Deity worship

The Devotee and the Deity


Living a Personalistic Theology

Family offering candle-light to Krishna during Karttika

What is Deity worship? What makes it different from "idol worship?" How can anyone claim to have direct experience of the Supreme Being, who is beyond all material conceptions, and beyond everything "material?"

Here is an excerpt from an article on the subject of Deity worship—in our opinion, one of the most comprehensive and well-written in existence—by Ravindra-svarupa dasa (William H. Deadwyler, Ph.D.), courtesy of Google Books. (To read more of the article, click the right arrow):

Note: Google Books isn't able to provide us with the full article. As soon as we're able to present the article in its unabridged form, we will. Trouble reading the article here? Try reading The Devotee and the Deity on the Google Books page.

What to Offer During Arati


During Arati several articles are offered to the Deity while ringing a bell: incense, ghee lamp, water, cloth, flowers, yak-tail fan and peacock fan.

The articles used in Arati represent the material elements in their pure form and correspond to the sense objects. In other words, the Arati articles are satisfying to the senses and represent our offering all the elements in the Lord’s creation back to the Lord for His satisfaction.

The conch shell blown at the beginning and end of each Arati drives away inauspicious elements. The sound of the bell is dear to the Lord and embodies all music. Flowers and incense provide beautiful aromas for the Lord’s pleasure. The ghee lamp represents lighting someone’s way. Offering water in the conch shell represents offering a mixture of auspicious items offered above or touched to the head of an honored guest as part of reception. It is a way to welcome the Lord and make Him feel at home. The handkerchief represents offering new cloth.

The yak-tail camara and the peacock fan are both aspects of kingly service. The camara keeps flies away, while the peacock fan provides a cooling breeze.

The Music

Aratis must be accompanied by the singing of the Hare Krishna mantra. Srila Prabhupada taught that chanting was the most important part of deity worship. Worshipers attending the Arati may sing, or the devotee offering the Arati may sing or play a recording.

A Day of Service to the Deity


Deity worship means caring for the Lord as a person. By serving the Deity we understand ourselves to be His servant, with practical service to offer. Krishna is a person, and when we care for Him He reciprocates with us by purifying our heart and bringing us closer in our relationship with Him.

Here’s what a typical day of service to the temple Deity might entail:

The Lord is awakened early in the morning; then He receives a snack and is worshiped with a traditional ceremony known as Arati.

Then He is massaged with oil, bathed with water, dried with a towel, dressed, and ornamented with jewelry, flowers, flower garlands, and Tulasi leaves.

Then the Lord receives breakfast and His next Arati.

At noon He is offered lunch and an Arati, after which He takes a nap. On awakening, He receives a snack and another Arati.

In the evening He receives His evening meal and another Arati. Then He is dressed in His night clothes, offered another arati, and laid to rest in His bed.

Deity worship in a temple usually follows all of these functions daily. (Most temples of Krishna are also the home of other Deities, such as Radha, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and others.)

Deity worship at home often includes some of the above items but is usually much less extensive. At home, one offers the Deity whatever level of service one can maintain as a daily practice.

The Vision to See Life in Stone


The following conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and several of his disciples took place in June 1974 in Paris.

Devotees: A man came to the temple a couple of days ago and argued that we really can’t say for sure that there’s life after death, so why worry about it? Better to build a more prosperous society. At least this we can understand, and it would be a meaningful accomplishment.

Srila Prabhupada: He may not understand that the soul takes another body after death, but he can understand that he’ll be kicked out of his present body. Didn’t he understand this?

Devotee: He thought it was more important to engage in economic development.

Srila Prabhupada: Therefore he’s a fool. Suppose I am visiting here in Paris, and you say, “As soon as your visa expires you’ll be kicked out.” Shall I be interested in creating anything elaborate? I shall be kicked out after two months, so why should I construct a big building? Only a foolish rascal would do that. The rascal knows that he will be kicked out, but still he works day and night to collect bricks and stones, and he becomes a “big man.” A foolish rascal is considered a big man. Therefore Srimad-Bhagavatam [ 2.3.19] says, sva-vid-vara-hostra-kharaih samstutah purusah pasuh:

“Men who are like dogs, hogs, camels, and asses praise foolish rascals, the non-devotees.”

Devotee: Sometimes people argue that God has given us our senses, so we should enjoy them.

Srila Prabhupada: The dog is also enjoying his senses. I say to such people, "What are you enjoying that the dog doesn’t enjoy? You eat; the dog also eats. You sleep; the dog also sleeps. You enjoy sex; the dog also enjoys sex. You are afraid of your enemy; the dog is also afraid of its enemy. So what is the difference between the dog’s mentality and your mentality?"

God has given you the intelligence to understand that you are nothing and He is everything. Just realize it—that is intelligence. When you understand, “God is great; I am His servant,” that is real intelligence. Otherwise, you’ll be exactly like the dogs.

Devotee: People today have reasoned that God is dead.

Srila Prabhupada: To them I reply, God is not dead; your intelligence is dead. You have a dead body, and you’re proud of it. The body is just like a motorcar. A motorcar is dead, and if there is no driver it does not work. Similarly, the body is dead, and as soon as you, the soul, leave the body, it stops working. That means you are occupying a dead body. It is working only as long as you are there, but actually the body is dead. And you are decorating a dead body. All your acquisitions are simply decorations on a dead body. Apranasya hi deha-sya mandanam loka-ranjanam. Some rascal may applaud, “Oh, you are so intelligent; you are decorating your body so nicely.” But an intelligent man will say, “What a fool he is, that he’s decorating a dead body.”

Devotee: Someone might ask why we decorate the Deity in the temple.

Srila Prabhupada: Because it is not dead. It is living. One who puts forward this argument does not know that we are decorating the real, living body.

Devotee: You say the Deity is the real body, but it appears to be stone. There are no symptoms of life in the Deity.

Srila Prabhupada: There is life—the supreme life—but you have no eyes to see it. Premanjana-cchurita-bhakti-vilocanena; a devotee—he can see that the Deity is alive. Are we fools, rascals, that we are worshiping a dead body? You think that after reading so many scriptures we are worshiping stone? You have no eyes to see the truth. You have to purify your vision to see that Krishna is personally present in the Deity.

Devotee: Most people can’t even understand the existence of the soul. So how can they understand the Deity?

Srila Prabhupada: Therefore they have to become our students, our disciples, to understand this science. Then they will see that the stone Deity is also Krishna.

Devotee: Is my body also Krishna, since it is made of earth, like the Deity?

Srila Prabhupada: No, but it is Krishna’s energy. Therefore the body should be engaged in Krishna’s service. That is Krishna consciousness. As soon as you understand the body is Krishna’s energy, you will not employ it for any purpose other than His vice. But people do not have this realization. They think the body is theirs, or that they are the body. This is illusion.

Devotee: When impersonalistic philosophers read in Bhagavad-gita [ 18.61] that Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart,” they argue that since Krishna is in heart of every living entity, every living entity is Krishna.

Srila Prabhupada: Why? If I am in a room have I become the room? Is that argument very sound? Krishna is within my body, and I am also within my body, but does that mean I am the body or that Krishna is the body? Krishna is everything, and yet, Krishna is apart from everything. In Bhagavad-gita [ 9.4] Krishna says, maya tatam idam sarvam jagad avyakta-murtina: “I am spread all over the universe in My impersonal feature.” Mat-sthani sarva-bhutani: “Everything is in Me.” Na caham tesv avasthitah: “But I separate from everything.” This is the philosophy of simultaneous oneness and difference ( achintya-bhedabheda-tattva).

Devotee: Other religions do not give information—

Srila Prabhupada: We are not talking religion; we are talking of science. Don’t bring in “religion.” There are so many religions where people are doing things blindly. Such “religion” is not our concern. We are talking of science.

Devotee: The science of how God’s energies are working ?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. For example, to say that heat is fire, is that wrong?

Devotee: No, because it comes from fire.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Heat is the energy of fire. Therefore one can say that heat is fire, but at the same time it is not fire. It is simultaneously one with fire and different from fire.

Devotee: Someone might say, “If stone is also Krishna, then why aren’t you worship all stones?”

Srila Prabhupada: When we make the form of Krishna in stone, then we worship stone. Not that we worship any stone. Because Krishna is everything by the expansion of His energies, that does not mean we have to worship the dog. No. Our business is to worship the form of Krishna.