- The worship of images of divinities is probably very ancient among the original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent. In the VEDAS of the ARY-ANS there is no mention of image worship, and it seems unquestionable that the image worship of later Hinduism is a Brahminization or Vediciza-tion of a common indigenous practice.In India, icons are made from special materi-als—specially selected and shaped stone, metal, or wood. Icons are installed in temples or other locations with special rituals. First, the icon is consecrated and brought to life. Usually, this involves the transfer of the power of the divinity from a container, a clay pot with water and a palm frond in it, through a string that is tied to the icon. MANTRAS are used to empower the icon or bring the divinity to life within it.Bare stone is not by itself an icon; only when the deity has been implanted within it does the image gain potency. Once the life breath (PRANA) has been established in the iconic deity, its eyes are painted in or finally formed; this prepares the icon for DARSHAN, the meeting of its eyes with those of its worshippers. An anthropomorphic icon is treated in its context as a royal human being—awakened early in the morning, sung to, bathed, clothed, fed, fanned, and entertained. Such activity is carried out throughout the day until the deity is put to bed. Icons that do not have a basically human form, such as the SHIVA LINGAM, are usually treated the same way, as though the god where present in them.When a temple or icon is decommissioned, another careful ritual must be performed to remove the life from the image, lest it become angry at not being treated properly.Further reading: Jitendra Nath Banerjea, The Develop-ment of Hindu Iconography (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1985); T. G. Gopinatha Rao, Elements of Hindu Iconography, 4 vols. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997); Eva Rudy Jansen, The Hindu Book of Imagery: The Gods and Their Symbols. (Holland: Binkey Kok, 1995); Margaret Stutley, An Illustrated Dictionary of Hindu Ico-nography (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.