The Concept of Deity Worship

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Devotees of Krishna worship Him in various Deity forms with the understanding that God is the source of all energies—the Absolute Truth—and can appear before us in any form He likes. Everything about the Supreme Person, including His form, is spiritual and worshipable.

Vedic scriptures first of all define who is Supreme and who isn't. They also describe the science of Deity worship in detail—what Deities should look like, how they're supposed to be made, how to worship Them, and the benefits of such worship.

Krishna, or God, is pure spirit. He's not made of anything material. But in the material world, we can't see spirit. All we can see is matter. By agreeing to appear in the form of a Deity, Krishna allows us to see, honor, and serve him, even while we're still in material existence.

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Krishna consciousness is a science of practical action, not an armchair philosophy. Deity worship is meant to fully engage our senses in serving a form of the Supreme Person we can see and touch. One can bathe, dress, feed, and decorate the Deity, as well as entertain Him by singing and dancing. The more absorbed in such service we are, the more tangible our relationship with Krishna becomes.

Deities may be made of stone, wood, metal, paint, or even worshiped within ones mind. Deity worship is distinct from idolatry, which is usually defined as worship of any cult image, idea, or object, as opposed to the worship of a personal form of God.

God is omnipotent. All energies, material and spiritual, are completely under His control—He can turn matter into spirit and vice versa. So, if He wants to appear in a form (apparently) made of wood or stone, who are we to say no?

(Image depicts Krishna devotees chanting in kirtan before the temple Deity.)

QT Concept of Deity Worship

We like to quote our sources. This page is based on the following:

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.12.9, Purport:

    "He [Krishna] accepts the form of archa-vigraha (worshipable Deity) just to accept service from His different incapable devotees. By the mercy of the archa-vigraha, the form of the Lord in material elements, the devotees who are in the material world can easily approach the Lord, although He is not conceivable by the material senses. The archa-vigraha is therefore an all-spiritual form of the Lord to be perceived by the material devotees; such an archa-vigraha of the Lord is never to be considered material. There is no difference between matter and spirit for the Lord, although there is a gulf of difference between the two in the case of the conditioned living being. For the Lord there is nothing but spiritual existence, and similarly there is nothing except spiritual existence for the pure devotee of the Lord in his intimate relation with the Lord."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 2.3.21, Purport:

    ". . . the common man . . . is advised herein to visit the temple of the Lord and bow down before the Deity, even though he may be a very rich man or even a king with a silk turban or crown. The Lord is the Lord of everyone, including the great kings and emperors, and men who are rich in the estimation of mundane people must therefore make it a point to visit the temple of Lord Sri Krishna and regularly bow down before the Deity.
    The Lord in the temple in the worshipable form is never to be considered to be made of stone or wood, for the Lord in His archa incarnation as the Deity in the temple shows immense favor to the fallen souls by His auspicious presence. . . The common man who is puffed up with his material position and does not bow down before the Deity of the Lord in the temple, or who defies temple worship without any knowledge of the science, must know that his so-called turban or crown will only succeed in further drowning him in the water of the ocean of material existence."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 5.17.14, Purport:

    "In the material world, the Lord is always worshiped as the archa-vigraha, or Deity in the temple. There is no difference between the archa-vigraha and the original person, and therefore those who are engaged in worshiping the Deity in the temple in full opulence, even on this planet, should be understood to be directly in touch with the Supreme Personality of Godhead without a doubt. As enjoined in the shastras (scriptures): "No one should treat the Deity in the temple as stone or metal, nor should one think that the spiritual master is an ordinary human being." One should strictly follow this shastric injunction and worship the Deity, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, without offenses. . . By avoiding offenses against the Deity and the spiritual master, one can advance in spiritual life, or Krishna consciousness."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 7.15.59:

    "When we worship the Deity of the Lord in the temple, the Deity appears to be stone or wood. Now, because the Supreme Lord does not have a material body, He is not stone or wood, yet stone and wood are not different from Him. Thus by worshiping stone or wood we get no result, but when the stone and wood are represented in the Lord's original form, by worshiping the Deity we get the desired result. This is supported by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's philosophy, acintya-bhedabheda, which explains how the Lord can present Himself everywhere and anywhere in a form of His energy to accept service from the devotee."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.27.14, Purport:

    "Various classes of devotees worship the Deity of the Personality of Godhead according to their various stages of faith in the Lord. An advanced devotee of Lord Krishna understands his eternal loving relationship with the Lord and, seeing the Deity as the Lord Himself, establishes an eternal relationship with the Deity based on loving servitude to Him. Understanding Lord Krishna to be the eternal form of bliss and knowledge, a faithful devotee makes a permanent arrangement for Deity worship, installing the Lord's form made of, for example, stone, wood or marble."

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 12.5, purport:

    ". . . worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His form within the temple is not idol worship. There is evidence in the Vedic literature that worship may be saguna or nirguna—of the Supreme possessing or not possessing attributes. Worship of the Deity in the temple is saguna worship, for the Lord is represented by material qualities. But the form of the Lord, though represented by material qualities such as stone, wood or oil paint, is not actually material. That is the absolute nature of the Supreme Lord.
    A crude example may be given here. We may find some mailboxes on the street, and if we post our letters in those boxes, they will naturally go to their destination without difficulty. But any old box, or an imitation which we may find somewhere but which is not authorized by the post office, will not do the work. Similarly, God has an authorized representation in the Deity form, which is called archa-vigraha. This arca-vigraha is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. God will accept service through that form. The Lord is omnipotent, all-powerful; therefore, by His incarnation as arca-vigraha He can accept the services of the devotee, just to make it convenient for the man in conditioned life."

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