Worship and Ritual

How are sacred images used in Hinduism and Buddhism? From grand, ornate temples to modest domestic shrines, images and symbols help the devotee to visualize ideas, focus concentration, and achieve union with a chosen divinity. In closed form, the Tala Lotus Mandala resembles the lotus offered by the goddess Tara. The lotus flower symbolizes the universe itself, and when its petals are ritually opened, the devotee is reminded of the divine creation.


Before any religious ceremony, images used in worship - puja - are specially prepared to allow the deity to become present in the object itself. In this way, the Divine acquires colour, texture, and contour, and thus becomes accessible to the human senses and the intellect. The Pancamukhalinga - or five-faced lingam - may be worshipped by pouring water or clarified butter over the surface, placing offerings of fresh flowers on or around it, or by saying prayers. Prayers can be said out loud in a group in the form of chants directed by a priest, or silently within the privacy of the worshipper's own mind.

Sacred images can be ritually bathed, fed, and tended like those bathed at Buddha's birthday celebrations that occur on the full moon in May. Sometimes there is evidence that an image was once part of a personal shrine. In some cases, the name of the original devotee is carved into the surface.

Thus, a work of art is also an object of contemplation, reverence and devotion. It is the divine made accessible to the human senses.

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