1 minute read

Icons Images and Idols

To See Her Face

I had met the local Hindu priest on two occasions in the 1970s. He had walked me through his plans for a new temple to serve the eclectic community of people with roots in India who had come to live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and discussed how he planned to shape the sanctum sanctorum to accommodate the various devotions of a mixed community of Shaivites and Vaishnavites. Now we sat together in his home just to the right of his shrine to the Shakti, the Feminine Divine Energy and manifestation of Shiva, the deity that had captured his attention many years ago and come to shape his personal devotion. It was my first time in his home and our conversation had moved from his own spiritual formation in Ludhiana, India, through the trauma of the stillbirth of his first child and his entering the Shi Ramakrishna mission in England seeking solace for the loss of this child. He spoke of growing up under the influence of the Arya Samaj movement, of its iconoclasm as well as its place in the Vedic renaissance in India in the nineteenth century and how he came to devote himself to the ritual life centered on murti, the image of deities. He had talked affectionately about the worship of deities at some length and then, rather abruptly, turned to speak about the goal of the Hindu life: to finally come to worship the formless form, the Eternal Absolute beyond embodiment. This, he told me, would finally lead to moksha, the liberation that is the final release from the cycle of rebirth. After he had spoken for a considerable time on the formless form, distinguishing it from what he called "idol worship," I said to him that while this was a powerful idea I did not quite understand how it sat with his deep and faithful devotion to the beautiful embodiment of Shakti, a devotion he offered to her each morning and evening. What does the formless form have to do with her who is so beautifully formed and who has so completely won your affections? Tears filled his eyes. "In this life, in this round, all I hope for is just once to see her face. Just once to truly glimpse her beauty."

SOURCE: From the author's field notes.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to IncompatibilityIcons Images and Idols - Sacred Image, Icon As Revelation, Idol And Idolatry, Islam And Shirk, To See Her Face