Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why not idol worship?

To strengthen moral development in children, I think it is necessary to teach about religion and about Gods (religious mythology).

For children to accept the concept of God and religion, to enjoy the concept, to feel the thrill, they need the visuals and stories about God & the mythology around God (whatever the religion). Children delight in the magical strength, powers and Goodness of God, especially if told through the colourful mythological stories, fables and anecdotes.

It is only when they become older and their thinking becomes deeper, (see stages of cognitive development in any child psychology text) that they start asking questions about God, start challenging and attacking the concept of God, his omnipotence and his very existence.

After teen years, some come out as believers but with modifications of their childhood image of God and religion and some come out as atheists. Hopefully, all come out with a fairly okay moral character, conscience and sense of ethics.
This is the type of development I seem to have gone through as a Hindu.

Even to this day, as an adult, I find that the visual images of God/several Gods has several psychological advantages for me:

The picture of God (be it Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Narashima, Shiva, Shanimahatma, whatever) in front of my eyes helps me to focus when I pray ;  praying without any image of God in mind is next to impossible for me!
 Frankly, I do not understand, how the people who are against idol worship can pray to an abstract God, when they are so pretty concrete in their thinking!

At times of stress, praying gives a lot of psychological relief. And Hindus have a God or Goddess for everything and every type of stress in life: They pray to Saraswati to pass in exams, they pray to Ganesha for success in their efforts, they pray to Lakshmi for money and prosperity, they pray to Shani if they think he is the cause of their problems, etc. Addressing a different God or Goddess gives them great relief ........ it is like going to a specialist doctor than going to a general physician! The pray-er feels a greater trust, when he begs the appropriate God for a particular problem!

Reading the Mythological stories of the several Gods & Goddesses and each God’s powers and feats in Amar Chitra Katha comics & reading the epics Mahabharatha and Ramayana in childhood, kindles the imagination of children, inspires and moves children towards positive thinking and actions. Besides the sheer enjoyment of the stories themselves!

The concept of the existence of several Gods has inspired creativity in the arts and in practice of daily living in so many ways….temple architecture, sculptures, paintings, poetry, literature, drama, puppetry, cinema, stories, clothes and jewels, cuisine, traditions and rituals, daily life and practices. I think the concept of one God and an abstract one at that(without form) would have dried up the creative flow in India over the last few thousand years!

For several(read millions) people, with a simpler and more concrete thinking style, for children, for simple folks with lower levels of education, with limited ability to think abstractly at least about religion, the multiple God concept is more comforting and acceptable than the concept of a single God especially an abstract one without form. (I find it difficult to visualize a God without form….What the hell! If he is really a God, and really has powers, can’t he create a form for himself! What kind of a loser is he that he is formless !)

If one reads Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, one will see that in the earlier stages of moral development, children 'behave' or 'do the right thing' in order to avoid punishment. The children do what is right because they 'fear' punishment.It is only as they enter the higher stages of cognitive development and thinking  that they are good because they want to be good( they are following their own inner code of ethics) and not because of society’s rules(external code of ethics).

From what I have seen of several people’s behaviours, most are stuck at the lower levels in Kohlberg’s moral development stages. They are adults and are no longer children;  yet they are stuck at the lower stages of moral development. For all these people, I think the concept of multiple Gods, concept of a God who will reward goodness and punish evil is necessary for maintaining moral standards.

I think the concept of idol worship and concept of the existence of multiple Gods ( or one God with many names and avatars) has several beneficent uses in our society.
True, the concept of multiple Gods  has caused several problems too such as the fights between different castes and sub-castes in Hindus. Some times the people of one caste accept one God (example Lingayats accept Shiva as supreme and get into fights with other caste people who accept some other God as supreme).....but these fights have more to do with economic and other issues than the Gods themselves; the arguments and fights between followers of different faiths and Gods within Hinduism but the good has been greater than the bad I think.

The reasons I wrote this piece: I have recently been browsing lovely books (with lovely pics!) about Indian art, textiles, sculptures, temples, etc. I also saw several photos of exquisitely carved but damaged sculptures of Indian deities (damaged by the Muslim invaders of ancient India who were against idol worship and so destroyed idols). I felt really bad about the damaged sculptures, especially when I think of the thousands of arduous hours gone into the sculpting of the hard granite stone.

I was also pissed off to see the best Indian works of art i.e. these temple sculptures, carved emeralds( beautiful emeralds with Koranic inscriptions carved on them), carved ivories, paintings, etc in all collections of the world except India!

The one piece which really bugged me was the fact that a lovely and cute ancient Krishna idol made of rubies is in a museum in Doha! And those guys are against idols or idol worship but they have it! I have never seen any idol made of gem stones like this. 

Photo taken from: Maharaja by Jackson & Jaffer, V & A Publishing, London. 

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