To an outsider Hinduism as a religion looks very complex, the number of Gods and Goddesses, the kinds of rituals, the number of festivals, the number of names associated with each God would leave any one confused. Hence many outsiders, particularly the ones who are staunch believers of monotheistic ideals of the Abrahamic religions mock at the idols and rituals of the Hindus. Unfortunately there are a lot of Hindus also who mock at the customs, rituals and idols of the Hinduism. Today there are many people (I mean both Hindus and people following other religions) who condemn and shun the Hindu rituals and idols.
I, with my limited knowledge and little things I know, I am trying to put down few points which might bring a small change in our attitude towards these rituals and customs .
Hinduism says “God is one”. It says “Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha vadanti”.This means there is only one God and he is seen by many learned people in many forms. The very word “advaita” means there are no two things, there is only thing and that’s present everywhere in the universe. Again according Sanatana Dharma (this is the original name, we are calling this as Hinduism or Hindu religion these days) God is “nama,roopa gunaateeta ” which means he is independent of name ,form and quality .
So, yes He exists but He can exist in any form, he can take any form. He can take any name and come and bless us. Now, how many of us can really contemplate the abstract? Great people like Swami Vivekananda taught having been awakened to the truth by seeing the veneration of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa for the idol of the Mother. Most of us need a concrete representation, we need something we can see and feel. We need an object to concentrate, to meditate, to draw positive energy from .Here Sanatana Dharma says, God himself as come and took many forms to help his devotees. We represent each of those forms in our idols, in these idols we see God, for these represent the various forms of God. We pick up a form we like the most and start meditating on it and take our steps towards divinity.
Now one more thing ,in Sanatana Dharma prayer does not mean mere chanting of the hymns ,it is not mere supplication, petitioning, or trade with God (you give me 1 crore profit and I am putting 1 lakh in your Hundi ) it has a bigger and deeper meaning. Prayer should not be something you do out of fear alone, it should come out whole heartedly, it should come out of love, it should imbibe humility in us, it should help us reflect and learn about ourselves .It should help us reach the maturity where we do our part and submit the rest to the will of Him, that maturity that helps us see positive out of the worst of the worst disasters and leave us with a hope that He is there to take care of us and help us do our duty. In a way your prayer should help you get the divinity within you to the fore. Read any of the Hindu epics and will you see people coming out of the worst o the worst tragedies, by the sheer help of their virtues, trust in God and the power of their prayers. Rather than shunning epics as mere stories or trying to find the negative shades in the heroes of the epics we should try to take the virtues the heroes of the epics had and try to understand how they understood and brought out the divinity in them .
Last, but not the least our Rituals. Rituals awaken us; they make us remember the importance of Dharma in life. These rituals help us inculcate good habits in our lives. A simple ritual like giving aarti with camphor to God, tells us indirectly that our life is short and we should be quick in our spiritual pursuits. We do not have the luxury to move from solid to liquid and liquid to gas, as life is short we should be astute on the path of dharma and pray the Almighty that he gives us “sadbuddhi” and like the way camphor evaporates into thin air , we too want to become one with Him in this janma itself.
Our rituals ask us worship the nature a lot, this is because we believe that God and his creation are one and the same. “Advaita” itself means there are no two forces in this world, whatever exists is one and it’s that ONE that manifests itself in all the forms in this universe. So I, You and everyone and everything have come from that ONE only. If we can see this, aren’t we in peace with everyone in this world. But this is not easy, that’s why we are asked to see God everywhere, at least that way we will be trained to see the omnipresence of God and we will be in peace with ourselves, people around us and the environment. Seeing the spark of Divinity in yourself and the environment around you and the feel that it’s one and we all came from one Absolute Supreme power helps any one see divinity through Sanatana Dharma. This would one day lead to Salvation under the assistance of a good guru.
I don’t know if I answered the questions I posed in the beginning, In case you have something to share on this aspect please share that by posing a comment .I too am in the beginners level and even my Knowledge is limited .I am open to all the comments, suggestions and improvements you would like to give me.