Those who are against paganism can find Hinduism confusing. Certainly, Hinduism supports idol worship but that is not all. Hinduism caters to the psychologist maturity level of the worshipper. Let us understand this.
A Sanskrit poem from the Agni Purana presents a simple context to worship modalities in Hinduism. Any intellectual in India could quote this poem two or three generations ago. The poem explains the thought process behind tying worship choice to psychological maturity.
Water bodies are sacred
Famous pilgrimage centers in India are on riverbanks. Firstly, every sacred river has at least one ancient temple. Secondly, large temples in the South which are away from any rivers have a sacred temple-pond. Society revered water resources. Even the uneducated kept waste away from these sacred water bodies.
The sacred water-pot
Any Hindu Puja ritual begins with a sacred water-pot (Kalasha or Kumbha). The water-pot is decorated with mango leaves and a coconut. Mantras are then chanted to invite Devas into the sacred water. The Devas return to their “permanent” abode at the end of the Puja ceremony.
According to the poem above ( अप्सु देव मनुष्याणाम्), a Manushya (A balanced human being) assumes Devas to be in water. Can we consider the worship of the sacred pot to be idol worship? The answer is a No! Because, the permanent abode of the Devas is Dyu or Diva. Dyu is the heaven. Where is the heaven? It takes keen insight to recognize the Dyu domain. Devas assemble in the sacred water-pot for a short time.
A Scientist can understand the idea of Dyu
Mantras say that “Antariksh” separates the earth from Dyu. Besides, Dyu is at the other edge of Antariksh (the atmosphere). Ordinary people accept the idea that the Earth’s atmosphere ends hundred Kilometers above the earth. However, a serious scientists is not content with this idea. A “Maneesha” is an intellectual who explores this idea further. To him, the domain of Devas is like pure vacuum. It is beyond the reach of air.
The poem affirms that a Maneesha (one who understands different paradigms) recognizes Devas to be in Dyu (दिवि दिवा मणीषिणाम्). A Maneesha alone can understand the context of mantras and Devas. A simpleton cannot understand an abstraction like Dyu, a special kind of space. Where then does a simpleton psychologically connect to his favorite Deva?
Idol worship of a simpleton
A Child sees magic where an adult does not. Such is the power of an innocent heart. Similarly, a simple person can his God in nature. The poem above says that the Devas reside in stones and clay for a child-like person (बालानाम् काष्ठ लोष्टिषु). Anyone can go through a tough situation. He can feel vulnerable psychologically in those situations.
Avahan and Visarjan
However, the Rishi seers of India taught the ideas of “Avahan” (invitation) and “Visarjan” (sending back). A child is taught two steps. Firstly, a child learns to invite Deva (Avahan) into a clay Pratima. Secondly, the child learns the idea that the clay idol can return to its source after Visarjan (sending Deva back). In between, the idol is sacred.
Where does this leave a person who loves Vedanta? Vedanta declares existence to be non-dual. Where are the Devas for a person who grasps non-duality? (Mental Worship & Idol Worship)
Yajur Veda verse 32.3
Those who are against idol worship quote a verse from Yajur Veda (Verse 32.3). The verse says – “Na Tasya Pratima asti”. However, these people miss the point that Vedanta is for an advanced seeker. Only an advanced seeker can declare with full conviction that the Devas are within himself. The above poem too affirms that a man of wisdom sees Devas within himself (बुध्दस्य आत्मनि देवता)