Christian Missionaries from the west regard the idol worship of the Hindus as based on ignorance and superstition. They have not ceased hurling upon them thunderbolts of criticism since their advent to the sacred land of India for the propagation of the gospel of Christ. Devoid of any knowledge of the Sacred Hindu scriptures which enforce idol worship on sound metaphysical principles, they are labouring under the misconception of Hindu method of worship though western scholars of high Oriental repute have honestly expressed their appreciation of their form of worship. For diverse other reasons, they hold that image should form an indispensable nucleus in the adoration of the Supreme. But the Christians persist in their denunciations of the Hindu religion with a view of obliterating it from the face of India and for which they are imported to this country. They at the sacrifice of their homely comforts have emerged forth from the land of antipodes to proclaim the good tidings in this land of Bharata Bhumi wherefrom wise men learned in the scriptures tempt the deep ocean to convey the wonderful message of Vedanta. Has it escaped their (Christians) vision that India is the birth place of religions from which other religions of the world sprang. Max Muller the distinguished Oriental Scholar in his lecture to the civil Service Students at the University of Oxford, on the subject of "what can India teach us", sounds the trumpet note that for everything in science, religion, philosophy we must with veneration look to India.
It is strange to observe that the Christians with the co-operation of a few converted Indians, have attempted to foist upon the fundamental principles of Hindu worship peculiar and unwarranted construction which is calculated to dispel the authentic view so far strictly entertained by them. Their ceaseless efforts have been to implant the Christian worship in this land of religions.
A learned Christian lecturer of the west after a careful and critical study of the oriental mind says that the Eastern mind is tenacious of its inheritances and that their watchword is faith. It is laudable that an honest Christian has exposed an honest interpretation of the Indian religion.
The Hindus profess a faith as ancient as the Vedas and they are fast bound to this established and thoroughly tried faith that it would be considered a sacrilege to meddle with it, with the ultimate object of supplanting a religion incompatible with and contrary to their tenets of old.
The potent argument often urged by the Christians is to the effect that Christianity wakes men from the torpor of barbarism and infuses into their minds new principles of thought unknown and unheard of. It raises them from the depth of ignorance to the height of knowledge. In the west, Christianity is said to have played an immense part in perfecting states and principalities and it cannot be disputed that it did influence and not surprisingly because the materialistic ideas that are now inundating the Western Societies act as a bar to the growth and advancement of Christianity in a miraculous manner. It cannot therefore be conceived that Christianity is the only civilising and nationalising religion on the face of the globe and no state reaches the zenith of its power except through the influence of Christianity. The moral precepts and doctrines that compose a religion are the only necessary elements for moulding up nations and individuals.
I shall now divide the subject into 3 different sections: (1) the absolute necessity of image worship. (2) the potent effect it produces on the minds of the worshippers. (3) devoted attachment leads to the ultimate goal.
Firstly the images are absolutely necessary for innocent and untutored minds which cannot form an abstract idea of Godhead. Lord Macaulay confirms the view that the illiterate require object forms for intuitive perceptions and they could hardly conceive things in their real shape without a mental picture being presented to them. In dark ages men were like small children that things were perceived in their particular aspect because their mental susceptibilities were in an incipient and undeveloped stage that they were able to take hold of a particular object. In civilized countries where science and philosophy have shaped their minds for wider perceptions of things, they are enabled to form an abstract idea of God. From particular ideas, the general idea is formed. That is the order of succession conceiving things in their particular shape is more easy and well adapted to the mind than in a generalised form which bewilders the ordinary mind.
Image worship is the stepping stone which will finally lead to the realisation of the unknowable. We read in Hindu Books, that God assumed human shape to emancipate mankind from the tyranny of sin. The images that are now worshipped by the Hindus have been modelled after that fashion. This antiquated form of worship has a firmer and more palpable hold over them than the kind of worship now current in civilized countries. Materialism has taken the place of spiritualism and holds its sway in civilized societies.
Secondly the impression of the image in its concrete form upon the unlettered minds of the worshippers becomes firmly fixed and produces a wonderful transformation in them, assuredly atmosphere of holiness pervades over them and their mind solely thinks of the image - the (human) representation of the Godhead. Whenever they enter a holy shrine, their very presence within the abode of the Holy One makes them holy and draws them in closer union with the Divine. As a testimony to the wonderful impression the symbol of Godhead has effected on them, a river of tears roll down their cheeks stealthily and they are no longer merged in the meshes and thorns of the world. Many a sick stricken soul in its pathetic appeal to the image where the Divine energy concentrates itself, has found peace and rest.
Thirdly devoted attachment to the symbolic representation of the one invisible finally leads to the ultimate goal, the fountain of eternal bliss. There is no religion higher than truth and in our religion the divine truth has been revealed to many earnestly seeking devotees who are still found in thousands in the holy plains of mysterious workings of the Great One, we should not allow ourselves to be exercised by the enticing words of Christianity - a religion as exotic and unsuitable to our soil. But implicit and unflinching faith with profound respect for traditions will not only crown our efforts with unbounded success, but will preserve the prestige of a great national religion.
Manikkavasakar and other great Saints, of whom we read in the Puranas as having flourished during the 14th century, were idol worshippers, but their firm and unswerving attachment to the religion they have embraced, held them in direct communion with God and in the ripeness they were absorbed in complete union with Him. The holy utterances that fell from their lips in praise and glorification of the Godhead stand as living and speaking witness of this aryan religion.
There is indeed but few poems in any language that can surpass Tiruvasakam or the holy word of Manikkavasakar in profundity of thought, in earnestness human soul, with its burdens of intellectual and moral puzzles finally finds its shelter. What characterises India is her religious ferment and intense thirst for knowledge. She possesses in an extraordinary degree all the possible materials to train up the spiritual side of man for the final emancipation from this mundane existence. Let us therefore pray that our religion, a religion of religions may thrive and be a living religion.
"Be good at the depths of you, and you will discover that those who surround you will be good even to the same depths." --- Maeterlinck.