tāv aham puruṣa vyāghrau sugrīva vacanāt prabhū |
rūpa lakṣaṇa sampannau kṛta añjaliḥ upasthitaḥ ||
Vedic culture notably features the practice of deity worship, which to the uninformed looks like basic idolatry. You have the outpouring of intense emotion, to the point of tears even, when standing in front of a statue which is most likely no taller than the size of a bottle of soda. What is in that statue that elicits such a response?
The idea is that man is incapable of perceiving God on his own. In science, so many facts can be shown to the eyes. For instance, if a person claims that a molecule of water consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, a skeptic can get proof through a visual model. If a mathematician says that two plus two equals four, they can provide proof through using objects held in the hand.
But what if a person says that God exists? They claim that He is beautiful, replete with attractiveness. They say that He is everywhere, that proof of His existence cannot be absent from any space. He is the life of the living, which means that wherever there is life, there is the presence of the Divine.
puṇyo gandhaḥ pṛthivyāṁ ca
tejaś cāsmi vibhāvasau
tapaś cāsmi tapasviṣu
“I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.9)
Proof for these claims is not as easy to show. An attempt can be made, but the skeptics will have a difficult time believing. The limitation is from the senses of the individual. Just as I can’t see what is going on across the globe with my eyes, I can’t perceive the presence of the Divine. The eyes have no way of seeing on their own; outside help is required.
The deity is one form of that outside help. It is God’s mercy; His way of appearing in front of the eyes in a manner that allows the individual to understand some of His features. Typically, worship of the deity is done in a formal setting, with great opulence. This is the mood of the devotees; they want to show the Supreme Lord the proper respect. The deity is known as the archa-vigraha; it is a corporeal form of the Divine. Though material elements are involved, they become spiritualized through authority.
The person who is not very advanced in consciousness thinks that the Supreme Lord only resides as the deity in the temple. They don’t understand that He is actually everywhere. He is as much in the home as He is in the house of worship. The proper appreciation may not be there in the home, but lack of perception has no bearing on the all-pervading presence of the Supreme Lord, who is known as Vishnu.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman is describing two incarnations of Vishnu. One is a full incarnation, named Rama. The other is a partial incarnation, named Lakshmana. The two are brothers of the kshatriya order. Hanuman is describing to Sita about the first time he met Rama and Lakshmana.
Hanuman was in his role as minister to the Vanara-king Sugriva. At Sugriva’s command, Hanuman came down from Mount Rishyamukha to meet the two approaching brothers. Hanuman says that they had good characteristics and form. The Sanskrit word rupa also means “beauty.” The brothers were like mighty tigers among men. They were to be feared by any person thinking of opposing them in battle.
Despite being warriors, they had all the indications, lakshana, of purity, krita. From this verse we learn that God is worshipable wherever He goes. In this particular situation He was carrying the best bows and wearing clothes made of bark. He didn’t have the grand opulence prominently featured in the temples. He was in a renounced setting, meeting with strangers.
Hanuman did not approach the brothers in the mood of reverence. Since his heart was so pure, though, he immediately recognized that Rama and Lakshmana were special. He saw the signs of purity on them. He knew they were not ordinary. The Supreme Personality of Godhead and the servitor-God were standing right before him. Hanuman had the proper response of appreciation, but the work didn’t stop there. Hanuman took up the mission to help the two brothers, informing them that a meeting with Sugriva would be beneficial.
The deity in the temple is the ideal place for the distressed souls to meet with the object of their inner, recessed affection. The deity is the proof of the existence of God, and Rama is proof that when God moves, the worshipable form comes with Him. He always maintains auspicious signs that only the wise and pure can recognize. Seeing Him fulfills all desires and brings all happiness.
When entering temple to choose,
Seeing God in form not to move.
When witness the person in,
That worshipable form coming with Him.
When Hanuman as brahmana resizing,
Divinity of Rama and Lakshmana recognizing.
Saw God, but the work not to stop,
Placing on back, reaching Rishyamukha’s top.