Absurd Worship In Hinduism

Absurd Worship In Hinduism

Nature of Worship

Among the 330 million deities generally believed by Hindus to exist, only 400 have been mentioned in all the Hindu scriptures and the identity of the rest i.e., 329,99,9600 deities remains totally unknown, even their names are not mentioned in any scripture. Of the 400 deities mentioned in the scriptures, the number of those worshipped by Hindus hardly reach the figure of 200; of them, only a few are worshipped in ordinary life of a Hindu and the rest receive their share of worship, if any, only once a year.[1] Another aspect of Hindu worship is that the deities worshipped differ from region to region (e.g. Durga in West Bengal, Rama in the north and Ravana in the southern provinces of India), tribe to tribe, community to community, or even from person to person in the same family. The devotees not only worship the gods, but also their wives and children. Their legendary carrier vehicles are also held sacred or worshipped.

Worship is performed in different forms ranging from repetition of mantras (hymns) to sacrifice of a human being. In a general worship called puja, a picture or image of the deity is used, mantras are recited, flowers, joss-sticks are offered, water is sprinkled and incense lighted. In this way, love and devotion is expressed for the deity.[2] There is not a single house or temple of worship in the Hindu community where anything other than a demigod in the shape of either an idol or an illuminated picture is worshipped. Hindus profess that they believe in one Absolute and Supreme God, but nowhere they are seen to worship Him. They justify their act of worship, in whatever form it may be, as an expression of love for the one Supreme God. This justification accrues from their belief that everything is a part of God and for this reason, worship of anything means worship of God. This belief has given a free license to polytheism to appear in Hindu community in the grossest form, because there is no control over manufacturing new deities and abandoning old ones. Thus, not only many gods, goddesses and demigods but animals like hanumana (monkey), rat, cow, eagle, peacock, snake, and objects like linga (sex organ), certain rivers, mountains, trees, plants could have their share in Hindu worship and devotion.

Hindus’ acts of worship are not intended to aid in securing purity of heart, attaining spiritual or moral benefit, conquering an evil nature, or pleasing God in return for His goodness. In their pilgrimage, there does not appear to be any expectation to attain any noble purpose. Men, therefore, sin at the shrines as they do in their homes, and on their return as they did before their visit to a shrine. Nor is it thought remarkable that this should be so, except in the case of those who have gone to some sacred place to end their days there.[3] Hindus, however, believe that by doing well his job within the limits set by the caste system, one can attain improvement in his status in future life. Asceticism has a prominent place in Hinduism. Hindus believe that through renouncing worldly life and becoming ascetic, one can attain communion with the Supreme Lord. The sacred writings abound with stories of the way in which men, by hard and long continued penance, prevailed even over the gods. Hindu scriptures, however, do not provide any specific system of worship through which one can attain such a position.

Hindu worship is linked with the temples big or small built by Hindus for this purpose. It is therefore pertinent in any discussion on Hindu worship to throw some light on Hindu temples and the activities there.

Temple Worship

The temples contain idols which are taken care of by the priests who must be Brahmans; they perform the worship there. Among the famous temples is that of Jagannath. According to Ayin-e-Akbari (translated by Francis Gladwin), the priests wash the image of Jagannath six times every day, and dress it every time with fresh clothes; as soon as it is dressed, fifty-six Brahmans attend it and present it with various kinds of food.[4]

As Wilkins observes, there is nothing in the temple worship to attract the ordinary Hindus. This is because the texts are muttered, not distinctly spoken; and if it were possible for them to be heard, being recited in the Sanskrit language, they would not be intelligible. Moreover, the meaning of the ritualistic acts are known only to the priests. It is their duty to repeat the texts, and present the offerings to the gods. The followers’ only duty is to provide gifts, and to pay the priests, who are the mediators between them and the gods. The people have nothing more to do. 

The temples are generally small, although there exist some large ones. There is no congregation in the temples to offer prayers to god, or to listen to addresses on religious and moral subjects. Hindus visit a temple not to enter, but simply to walk round the building, hand their offerings to the officiating priest, catch (if possible) a glimpse of the idol it contains, and prostate before it. The religion of temple, as S.D. Theertha observes, recognizes no meritorious work other than worship of the idol. It has no provision to raise the down-trodden, educate the ignorant, or comfort the sinner. It does not believe in giving or doing good, but exists to receive and exact good things from its devotees for the Brahman priests.

As to the conditions of temples, S.D. Theertha observes, “If you go to any ordinary village and ask the first person you meet to show you the dirtiest locality there, if he is honest and sharp-witted, he will take you to the temples; for in most cases, these edifices in their dilapidated appearance, the condition of the precincts and the state of the interior are monuments of neglect, decay and dirty habits…. The plastered walls, if there be any remaining, are filled with filthy figures and writings inscribed by shameless youngsters and sometimes by grown-up vagabonds to exhibit their moral aberration. The small yard will for months remain unswept, overgrown with shrubs and sprinkled with cowdung and other rubbish. Nobody cares to visit the temple except on festive days.”[5] Abbe Dubois wrote in his book Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies (p. 199): “There is a well-known Hindu proverb which says, ‘A temple mouse fears not the gods.’ This exactly applies to the Brahmans who enter their temples without showing the slightest sign of serious thought or respect for the divinities who are enshrined therein… Even while performing their numerous religious fooleries, their behaviour shows no indication of fervour of real devotion.” Giving his opinion on these remarks, S.D. Theertha says, “These remarks are letter by letter true of the temples of the present day, also perhaps with the additional force that the irreverence is manifest among the worshippers also.”[6]

Worship of Linga

Siva is always worshipped in the form of the linga (phallus), although in pictures he is represented in the human form. His devotees are called Shivite which is a major Hindu sect. The linga is combined with its female counterpart (yoni), the latter forming the base from which the linga rises. As Wilkins suggests, it is impossible for anyone acquainted with the legends which account for its being the symbol of Siva, to see and worship it without impure thoughts being suggested.[7] Women usually worship Siva when they take a bath. They make an image of the linga with mud. As they are not taught the mantras or sacred texts, their worship consists of bowing to the image of the linga.

How could linga came to be the representative of Siva? Two legends are put forward to answer this question. According to Padma Purana, it was the result of a curse pronounced by a sage named, Bhrigu. When he was sent to discover which of the three gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Siva) was the greatest, Bhrigu came to Siva’s house, but the doorkeeper refused to allow him entrance saying that his master, Siva, was engaged in intercourse with his wife Parvati. After waiting for sometime, Bhrigu’s patience was exhausted and he cursed Siva saying: “Since thou, O Sankara! hast treated me with contempt in preferring the embraces of Parvati, your forms of worship shall be the linga (sex organ) and yoni (female sex organ).”[8]

According to the Vamana, linga became representative of Siva as a result of a curse pronounced by a number of sages. When his wife, Parvati (Durga) died at Daksha’s sacrifice, Siva wandered from place to place like a madman, mourning her absence. He travelled from hermitage to hermitage, but could find no rest. When the hermits’ wives saw him, they fell desperately in love with him and followed him from place to place. Their husbands, incensed at this, cursed Siva and deprived him of his manhood. A great commotion followed. Brahma and Vishnu interceded on his behalf with the hermits. The sages consented to withdraw their curse on condition that the offender Siva should be represented by the linga.

Thus linga became an object of worship to gods and men.[9]

One of the most sacred Hindu holy places is Banaras. The place acquired its sanctity because of the Golden Temple of Bishwanath (Siva). In this temple, linga is worshipped in the most celebrated way. Let us present here an eye-witness account of how the linga is worshipped at that temple. In the words of Santha Rama Rau, an Indian Hindu, “One evening I joined hundreds of pilgrims at the arati at Bishwanath. This is a regular puja (worship) performed four times every day, when Lord Siva is honored not only with flowers but also with the presentation of the arati-oil lamps, or sanctified fire and with long Sanskrit chants.”

“Within the courtyard of the temple, in the central pavilion where the polished black stone Siva linga is enshrined in a square silver-lined pit, 11 priests conduct the ceremony. They wear white loincloths and are otherwise bare-bodied except for the loop of the sacred thread across the chest and the religious beads around the neck. Sitting cross-legged, each priest has beside him a silver tray holding a silver jar of Ganges water and silver stand for the arati lights.”

“The chanting of Vedic verses begins with a sudden shout that shocks everyone into attention, then sinks to a more moderate level as the priests begin the decoration of the linga. First they bathe it with Ganges water, then with clarified butter, honey, and milk. They pack the top of it with their hands to make a cushion of saffron-colored paste, and then streak their foreheads with their fingers. Wreaths of marigolds, streamers of jasmine, and a pink lotus cover the linga until the black stone shaft is invisible. A large, curling, silver five-headed cobra is placed over the linga, and each snake hood is decorated with flowers.”

“Meanwhile the chanting continues, increasing in volume and fervor, accompanied now by drums and bells until it reaches an impassioned and mesmerizing pitch. One priest lights a handful of incense sticks at a small fire beside the altar and distributes them to the others to light the wicks of their arati holders. These are presented to the linga, there is an abrupt flare of fire from all around the altar coinciding with the final, deafening ululation of the chanting and the thunder drums.”

“Now, in a sudden hush, the priests put the arati lamps on their trays, pile the trays with flowers from the linga, and walk among worshippers offering them the blessing of the arati, a dab of Ganges water on the forehead or the lips, a flower to take away with them. Everybody pushes forward to touch the linga, to receive the grace of the deity from the fire, the water, and the flowers that have been sanctified.”[10]

From the above eye-witness account of the Siva-linga Puja – which is a major form of worship in Hinduism – one can easily make a judgement about Hindu worships in general.

Some Other Worships and Festivals

Daily Worship

Most Hindus regard it as a duty to bathe daily if this is at all convenient, and to raise their hands and to bow towards the sun as it rises; but beyond this little or nothing is done. In the home of a rich Hindu, there is a family image which is worshipped by offering flowers, fruits, grain and water. The ceremonies are performed by the family priest. The shopkeepers have a picture or an image of Ganesa (elephant-headed deity) in their shops; they burn a little incense before it before commencing business. A devout workman salutes his tools before commencing work for the day. But except in the homes of the Brahmans, and those of the rich in which there are hired priests to attend to these matters for them, there is no daily worship.

Worship of Vishnu

Vishnu is worshipped by his devotees called Vaishnavas (also Vishnuvites), a major Hindu sect. The form in which he is worshipped found its origin in a legend, which says that Vishnu had illicit relation with a woman called Tulsi. When his wife came to know about that affair she cursed Tulasi. As a consequence of that curse, Tulasi immediately became a plant. From that time, that plant came to be known as tulasi. Vishnu, in order that he might still enjoy Tulsi’s company, transformed himself into a salgrama (a kind of rock). The worshippers of Vishnu, if they can afford to get one, own a salgrama, or at any rate, cultivate a small tulasi plant, the representative of the woman with whom Vishnu had an affair. The Vaishnavas carefully keep and treat the salgramas as though these are living beings. In the hot season these are bathed, and a jar of water is hung over them, from which the water slowly drops and keeps them cool. The tulasi plant is also well-cared for. The daily rituals are performed before the salgramas and the tulasi plant, or at least the deity is acknowledged by a profound salutation.

Shyama Puja

Shyama Puja is an important event for the worship of Durga (also called, Kali, Tara). According to Hindu mythology, when she gained victory over Rakta Vija, the commander-in-chief of her enemy’s forces, she was so elated by her powers that she began to dance. Her movements shook the world, and the gods were afraid that it would fall to pieces. In their distress they cried to her husband (Siva) for help. Having found no other means to pacify her, Siva lay prostrate amongst the slain. When Durga looked down, she saw that she was dancing on her husband’s body. She became calm with shame, and thrust out her tongue. In images and pictures she is represented black (as her name implies), her husband is lying under her feet; her tongue protrudes from her mouth; and her four hands are engaged- one grasping a sword, another the head of a giant, and the other two signaling to her hosts. For ear-rings she has demons’ heads, her neck is adorned with a necklace of skulls, her only garment, a zone, is made with the hands of her vanquished foes, while her hair falls in long tresses to her waist. Intoxicated with blood, her eyes flash with rage. Her worship is in keeping with her character. It takes place at midnight on the night of the new moon, when numbers of animals are sacrificed to her. “The darkness of the night, the bleeding of the victims, the Mashing of the sacrificial knife, the shrieks of the ministering priests as they cry, ‘Jai, Joy, Tara’, the flicker of the torches, the gestures of the intoxicated worshippers, make this one of the most terrible of all the festivals in India.”[11]

Durga Puja

Durga Püja is annually held in September-October. It is the most important festival of Bengali Hindus. A special image of the goddess, Durga, is made and worshipped for nine days. Then it is immersed in the nearby river in large procession and much festivity.

Kumbh Mela

The Kumbh Mela, a month-long celebration, is held every twelve years at the confluence of the sacred rivers at Allahabad, in north-central India. This mela recalls the struggle of Hindu gods and demons for a cup, or kumbha, that held amrit, the nectar of immortality. A drop of the nectar was spilled into the waters where the Ganga (Ganges) and the Yamuna rivers meet at Allahabad. The mythical river of enlightenment called Saraswati also flows there. Millions of Hindus gather near the city for ritual bathing. A bath at the Sangam, the ‘sacred’ confluence of the three streams, is supposed to shrive all sins. The most propitious time for bathing is calculated by astrologers. The bathers enter the water to wash away the sins of their past lives and pray to escape the cycle of endless reincarnation. It is at this festival that one sees the famous congress of Nagas, the nude sadhus covered only with ash prepared by burning cow-dung.[12]

Worship of Ghentu

Ghentu, the god of itch, is worshipped by women. A dunghill or an old broken earthen pot daubed with lime and turmeric is regarded as his representative. The mistress of the house acts as a priest. After reciting a few verses about the god, the vessel is broken into bits. At this time, Shitala, the goddess of smallpox, and Ola Bibi, the goddess of cholera, are also worshipped.

Worship of Kartikeya

The worship of Kartikeya, the god of war, and son of Siva and Parvati, is performed only on one evening in the year. According to Hindu mythology, he lived an immoral life. So his worship is full of licentiousness and revelry and is peculiarly attractive to the immoral women of the cities.

Rasa Jatra

Rasa Jatra festival is held to commemorate the sports of Krishna with the milkmaids of Vrindavana. It continues for three bright, moonlit nights. Songs descriptive of the amours of the god with his girlfriends, dancing and dramas alternate through the night, and at early dawn the idol is taken back to its temple, where it remains until the next evening.

Holi Festival

Holi festival is widely observed throughout northern India. This is held to commemorate Krishna’s sexual amusements with the milkmaids. In observing this festival,

the people go about in excited crowds throwing red powder upon passers-by, and singing indecent songs. As observed by Wilkins, it is almost impossible for a woman

to walk through the streets during this festival without being insulted.

Dashara Festival

Dashara festival is held to commemorate the descent of the Ganges (river) from heaven. Hindus believe that bathing in this river at the proper season removes all the sins committed in ten previous lives. This is an interesting ceremony. Thousands of people bring their offerings of flowers, fruits, and grain to the river side, and then enter the sacred stream. Men and women bathe together, the men wearing only a cloth round their loins, and the women having the upper part of their bodies exposed.

Tantric Worship

This worship is held by eight, nine, or eleven couples of men and women. They meet by appointment at midnight. When the worshippers go through the prescribed religious ceremonies, all distinctions of caste, rank, and kindred is temporarily suspended. The ceremony involves setting up a nude woman, adorned only with jewels, to act as representative of Sakti (the female energy). The participants worship her with strange rites, feast themselves on flesh and fish, indulge in wine, and give themselves over to every imaginable excess. During these orgiastic religious rites, every man present is, according to their pantheistic notion, Siva himself, and every woman there none other than Siva’s consort.[13]

Temple Prostitution

The institution of devdasi or temple prostitution- custom of devoting girls to the service of Hindu temples was prevalent in India until it was abolished by law by the British government. The dedication was in  the form of “marrying young girls to Hindu gods- such marriages being merely the prelude to a state of licensed prostitution in the service of religion.”[14] This custom was introduced by the Brahmans in the name of religion to attract people to the temples and extort money from them. The Brahman priests not only introduced this custom, they also encouraged the people to participate in the immoral practice. For this purpose, they often used to intone the sentence: “Vesya darsanam punyam, papa nasanam!” This scandalous sentence means, “Looking upon a prostitute is virtue which takes away sin.”[15]

In South Indian temples, a temple girl used to be honoured by Hindus as a daughter of the deity. A father had no hesitation in dedicating his eldest daughter to the temple service. The young girls so dedicated were taught reading, writing, singing, dancing, dressing themselves daintily, adorning their hair with flowers and wearing their jewels with dignity. When they reached the age of thirteen, they went through the ceremony of marriage with the god Subramania who was represented by stone or image. After the ceremony, they were ready to ply their trade (prostitution) with the devout worshippers who attended the temple. Their earnings went to swell the temple revenue.[16]

Although the institution of devdasi has been abolished by law enacted by the British government, “the custom is said to exist still in some places [in India], quietly.”[17] Recently, the priests of the Jagannath Temple at Puri decided to revive the institution of temple prostitution by hiring girls to work as devdasis, but the government of India is trying to prevent this through appropriate measures.[18] The custom is likely to be revived, if the BJP, who is aspiring to establish Hindu Rajya in India, could firmly establish its rule in the country.

Human Sacrifices

Until it was banned by the British government, human sacrifice was in vogue in India. In the Hindu pantheon, there are a number of deities who delight in blood and flesh. Of them, Kali is very prominent because of her insatiable thirst and hunger. She holds an honoured place in the pantheon. Many primitive cults with their bloody rituals had been incorporated in her worship. Among these rituals was the Thag or Thak, (anglicised, thuggee), a special type of ritual involving human sacrifice. In performing this ritual, in the words of S.R. Sharma, “several criminal obscurantists formed themselves into gangs professing the cult of Kali or Durga and indulged in wholesale human sacrifices. They were a social pest like the Pindaris and had remained unattended to by the earlier rulers. Bentinck with the assistance of Sir William Sleeman (who acquired the nickname of Thuggee Sleeman’] took effective measures to destroy their nests and organization. During the years 1831-37, over three thousand of them were netted or swept away, 412 being hanged. Similar or worse horrors were perpetrated by the Khonds of the Hill Tracts of Orissa, known as the ‘Meriah’ sacrifices in which men were torn to pieces in order to propitiate the earth goddess. Thanks to the efforts of Sir Henry Harding and Major-General John Cambell, these too were stamped out between 1847-54.”[19]

Apart from regular sacrifices at the shrines of deities believed to be cannibalistic, it was a common practice in certain parts of India to offer, at the commencement of the construction of a building, fort or bridge, a human victim so that any cannibalistic spirit inhabiting the area might desist from evil activities. In Maharashtra province, “it is common to see a Maharin’s shrine near the gate of every fort.’ Usually the sacrificed Maharin (a woman of the low caste known as Maha) was canonized and her shrine worshipped.[20] Although the institution of human sacrifice has been banned by a law enacted by the British colonial government, the heinous practice is still taking place in some parts of India. Recently, a man was sacrificed on the occasion of a puja performed at the Diwali night’ in a village in Madya Pradesh.[21]

[Hinduism and Islam: A Comparative Study by Murtahin Billah Fazlie, p. 105-123]


[1] Bhattachariya, pp. 50-51.

[2] Chaturvedi, Hinduism The Eternal Religion, (Bombay: 1992), p. 159.

[3] Wilkins, 1975, p.42

[4] Theertha, p. 126.

[5] Ibid., p.193.

[6] Ibid., p.194.

[7] Wilkins, 1993, p.280.

[8] Ibid., pp. 280-81.

[9] Ibid., p. 281.

[10] Banaras: India’s City of Light by Santha Rama Rau, published in the National Geographic, February 1986, pp. 248-251.

[11] Ibid., pp. 76-77.

[12] Trumbull, p.244.

[13] John Campbell Oman, The Brahmans, Theists and Muslims of India, (Delhi: 1973), p.27.

[14] Oman, p.200.

[15] Theertha, p. 194.

[16] Ibid., p. 127.

[17] Trumble, p. 246.

[18] LSUQ No. 323 dated 28 November, 1995, quoted by the Muslim India, January, 1996, p. 38. 19 S.R. Sharma, The Making of Modern India, (Bombay: 1951), pp. 478-79,

[20] Sandeela, pp. 65-66.

[21] Muslim India, January, 1996, p. 45.

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