the difficulties in life. Once installed in the house or in a puja mandir (place of worship in a house), the very house becomes a place of God's residence, a very sacred place, a temple by itself. The image that stands there reminds the devout members of the household to become constantly aware of the divine presence amidst them and of their religious duties and responsibilities. It inspires devout men to keep their houses pure and clean and not to indulge in sacrilegious acts.

5. Aid to concentration: More than any abstract concept, an image or a symbol (yantra) is the best aid to concentrate and control ones mind and attention. By keeping the mind concentrated on a particular image, the mind can be stabilized. Modern science is slowly unraveling the secrets of the mind and its capacity to manifest reality. It is now a widely accepted fact that mental images and forms one entertains in ones mind greatly shape ones life and destiny and that the mind (especially the subconscious part of it) has the capacity to realize whatever form or symbol it concentrates upon. The ancient Hindus were aware of the potentiality of the mind and therefore they did not object to the worship of idols. They knew that it is was one of the best ways to lead the other wise fickle human mind towards God.

6. In idol worship the "true" worshipper becomes God! The statue stands symbolically for the whole process of creation. According to Hinduism the worlds and beings came into existence when Purusha (Divine Will and consciousness) entered Prakriti (Nature, Energy or Matter). The forms and ideas already exist in the consciousness of Hiranyagarbha (the world soul, the first creative golden germ) and He brings them to life by pouring into them His essence. The world (Viraj) was an idea until the life breath entered into it and brought it to life. The word "jagat" (the world) means that which is bright, awake or conscious. When an idol is worshipped with intense love and devotion, almost a similar process takes place in the mind of the worshipper. The statue is no doubt inert and inactive piece of matter at the physical level, but in his mind, the devotee can pour his devotion and thought energies into it and bring it to life and derive inspiration and guidance from it. This is exactly what happens when someone worships a deity deeply and devotedly. The idol, which is physically inert and unmoving, becomes alive and active at least in his thoughts and dreams. In doing so the worshipper is but repeating the act of creation. With the help of his mental energies, he is trying to bring to life in his mind an image that is outwardly inactive. Thus, deep in his inner world, he becomes a creator, the very Hiranyagarbha, God Himself.

7. The statue reminds one of the ephemeral nature of our existence ….

8. It is the best means of silent communication. 

9. It is an acknowledgement of ones ignorance and helplessness. God is far and above, vastly unknown or known only through glimpses and symbols. The ordinary individual who is a slave to his senses and desires can never come face to face with Him. How can He be known by him who is beyond the senses, the mind, the words and even ones own intelligence (buddhi)? The ego can never understand Him. No amount of logic can help us to unravel His secrets. So the devotee creates an image of Him in his mental world and worships him expressing his gratitude and his deep devotion.

10. Worship of God is worship of Self …. the fact that worship of deity is also worship of the divinity that exists in oneself.


It is not difficult to see that the theology of iconography and the theology of idol worship are very much identical.  If we see the development of idol worship in Indian Religions the parallel development is seen in all  Eastern Churches and the Roman Churches.

Here is a sound advise from an anonymous person on the internet:
 “bit of advice to Hindus, if you do not want people to refer to you as idolators/idol worshipers, you should yourselves never refer to your religious images as "idols" and instead only use the words like statue, image, icon.”

Idolatory is not in making the idols, but in confusing the symbol with the reality.    Since any symbol can be confused with the reality and the message it is supposed to convey, the chance of an icon becoming an idol is very great.  We see this not only in Hinduism, but also in Christian Churches in Rome and the East as we just read.  Only in India it has become a very intricate art both in expression and in representation and in due course the content of the message was totally lost. 

May 30, 2002
The Seventh Ecumenical Council: Icons Vindicated

To make our confession short, we keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to us, whether in writing or verbally, one of which is the making of pictorial representations, agreeable to the history of the preaching of the Gospel, a tradition useful in many respects, but especially in this, that so the incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth as real and not merely phantastic, for these have mutual indications and without doubt have also mutual significations.

We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people. For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much more readily are men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them; and to these should be given due salutation and honourable reverence (aspasmon kai timhtikhn proskunh-sin), not indeed that true worship of faith (latreian) which pertains alone to the divine nature; but to these, as to the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross and to the Book of the Gospels and to the other holy objects, incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom. For the honour which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented. For thus the teaching of our holy Fathers, that is the tradition of the Catholic Church, which from one end of the earth to the other hath received the Gospel, is strengthened. Thus we follow Paul, who spake in Christ, and the whole divine Apostolic company and the holy Fathers, holding fast the traditions which we have received. So we sing prophetically the triumphal hymns of the Church, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Rejoice and be glad with all thy heart. The Lord hath taken away from thee the oppression of thy adversaries; thou art redeemed from the hand of thine enemies. The Lord is a King in the midst of thee; thou shalt not see evil any more, and peace be unto thee forever."

Notice the connection between Christology and the use of icons in that first paragraph ("the incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth as real and not merely phantastic"). For the early fathers, and for all Orthodox believers to the present day, if we are going to take the Incarnation of the Lord Christ seriously then we had better not deny the making of such images. God in His pure essence is unseen, and so such images we do not make; but in these last days He has made Himself known through the Incarnation of the God-Man Jesus Christ, and so we may now make images with a clear conscience.

Notice also the council's declaration that the honor paid to the image transfers to the prototype, i.e. the one represented in the image. Orthodox Christians do not believe that anything divine dwells within the image, but showing honor to those to whom it is due demands that honor be paid to those things by which they are represented..


The entry of the lower gods in the scene may be another factor. The ruler cult started as an expression of gratitude to benefactors and became an expression of homage and loyalty.  Its socio-political importance  was that it served to testify to loyalty and to satisfy the ambition of leading families. Nevertheless, material and political wellbeing could arouse genuine religious emotions. The subject of the ruler cult has special importance for the study of early Christianity because it formed the focal point of the early church's conflict with paganism in Asia as well as in India. Thus every god was of Royal family.  Intrigues of the royal family feuds formed the background for mythical stories. 

Alexander the Great. seems to have wished to be a god in his lifetime, and the Hellenistic monarchies followed suit. They received what are called (isotheoi timai) honors equal to the gods: priests, sacrifices, and worship. Political tribes were named after them, their birthday and day of ascension were celebrated like religious holidays. The kings assumed titles associated with their godlike actions: ktistes (founder), euergetes (benefactor), soter (savior). As the Angels and Saints are venerated, local heroes came to be venerated.  They were real benefactors who helped in material realms    They came to be deified and formed the pantheon of gods.. Iskander was the first Aryan monarch to be deified.

(Emperor Worship and Roman Religion ITTAI GRADEL, University of Aarhus, Denmark)

In a research study Dr.N. Gopala Pillai he establishes that Skanda is simply the deified Alexander the great and Skanda Purana is the mythologised history of his life and conquest.
http://murugan.org/research/gopalapillai.htm   - from the Proceedings of the All-India Oriental Conference Vol. IX (Trivandrum: Government Press, 1937), pp. 955-997

The same argument will hold for Rama, Krishna, Pandavas, Kauravas.