Philosophy of Pratima
by Swami Sivananda
Pratima is a substitute or symbol. For a beginner Pratima is an absolute necessity. By worshipping an idol Isvara is pleased. The Pratima is made up of five elements. Five elements constitute the body of the Lord. The idol remains an idol; but the worship goes to the Lord. Just as a man is pleased by shaking hands with his friends by touching a small portion of his body, so also God is pleased when a small portion of His Virat (cosmic) body is worshipped. Just as the child develops the maternal Bhava (mother-feeling) by playing with its imaginary toy-child made up of rags, and suckling it in an imaginary manner, so also the devotee develops the feeling of devotion by worshipping the Pratima and by concentrating upon it. Pictures, drawing, etc. , are only a form of Pratima.
A reputed baron of New York came to me one evening for an interview. During the course of conversation the baron said: "Swamiji, I have no faith in image-worship. It is all foolishness. " The private secretary of the baron who was also with him had a photo of the baron in his pocket-diary. I took the photo and asked the private secretary to spit on it. The secretary was struck aghast. He hesitated and looked at the baron. I again commanded him: "Go on, spit at the picture. Quick. " The secretary said: "Swamiji, the baron is my master. I serve him. How can I spit at the picture? This is his image. I cannot do this ignoble act. I respect him in this picture. " I said to him: "This is only a paper. This is not the real baron. It cannot talk, move or eat. " Then the secretary said: "Anyhow, I see my baron in this picture. This mean act would affect my feelings as well as wound the feelings of my master. I cannot spit. " I said to the baron: "Look here, my friend! Your secretary loves and respects your photo. He associates your presence with the picture although it is just a bit of paper. Is this not image-worship? Even so, the devotee associates the attributes of God with the image and feels His presence or immanence there. He finds it easy to concentrate his mind on the image. The mind wants a concrete prop to lean upon in the beginning stage of practice. Do you see the point now, my dear baron?" The baron replied: "Revered Swamiji! You are quite right. My eyes are opened now. I am quite convinced. Pray, pardon me. "