An individual who worships some form of God according to his religious tradition and belief, and people gathering in one place to collectively offer obeisance to God for the fulfillment of their desires, are intrinsic to Indian culture.
People criticize those who go to the temple saying that if God is all pervading, He must be equally present everywhere! We are not worshipping the stone idol in the temple, but the presence of God within that form. The temple & the idol are simply to bring in our minds, an awareness of the presence of God.
Many people keep a picture of their family or someone they love, in their purses or offices. For them it invokes all memories of love & joy associated with their loved ones and brings their presence into their minds. This is also a kind of idol worship.
In the same way, the function of the temple and of the idol is to invoke in our minds, the awareness of God’s presence. Eventhough the form is outward, the awareness and knowledge of God takes place within our minds. This purifies our mind and prepares it to understand that this Truth is everywhere.
In ancient days, besides fulfilling the spiritual needs of a person, the temple was a place for secular learning, for lectures, dedication of music and dance. The temples of those days were like the community centres of today. Renovation and preservation of temples are rooted in our culture. They are symbols of faith which fetch peace and have given our country, a distinct identity.
Another significance of the temple is its structural representation of the human body. The temple represents the physical body and the heart is the Sanctum Sanctorum where we experience the Lord’s presence. In South Indian temples, even though the temple may be large, the main idol is kept in a small dark place.
Only by offering a camphor light, the form of the Lord can be seen. The significance is thus explained. God who is seated in our heart is covered by the darkness of our ignorance. We do not see or know Him.
The camphor burns all the negative tendencies and impressions in our minds.The fire of knowledge is kindled within us and the ego gets burnt. In the light of that Knowledge, we behold the Lord.
When the camphor –flame is shown round, we put the hands over it and touch our eyes. This signifies that we want to keep permanently in our eyes, the light in which we saw the Lord. Whatever we see with our eyes, goes into the heart. So now we have this new vision of Lord everywhere, in whatever we behold.
We put money in the plate on which the camphor-flame is passed around. That is because we become generous when we gain the greater vision of the world. We want to share our wealth and possessions with others.
The food that has been offered to the Lord becomes prasada, and our partaking this prasada indicates the blissful peace that we experience upon realization of God. Prasada means purity, cheerfulness, bliss and peace. That is what we gain after looking at the idol and experiencing peace in our hearts.
Dayananda Swamiji says, all other religions say there is only one God, whereas Hindu religion says ‘there IS God’ !