Vicky Nanjappa

Journalism for Vertebrates®

Why India is a land of ‘murti’ and ‘vigraha’ and not idols and idolators as perceived by the West

For the Europeans who came here, the ‘Murti’ and ‘Vigraha’ appeared as mere objects of art. They did not occupy any space in their hearts. So, they called these forms as idols and termed this offering derogatorily as “idol worship”.

New Delhi, Aug 31: With the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities commencing, a word that one would very often hear is idol. India has, for centuries, been branded by the West as a land of idols and idolators. Using the terms idols and idolators has also been one of the arguments to put down the Indian traditions as being regressive in thought and to also highlight the Abrahamic faiths as being progressive and thinking, say Bharath Gyan Founders Dr D K Hari and Dr Hema Hari.

In Indian art, the English term ‘icon’ is usually used to refer to a metal figurine such as a bronze icon, whereas ‘idol’ has been commonly associated to mean a figurine, a statue worthy of worship.

The difference between an icon and idol lies in how it is seen as being held in worship. An idol is defined as the object of worship itself, while an icon is defined as an object pointing to something greater worthy of reverence, the Bharath Gyan founders write in their book, ‘Understanding Sabarimala Swamy Ayyappa’.

In the English vocabulary, therefore, icons are what the Colonials prayed to, while idols are what others worshipped.

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