THE June number of the Christian College Magazine assigns the premier place to a paper contributed by Mr. O. Kandasami Chetty, B.A., on 'Idolatry: A Retrogression.' As in other questions connected with the Religion and Literature of the Indian people, the question of Idolatry has advanced a further stage. The Christians, and with them, the then new Indian Reformers, the Brahmos, joined in denouncing 'Idolatry' as a most unpardonable crime and sin and as the worst of superstitions. Then it was thought that the custom was not so heinous as it appeared and that it marked only a low morality and religion. It was afterwards admitted that such worship was only adapted to the illiterate mob and the uncivilized rustic, who could not comprehend these high things; but then it was found that the greatest sages, with the soundest theistic beliefs were sincere worshippers of these forms, and that these sages themselves had denounced worship of forms without knowledge and love. Then we arrive at a climax and we quote the words of a Missionary friend of ours. "Educated people may use Symbolism with advantage, the mob are unable to do so. And the conception of the mob respecting God and duty, has not, so far as I could find, been elevated by the use of idols." And Mr. Chetty things that it must be admitted that God is immanent in everything and overruling the universe and that as such, we might identify God with his creation for purposes of worship, yet this is calculated to confine man to lower and lower conceptions of God, than to higher and purer conceptions of Him. We question this; and we point to numerous examples of the best and noblest minds, among us, on whom this degrading influence has not been felt. And we may be pardoned if we make bold to say that Mr. Chetty argues without understanding the real philosophic basis and nature and purpose and aye, the necessity on which this worship is based. Mr. Chetty believes, if we mistake not, on the necessity of Prayer. Will he try, for once think over the words he utters by his lips in prayer, on the sounds produced in his ears by these words, and on the mental image produced by them, and compare these, and then transfer them on canvas with his pencil? When he has done this, would he not find himself a most gross idolator? Why should he think that the images perceptible to his eye, the most intellectual of all the senses, less precious and less noble than the empty words he had uttered and the sound he had listened to. We say, empty words, as these could neither describe nor reach Him, whom the mind cannot grasp ('உள்ளத்துணர்ச்சியிற்
படான்') and whom the senses cannot perceive
புலனாற்காட்சியுமில்லோன்'). What, then, is requisite to see Him, to know Him and how are these words &c. efficacious. They are efficacious so long as they open out your heart and head, and love can gash forth like ('சிறைபெற
நீரபோல்') a mighty flood, its bound withdrawn. If the form of worship chosen fails to achieve this end, then it is of perfectly no use, whether the worship offered be in the most gorgeous cathedrals and mosques with gilded spires and minarets or in lowly temples. 'Choose the Form which excites your love most', says sage Meikandan. And the idol of Christians is Christ. Says a Christian writer. "Christianity is Christ Himself … Let out Christianity be faith in Christ, love of Christ and allegiance to Christ and he will lead us out of darkness." And we won't say, they are wrong. Let us not however be misunderstood into supporting all those monstrosities and abuses and tamasha and fun which has crept into our mist under the name of religion and philosophy. But of this, some other time.
We wrote this sometime back but could not find space for it either. In the meanwhile, a noble dissertation on the subject had been appearing in our Tamil edition, from the pen of the great Preacher and writer, Srila Sri S. Somasundara Nayagar, under the heading of "திருக்கோயில்
வழிபாடு." We give a summary of it below.
"Among Astikas who hold that there is an Infinite Satchidananda Supreme Being, some hold God as Nirguna, some as Saguna, some as Nirguna-Saguna, some as all these and transcending all these. Of these, the Nirguna Vadis alone do not postulate that God has form (Rupa). The other three schools respectively postulate Rupa, and Arupa, these two and Ruparupa and none of these Vaishnava and Sivadvaita Saivas postulate only Rupa; Vedantis, Rupa and Arupa. The last school represents the true Siddhanta view. Of these again, the Vedantis, followers of Sri Sankara, agree in most respects in the forms they choose with the Siddhantis, in what they call the Vyavahara stage. It is in their Paramarthika, their 'more theory' they differ. The Vaishnavas are divided into two sects as Madhwas and Ramanujas. The other schools, Sivadvaita, Vedantis and Siddhantis (among whom are followers of Meikanda Deva and Srikanta Siva Charya) are Saivite in form. As such among those who believe in the Vedas, there are none who are pure Nirgunavadis and as such postulate no form. The six schools we have mentioned above, use certain forms in their worship (Atmartha and Parartha) and this worship of form is only as a Bavana (a Symbol) and it cannot be otherwise. And the necessity for the use of symbols is thus manifest.
But there are some among us who misled by the doctrines of the Christians, and holding on to some of their doctrines pose as Vaidikis and quote Vedic texts to show that the Vedas and Upanishads ascribe no form of God, and that as such the formless God should not be worshipped in forms and that there is no authority for worship of idols (அர்ச்சை) in the Vedas and thus mislead the ordinary people. Let us examine some of these contentions.
1. They quote a Swetaswatara text that God is Arupam and Anamayam.
"Thatha Yathuttara taram, Tatarupamanamayam."
2. A text from Katha Upanishad says that God is Arupam and Avyayam.
3. Mantras 3 to 7 in Kenopanishad are quoted to show that God is what no mind, nor ear, nor eye, nor word can reveal and what revealeth these and that this is to be known as Brahm and not this which they worship below, and that the last clause prohibits idol worship altogether.
4. A Taittiriya text is quoted which says that God is 'Athrisya Asarira.'
5. A Vajasneya text is quoted according to which God is called 'Akaya.' "He hath pervaded all, radiant, incorporeal (Akaya) scathe less, without muscles, pure, by sin untainted, a Seer wise, omnipresent, self existent. He disposed all things rightly for eternal years." (Mantra 3).
6. Mantra nine which says "all who worship what is Sambhuti (things made) enter into blind darkness. (The text followed by English translators give 'Avidyam' and not Sambhuti). Let us consider these texts.
In regard to the first text from Swetaswatara, the Purvapatchi (opponent) translates the neuter word 'Tat' (It) into 'He.' Probably he did so, as he thought 'Tat' that this Upanishad is considered as one of the Pancharudrams and Rudra is spoken of a 'one without a second.' "Eka Eva Ruthro Nathvithiyayathasthah." That the word Rudra is simply used as equivalent to Brahm is apparent from the following verses – "Eka mevadvitiyam Brahma," "Sarvo Hyashu Rudra," "Sarvam Kalvitham Brahma." As such it does not matter to us if Go is called 'He' or 'It.' There are innumerable texts where God is called 'He' and 'It.' *
[* Professor Max Muller points out how even as between Mantras 15 and 16 of 3rd Adhyaya, the Gender changes from Masculine to Neuter.
"That person alone (Purusha) is all this, what has been and what will be; He is also the Lord of immortality; he is whatever grows by food. (15).
Its hand and feet are everywhere; its eyes and head are everywhere; its ears are everywhere, it stands encompassing all the world" (16)]
] The following Vedic texts show that Rudra is Purusha. "Purushovai Rudrah," "Purusham Krishna Pingalam," "Tat-Purushaya Vidmahe,' "Purathanoham Purushohamisam," "Tamisasanam Purusha," "Sahrasirsha Purusha" as such as we hold that God is 'He' and 'It,' and 'Purusha' and 'Tat' it does not conflict with our theory that God is 'Tatarupam.' Only it must be remembered that the same Vedic texts speaks of God as a Person and our opponents always speak of God as 'He'; † [† Christians always speak of God as He, as also Vaishnavas to a great extent, though the Tamil Christians have adopted such words 'Param,' 'Paraparam' and 'Paraparavastu'.] and translate even 'Tat' as 'He.' The Tamil writers also affirm all these characters to God and go on to say "சிவனுரு வருவு மல்லன் (He is not Rupi nor Arupi), உருவன்றருவன்று இன்னதன்மைய னெற்ற்றியாச்சிவன் (His nature cannot be described); holding as such that God is all these and not all these and that it cannot be contended one sidedly that God is formless.
In regard to the second text, it only emphasizes the fact that our human senses and faculties are all born of Maya and God is "Mayarahithan" and as such possesses no such faculties and organs. This has no connection with the present question whether we can speak of God in a personal manner and worship Him as a 'Person.'
In regard to text No. 3, these simply assort that God is not perceivable by the external and internal senses of man "காயம், வாக்கு, மனாதீதன்," as these latter are Asat, and Asat cannot perceive Sat; and Asat receives its play and activity only when the Sat moves it. These same sentiments are embodied in such sacred Tamil texts as, "கண்முதற்புலனாற்காட்சியுமில்லோன்," "உள்ளத் துணர்ச்சியிற் கொள்ளவும்படான்," "சித்தமுஞ் செல்லாச் சேட்சியன் காண்க," "மறையினால் அயனால் மாலால் மனத்தினால், வாக்கால், மற்றும், குறைவிலா அளவினாலும், கூறொணாதாகி நின்ற, இறைவனார் கமலபாதம்." These texts are all quoted by our opponents no doubt but they never pause to consider whether they support their own case. When the text is quoted, "what reveals the mind, words, eye, ears, & c." do they hold what controls the body so, namely Soul (atma) is God and if so, why should not the body be worshipped in which the soul so dwells. This could not be their meaning. As the text referred to the relation of Sat (Paramatma) and Asat (Maya) the text by implication (Parisesha) includes the Sat-asat (Jivatma) as being revealed by God also. Body is Asat, non-intelligent, Soul cannot manifest its intelligence independent of the body nor can the body move without the soul nor either without the Beneficent will of God by pervading them all and being independent of them as the text says, "உலகெலாமாகி வேறாயுடனுமாகி" (He is in Betha and Abetha and Bethabetha relation with the world).