• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

Pahaan Puje Jo Hari Mila, Tho Mein Puju Pahaad

May 31, 2007
Without a doubt, it all started with the Jews, who, when Moses was up on Mt Horeb, busy getting his ten commandment tablets fire-etched and buffed, got impatient, and made a golden calf to worship as they had done in Egypt before the Exodus happened. Yahweh was the God of the Israelites, and he (his prophets that is) began this propaganda against worshipping ‘graven images’ for a specific reason. Baal and Asthoreth, the gods of the Philistines and the Amorites of Canaan, were weaning Israelites away from Yahweh. Both were graven images, while Yahweh was more of a mountain and fire sort of a god with overtones of monotheism. So this admonition seemed like a good idea and squeezed in as a commandment. At any rate, in the Bible at least, the admonition is against worshipping graven images of ‘other gods.’ The stress is actually on ‘other god’ rather than on 'graven images.'

At a later date, the Muslims picked it up and they enshrined it in their text. As can be expected, they got it backwards, and made a big deal of 'graven images' instead of 'other gods.' Thus they banned all graven images, including pictures, and everything else remotely sneaking up to the graven image ideology and fished out their calligraphy quills instead.

Somehow—possibly due to Muslim influence—this 3000 year-old archaic ideology was picked up by the Sikhs. It’s was now their turn to make a big of worshipping graven images. The stress is no longer on ‘other gods.’ It’s more or wholly on ‘graven’ images. Nothing graven or carved is indeed the dictum.

Unfortunately for the Sikhs India is the hotbed of graven image worshippers. While in the Middle-East it was perhaps a stray encounter, here in India, it’s turn and you’ll tumble over a graven image worshipper. Everywhere you look, there is a graven image staring sightlessly right back at you, benignly sipping spoonfuls of milk. Turn to the right, there is orange enamel painted Hanuman taking flight, turn to the left, and its Ganesha being ingloriously back flipped into the sea, turn back and its Kali with a couple of heads dangling in her hands, and up ahead is this rock…wait a minute, this one seems to be a regular rock, I think…wouldn’t bet on it though.

But why do they do it? Why are Hindus such incorrigible, incontrovertible graven image worshippers? The answer is: because it the most natural thing to do. Nothing like a graven image to invest your considerable devotion upon. Also, it is recommended by the revealed scriptures and indeed deity worship is central to the process of bhakti yoga.

shravanam kirtanam vishnu smaranam pada-sevanam
archanam vandanam dasyam sakhyam atma-nivedanam:
iti pumsarpita visnau bhaktis cen nava-laksana
kriyeta bhagavaty addha tan manye 'dhitam uttamam

Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming his servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krishna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge. (Bhagavat 7.5.24, spoken by Prahalad Maharaj)

In essence, there is nothing quite like having a set of properly made and installed deities to talk to, serve, gaze upon, unload your miseries, offer food to, put to sleep at night, oversee important functions, and very nicely carry out worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia. What is more, it sure beats doing the same with an oversized book, or taking the calligraphic route.

Now I have heard criticism galore about this process. Slick little couplets that ridicule this process, written by Kabir. “Pahaan puje jo hari mila, tho mein puju pahaad…” To my mind, these come across as wise cracks or a potshots—irresponsible utterances. Also, in this particular case, Kabir ignorance is showing. Clearly, he doesn’t seem to be aware that Hari is in fact worshipped in his mountain form! The Govardhan Mountain is considered to be the Supreme Lord Krishna and worshipped by millions! So, so much for Kabir's wit!

While it’s innocuous when a poet tosses out these witless couplets, it’s takes on an altogether different hue, when half-baked god men use these non-issues as their platform to preach, gather a following. It’s an alarming situation, as these thing can every easily bewilder a lay audience. Indeed, they are impressed by the argument, ‘How can the Supreme Lord be considered a stone?’ They are convinced by the arguments that this ideology (deity worship) is a ‘barbaric’ practice and definitely inferior to worshiping a ‘formless, all pervading God.’

In truth, the above are mischievous and indeed witless arguments the gist of which is: How can you limit the unlimited to a stone statue?

The answer to that is: yes, we know that dummy; that’s the whole idea!

The fact is, when deities are installed, the prayer is: Oh my Lord, quit wandering around like the wind and reside in this stone form so that I can worship you to my heart’s content.

To conclude, graven image never was the problem to begin with. Its graven image of ‘another god’ that is the problem. Meaning, what you should not be doing is: pray in the day to Yahweh and bowing and scrapping in front of the graven image of Asthoreth at night, like King Solomon was caught doing.

❤️ Tap / Click or Scan