Focuses of Worship

Unity and Diversity

Tulasi plants, venerated by the followers of Vishnu. The Bilva tree is similarly sacred to devotees of Shiva. Other important trees are the neem, banyan, mango, banana and coconut.

Hinduism is an extremely diverse tradition and can seem daunting when one is trying to understand the numerous deities and other objects of worship. It is too simplistic to explain these complexities by resorting to claims of pantheism or polytheism (see God: Two Main Understandings). The following two notions may help us understand the many focuses of worship.

  1. Ultimately, the Vedas recommend selfless worship of the One Supreme, however one conceives of Him. Simultaneously they recognise various stages on the path to God-realisation and accommodate worship of other deities for material gain and gradual elevation.
  2. God may be worshipped through his many representatives, which are natural and benign authorities. Hindu thought tends to regard them as inclusive of God rather than exclusive.

The following list indicates some of the diverse focuses of worship:

  1. The Supreme (God)
  2. The variety of gods (devas) and goddesses (devis) and minor deities (devatas)
  3. The spiritual preceptor (acharya or guru)
  4. The teacher (also called guru)
  5. The qualified brahmana
  6. The monarch (as the representative of God)
  7. Family elders (like the mother and father)
  8. The cow (as mother) and bull (as father)
  9. Sacred plants (such as the Tulasi and Bilva)
  10. Sacred rivers (such as the Ganges)
  11. The land (considered one of the natural mothers), and those places where God and holy people have appeared
  12. All living beings (as parts of God)

Key Points

  • Hinduism tends to accommodate all people with different concepts of the Supreme so that all can gradually progress towards ultimate self- and God-realisation.
  • God is worshipped directly and also through his natural representatives (benign authorities). Hindus consider that venerating items connected with God further glorifies Him rather than detracting from His greatness.

Common Misunderstandings

Hinduism is entirely inclusive. Hindus believe that they can worship anyone and achieve the same result
The quote below challenges this rather simplistic understanding:

“Those who worship the demigods (devas) will take birth amongst the demigods; those who worship the ancestors will go to the ancestors; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; and those who worship Me will live with Me.”

Bhagavad-gita. 9.25

Scriptural Passages

“Of all types of worship, worship of Vishnu is supreme. But even higher than that is the worship of those things related to Vishnu.”

Lord Shiva in the Padma Purana