Saturday, March 30, 2013



 (Compilation for a Discourse by N.R.Srinivasan, March 2013)

Every object in the world, animate or inanimate, is a manifestation of God.  If one realizes this truth he will not feel anger or disgust or hatred for anything or any  person. By eschewing the mental distractions and agonies arising from anger and desire, we realize God is everything around us. Until a person achieves the Supreme Consciousness of God in all objects, he should keep striving peacefully. He should begin seeking to see God at least in one object through concentration upon that particular object as God. The grace of God resulting from such intense concentration will enable him to go further and see God manifests on all that exists and thereupon he will be free from limitations arising from non-experiencing of the truth that God is in all things. This is the fundamental basis of Moorti upaasana or Sagunopaasan ( A form of Hindu worship).  Now-a-days this   is derided as Idol worship unfortunately.     
Upaasana in Sanskrit means to sit near to think of the Lord. It is generally translated as worship or meditation. It is    mental activity whose object is the Lord. For meditation one requires a support, in the form of a symbol. When the symbol used is a form, the meditation is known as Pratima Upaasana. When the symbol used is a name, the meditation is known as Prateeka Upaasana. The Upaasanas are based on the Vedic wisdom that the Lord is not separate from the creation and therefore can be invoked in any desired form. Upaasanas help one to attain a tranquil mind and an appreciation of the Lord. The true worshipper of a Moorti never feels that he is worshipping a stone or a piece of metal or picture. He thinks only on Supreme Being forgetting all else.     
Hindu religion is criticized by persons of founded faiths and also by those belonging to the Arya Samaj as being idolaters.  Muslims do not worship images because according to their faith God has no body. Islam is so much against the worship of idols that its followers do not countenance even a picture of their Prophet. If opportunities provide, each devout Muslim takes a pilgrimage to Mecca. The culmination of this life-time pilgrimage ritual is the circum-ambulation called Tawaf, in which the pilgrim circles the Ka’ba shrine and kisses the black stone, all the while offering prayers. Protestant Christianity does not believe in idols. Catholics worship the image of Virgin Mary and Christ and are idolatrous to that extent.  All Christians, however, hold the cross in great reverence and worship it as sacred symbol. East Africans and Canadian Indian and aboriginals of New Zealand worship idols. Buddhism also disclaims against idols, though strangely a good number of Buddhists have erected the statues of the Enlightened, at various places and worship them; also they worship the relics of their teacher, like his tooth etc.  Relics are worshipped in Islam also (Hazrat baal--prophet’s hair). In the Orthodox Church, an icon is blessed (similar to Pranapratishta), so it can be installed in a church, home or any other suitable place. In return, the icon sanctifies the place where it is set up; it is for the faithful a tangible reminder of the divine presence.  According to orthodox theology, to pray before an icon is to pray in the presence of Christ, or of the Mother of God, or of the saint depicted. The icon is the point where the heaven and earth meet. One could thus see the Vedic influence of Moorti Upaasana in many later religions and beliefs, though Hindu religion comes in for condemnation as if worship of idols is a sin against a religion.    It is necessary to be clear about the meaning of worship of idols. It is not the idol as such; it is not the stone, metal or wooden object that Hindus worship. It is the Deity present in the object or symbolized by it that Hindus worship. The Saaligraama stone symbolizes Vishnu. The Linga represents Siva. The crystal stands for Surya. So do other objects. They remind us of the deities that they are considered to represent. So, when one offers worship to an idol or image, one does so to the particular aspect of the Supreme represented by it, to the God in it as it were. While so doing, the mind is directed to God in a prayerful contemplation and supplication. During this process, one gets rid of one’s ego and is suffused with god-consciousness and   dedicates to Him, the best one can offer and, finally offers one’s Self, whole and entire. 
It is customary to make statues of departed leaders or venerated Kings and pay respect to those statues of the deceased periodically on specific dates. In Origin of Civilization Lubock says: “Worship to idols characterizes a somewhat higher stage of human development”. We pay respect to National Flag, a piece of cloth which stands for the country as a symbol.
Hindu religion recognizes the psychological limitations of ordinary men.  Not all of them can at one bound contemplate God in his abstraction from physical features. For directing the mind towards God and keeping it steady during contemplation on Him, a concrete image or idol is of invaluable help. The frail mind must move from the concrete to the abstract, from the forms of God in images to God without form. It is true that God is omnipresent, but for purposes of worship, He is conceived of as localized in a particular object.          
It is not self-contradictory in thinking of the Supreme God as having a form or even a multiplicity of forms. If it is granted that God is all, even though in the ultimate conception He is formless,  there is nothing inherently impossible, in His assuming a variety of forms for the sake of devotees. That is only a mark of His condescension to satisfy the needs of those who wish to worship Him according to the promptings in their heart. For God who has created human or other living beings it is not impossible to assume one of the forms he himself has created.
Water has no color or any particular shape. But it assumes the color and shape of the vessel that contains it. Even so, God by Himself may have no form. But the mind that thinks of Him is a conditioning medium. It seizes hold of Him in its folds and would like to visualize Him after its manner. Thus a rapport is established between the devotee and the Deity and an atmosphere of devotion is engendered.           
Before an idol or image is worshipped, a process of making it divine is gone through.  This is known as the process of ‘Praana pratishta” (Consecration). Every human being is a compendious expression of the cosmos. He is made up of five physical elements,  “pancha bhootas”. God in His cosmic form inheres in the “pancha bhootas”, which are crystallized in the human body and expressed as five sense organs, each functioning in terms of those elements. In ‘Praana pratishta ‘the devotee first performs “Aatma pooja”, that is he meditates on his inner Self encased in his body. By appropriate mantras he first purifies his body including his ‘praanas’ and his sense organs. The vital airs and the organs of perception activity animating in him as microcosm of the Universe, which is the macrocosm, are transferred by gestures to the accompaniment of mantras on to the idol or the image wherein the manifestation of the Supreme (Ishta devata) is devoutly invoked.
The following prayer is chanted during the process of consecration: “Svaatmasamstham ajam suddham tvaamadhya paramesvara;  aranyaamiva havyaasam moortau aavaahayaamyaham”--  “O Lord of the Worlds, you are unborn and pure. You are in my heart. I invoke you in this Moorti.  Make yourself visible to me in my concentration even as the fire in ‘arani’ wood comes out by friction”. It is also like the oil conceale3d in sesame seeds which can be seen after squeezing.  
There upon it becomes instinct with divinity and becomes fit for worship. After this process is complete the worshipper does not consider it any longer as a material object. It becomes God itself.  Then the sixteen items of ritualistic worship that are offered with fervor and devotion are followed.       
The forms of the images are modeled after the description of the several divinities in our Puraanas, which are recessions from the Vedas adapted to popular understanding.  These Puraanas celebrate each particular manifestation of the Supreme to draw the man’s mind to it and hold their attention. They serve to visualize the divinity spoken of in the Puraanas and in their features emphasize the super-human and the mysterious that go with the concept of God. Thus we have the image of Devi with sixteen hands; Siva with a third eye, Ganapati with   elephant face, Vishnu with four hands, Kaartikeya with twelve hands and six faces etc. To a person of an alien faith these may appear grotesque and bizarre, but to the devotee they signify a puritanical anecdote that evokes his belief and faith. The names by which the several manifestations of the Supreme are called are not of random devising; they are significant of the nature and beneficence of those Deities. In the Hindu religion, the names are equated with those deities and this is vouched for   in the experience of great saints who have realized the Supreme by “naama japa” and ‘naama sankeertana’ the repeated utterance and singing of these divine names.           
Three things are associated with the worship of deity. They are the ‘Yantra’ or ‘Chakra’, the mantra and the ‘pratima’. The Yantra is a geometrical design of a particular type with mystic significance for every part of it. The deity is looked upon as residing in that Yantra. The Mantra consists of mystic Sanskrit sounds known as Beejaaksharas, associated with them. Their utterances have the effect of invoking the deity associated with them. The repeated utterances of the mantra surcharge   the atmosphere with the divine presence. The devotee and the image are both enveloped by that divinity.  The Pratima is the physical object consecrated for worship. All these three, the Yantra, the Mantra, and the Pratima together constitute the apparatus of image worship among Hindus.        
Some of the other forms of worship (upaasana) are ahamgraha upaasana and Sri Chakra upaasana. In ahamgraha upaasana, one meditates on himself as “Brahman’, while in Sri Chakra upaasana, Sri Devi is super imposed on a tantric symbol, which is made up of lines arranged in a particular geometric pattern. Yantra is   highly symbolic and is esoteric form of invoking.    
Tantra is yet another highly symbolic esoteric form of worshipping elaborate esoteric rituals based on tantric philosophy. There are two main forms of Tantra seen in India. Vaamatantra is practiced in Kashmir and Bengal. A variation of Tantra saastra called Dakshinamaarga is observed in Kerala.     
The word Linga means symbol. While the abhisheka (bathing ceremony) water is poured on the crystal Linga, the Linga is hardly visible through it, its colorless form being completely lost in that of water that flows over it. When colored substances like sandal paste or vermilion or colored flower are placed on it, it takes on the color of those substances though it has no color of its own. Thus the Sphatika Linga   is taken as the best representation of Nirguna Brahman of the Upanishads, the all-pervading   Paramaatma who is without any attribute and who for our sake takes on qualities and exhibits Himself as the “Saguna Brahman”, the personal form.  When a devotee observes the abhisheka, he has this uppermost in his mind.
The Lord Himself has not imposed upon us any one form of ‘upaasana’ as seen in the Bhagavadgita; Yo yo yaam  yaam tanum bhaktaha  sraddhayaa architum-ichchati tastya    tasyaarchanam sraddhaam taameva vidadhaamyaham”--‘Whatever form or deity a devotee with faith may wish to worship, I make his faith unswerving’. 
Founded religions regulate the mode of worship and attach importance to congregational prayers on specific days and specific times. Hindu religion has no such limitations.       
Idol worship and rituals connected with it are only the beginning of religion. There are different grades of worship.  The supreme state is Self -realization. Second in rank is the meditation on the Supreme Self. The third in rank is the worship of symbols. The fourth in rank is the performance of rituals and pilgrimage to holy places. The Saastras and the Guru are like mother. They take hold of the hands of the aspirants and take them step-by-step till they are established in the highest super-conscious state. The same Hindu scriptures which prescribe idol worship and rituals for beginners also speak of meditation on the Infinite or the Absolute and contemplation on the significance of “Tat tvam asi”, (That thou art) for advanced aspirants. The Jewish Religion calls Him “Jehovah” meaning ‘I am that’.  ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ (I am Brahman) is the well-known vedic principle that means the same thing as Jehovah. Before one can meditate on the unlimited, one must begin with the limited. Starting with devotion to God limited by name and form, if one realizes the unlimited nature of God, the limited will be transcended.  To realize the unlimited, one must start with devotion to the limited. Upon the realization of the true nature of God through such ‘bhakti’ (devotion), one ceases to separate from Him; “visate tadanantram”, that very moment one becomes that God. The Bhakta turned Jnaani merges in the waters of the Infinite like a block of ice in water. Rivers have different names and forms before they enter ocean. Once they flow into it, their individualities disappear in the all-encompassing waters of the ocean.   

[I had the privilege of presenting the above Upanyaasa (religious discourse) to Vedanta Class in Nashville, originally delivered by His Holiness Sankaracharya   in Tamil to the learned audience   in  India,  with my added notes here and there some years back. Now I have added the Epilogue learning from the Wisdom thoughts of His Holines to  focus your attention on this most criticized topic in Hinduism
--N.R.Srinivasan, Nashville TN]


The question that arises in the mind of a devout Hindu is whether idol worship has Vedic sanction.  Our Saastras say “Vedokilam dharma moolam” --Vedas are the final authority. Geeta says, “Tasmaat Saastram pramaanam te”—when in doubt Scriptures (Srutis and Smritis) are final authority.  Surprisingly, there are number of references to the images of   Gods in all the four Vedas and also Incarnations of Vishnu as well as Personal God Siva (Rudram of Rigveda) The art of sculpturing was current even around 3000 B.C.E. Bronze images have been unearthed at the Harappa sites of excavation around 3000 B.C.E. Baudhaayana Grihyasootras not only mentions about the images of Vishnu, Ganesha and Yama but also give  the details  regarding their consecration and worship.
It is becoming increasingly evident that there is no ground for the distinction that used to be made by Western and Western educated Historians between Dravidian and Aryan races as distinguishing Indus and Vedic civilization. The Vedic Gods were 33 in number--Earth, Heaven, Twelve aspect of solar energies (Aadityas), eleven frightening forces of the atmosphere (Rudras) and eight deities of directions (Vasus). They were symbolized as Vyahritis (emanations) of Supreme Principle.
Famous temples of Balaji and Jagannth Glorified in Rigveda
A Rigvedic (8-8-13) hymn  says: “Aaraayi kaane girim gachcha sadaanve | sirim bithasya satvabhih tebhishtvaa  saatayaamyaci || (When you have lost your vision of wisdom and wealth,  and you  are  helpless join the crowd of devotees, ascend the seven hills and reach the seat of Sridevi (Lakshmi) and pay your obeisance to Lord Venkatesa who is in the company of  Lakshmi). This refers to the popular and famous shrine of Balaji in Tirupati. Another Rigvedic Hymn says: “Aado yaddaaru plavate sindhoeh paare apoorusham | tadaarabhasva durhanoe tenagaccha parastaram”(10-155-3)—Sayana well known commentator of Vedas interprets this as: Follow the blog of wood that no man has created floating on the seas and casting on the shore; meditate upon that Supreme whom no one has conquered and under its protection reach the Paramapada (abode of Vishnu). Evidently this refers to ancient and historic holy shrine of Jagannath of Puri where deities are made out of blogs of wood and worshiped.

Reference to Dasaavataaras in Vedas
Matsya—“tam   matsyah praabraveet”( Yajus samhita; Satapatha Braamana)
Koorma—“Koormam bhootagam sarpamtam” and “sayatkoormoenaama”(Taittareeya Aranyaka1-2-3; Satapatha brahmana—7-4-1)
Varaaha—“sa varaahoe roopam kritvaa upanyajjamat”; “taam varaahoe bhootvaa aharat” (Taitaareeya Brahmana1-1-3; Taitt, Samhita 7-1-5; “Uddhritaaci varaahena”--Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad.
Vaamana—“Treeni padavichakrame vishnurgoepaa adaabhyah”(Taittareeya Brahmana 7-4-1)
Narasimha—“Mrigoenaa bheemah kucharoe girishthaahm| yasyoerushu trishu vikramaneshu— Chandogya Upanishad 4-3-7; “aatmaa devaanaam janitaa prajaanaam | hiranya damshtroe babhasoe anasoorih ||”—Rigveda Samhita 10-3-3
Krishana—“Brahmanyo devakeeputroe madhusoodanoem” Naraayanopanishat, Atharva Veda; “Ghora Aangeerasah krishnaaya devakee putraaya uktvaa uvaacha apipaasa eva sa babhoova”—Cha.Up. 3-17

There is also a reference to Vasishta as Kulaguru of Srirama in Yajussamhita which has missed the attention of commentators but found in recitation practices. Yajurveda Samhita 2-2-6-1 says: “Devenaayatane yajate’’ indicating the existence of Temple.  Aayatana means temple. There can be no temple without an image.

Historians say that Puraanic period followed much later and Vedas are oldest. The date of Rigveda has varied from 4500 B.C.E. (B.G. Tilak) and 2400 B.C.E. (Hang) to 1200 B.C.E. (Max Muller).  Modern European scholars assign the period 700 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E. to the Upanishads.  According to Tilak and scholars that concur with him, the Upanishads belong to the period 2500 B.C.E to 2000 B.C.E. It is therefore surprising to find so many references to Incarnations of Vishnu in Vedas as a predator to Itihaasas, Ramayana being the Adikavya. Incarnations of Vishnu are most favored in Moorti worship by Vaishnavites. Rudra, the Vedic God is projected as Personal God Siva in Rudram with all Puraanic details in Rigveda.  Rudra is strongly believed to be Brahman alone. Probably all these confusions  gave   an idea to Max Muller to push the date of Vedas to a much later date to equate it with Bible.  The age of Epics according Western Historians is 185 BC.E. to 320 A.D.

Institutionalized religions have a wrong notion that Hindus are idolatrous. Images are symbols of power and glory of Supreme Principle. The image acts as symbol of link between Supreme Principle and the worshiper. When through such adoration and worship mental communion with Supreme Principle is established worship ends. Then there is no need for images. This is the principle behind why Hindus discard the images after worship and immerse them in either lakes or rivers or seas. Ganesha and Durga worshipers follow this custom traditionally on a grand scale with a worship called Visarjana (Farewell to the image) followed by a procession.   Limited group of Vaishanvites also do Lakshmipooja in the form of an elephant and do visarjan. Principle of Navkalebar is similar to that where the image of non-durable wood material are discarded like the clay images of Durga and Ganesha when deterioration of the image is believed to start or as a caution before-hand.  Here a secret and sacred thing called Brahma- padartha is supposed to get transferred from the discarded image to the new consecrated image. The worshiper finds no use for the clay images once the communion with the Supreme Principle is established. Devotee even finds temple visits are not necessary. That is why temple visits have not been made mandatory for a spiritually oriented person who is able to establish communion with Supreme Principle.  Further not all the images of deities available in the market are suitable for worship. He has to develop a feeling of divinity in them by consecration as well as daily prayer. Normal worship begins with self-purification of the worshiper and recognition of the divinity even in the consecrated image.

But what inspired Hindus to present day popular form of Moorthi Upaasana—image worship? Upanishads say the world rises out of Supreme Principle, is supported by him and gets dissolved back in him. He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He sees, hears and knows although none can see or hear or know him.  He responds to our prayers and grants us whatever we seek. He is our ultimate goal.  To meditate upon him, the Upanishads described Him as Purusha, bright, brilliant, of golden hue, with all parts of his body of golden color and his eyes resembling a fully bloomed red lotus. Fire is his head, the sun and moon are his eyes, the quarters are his ears, the Vedas are his speech and the earth is his feet (Purusha sookta). Sometimes he is also described as having thousand heads, thousand eyes and thousand feet in his cosmic form. There are pictures illustrating his Viswaroopa (cosmic form)  whichare also used in Moorti Upaasana.  This form recommended for meditation is the Aupanishada-Purusha or Upanishadic Moorti.  This description of Purusha gave Puraanas ample scope to come out with pantheon of Gods for the development of Moorti Pooja and iconography.

Worshipers used fire as the symbol of Supreme Principle (Brahman) during the Vedic period. Since God is present everywhere, anything existing in the Universe can be selected as his symbol! They chose fire, the dispeller of darkness, the symbol of purity and the giver of warmth as the Symbol (Vyaahriti) of Brahman. This got extended to other four elements and then to 33 Vedic Gods mentioned above. The sages of Upanishads bogged down by the fear of death as focused in Vedic prayers “mrityoer maa amritam gamaya” and “mrityoer moksheeya maamrutaat” focused their attention on life after death of human beings.  Therefore their focus was on Repentance (Paschaattaapa), Meditation (Dhyaana) and Surrender (Saranaagati) at the feet of the Supreme Principle towards spiritual evolution and on sacrifices as you read in all Upanishads. Image worship was few and far between, though in existence during Vedic period which gained momentum after Puraanic period and the deities for worship went even beyond 33 crores. Today many saints, philosophers and imaginary deities (Bhaarat Maata) are   being worshiped in exclusive temples built for them, which has given scope for criticism from Western and Middle East religions.

A Note on  the Hindu  Religious Practice of  Aavaahana and Visarjana  in Moorti worship

Hindus treat God as the most honored guest in their worship at home as well as in temples. Aaraadhana (worship) is an obligatory part of every individual after taking bath and cleansing his or her physical body. At home this is done by the head of the household while others participate and in temples priests do the job on behalf of devotees. Any worship begins with an invitation for the presence of the Lord (Supreme Being) in the idol and then at the end of the worship a fitting farewell is given to rest for the day and return back. Even in individual’s  busy modern life thoughts are centered on this whenever they bow before a symbolic idol feeling the divine presence in the art piece. Being all pervading the presence of Brahman (Supreme Being) is always felt in any worship of any symbolic object.  Every Hindu before retiring bows before the idol and retires for the day. There are fitting prayers for every act of one’s daily duties. Aavahana is the process of inviting divine presence by a set of prayers. Visarjana is a farewell with reverence for temporary or permanent retirement of divine presence in the idol by a set of prayers. When mind is set for marching towards spiritual path of Paschattapa (atonement for sins committed), Dhyaana (meditation) and Nyaasa (surrender at the feet of the Lord), then on idols play a very little part in Hindu Worship.

1) Pooja at home forms the essential Nityakarma (daily ritual) of a Hindu. This is more important than occasional visit to temples. A devout worshiper goes through a process of self-purification and consecration of the idol by a set of prayers each day before worship. Idols at home do not undergo elaborate consecration ceremony as done in temples.  Therefore this procedure is necessary daily at the commencement of home worship. The following prayer is chanted for this purpose: "Svaatmasamstham ajam suddham tvaamadhya parameswara | aranyamiva havyaasam moortau aavaahayam  aham"-- Oh Lord of the Universe ! You are unborn and pure! You are in my heart! I invoke you in the Moorti! Make yourself visible to me in my concentration even as the fire in 'arani' wood reveals itself by friction. (The invisible fire is generated by friction by rubbing two woods for Yajna or fire sacrifice). Invisible Brahman is invoked who is like the invisible fire in the matter, wood. People who simply bow before any image of  a deity, invoke Supreme Being through that medium,  just as we salute a flag (otherwise a piece of cloth) paying our respect to the nation symbolically. What is important is to do any act of worship with proper understanding. Even at home after the Pooja is over, the Moorti with divine power charged by a set of prayers and treated as an honored guest for a while, is given a warm send-off only to be re-invoked the next morning before Pooja. This should be clearly understood before we start any Pooja at home.  It would be ideal to make daily temporary idols for worship as is done for annual celebration and discard (visarjan) them properly. Time, skill and economic considerations call for these permanent bronze idols to be kept, in Pooja room.

2) Both in Puri Jagannath and in all Hindu Temples consecration ceremony is performed every 12 years as per Aaagamas invoking divine powers within the idol by an elaborate process lasting several days.  This facilitates any repair needed for the foundation or replacement for the symbolic idol and to get them recharged with elaborate Pooja ritual periodically.
3) In the temporary clay models used ion annual functions the process is not so elaborate.  They are also discarded after the Pooja is over and after the mind is set on Supreme Being by a long process of prayers.  Even for Visarjan (discarding) after the mind is set on the Supreme prayers are offered to give a reverential send off with a request to come back again for the next annual event in which ritual the remaining divine power in the clay model is either withdrawn to merge with the Self with a set of prayers or allowed to merge with its source Mother Earth, Universal Mother.

In the concept of Puranic religious worship Lord Ganesha comes to us heeding to our prayers to take care of our worries and troubles during Ganesha Chaturthi time and goes back to his abode Kailasa building  comfort  and happiness in us  and after the religious visarjana ceremony joins his mother,  Gowri  (Mother Earth). That is why the idol is immersed in deep waters or in running waters.
 4) Idols exhibited in drawing rooms, exhibitions or on display for sales in shops,   which do not undergo daily rituals of Aavahana,   not used as medium of concentration on Supreme Principle  and   which are not subjected  to Visarjan  (proper send-off)  are considered  as art pieces only and not divine charged idols for worship.  This divine thought behind is sacred and not the appreciation of   art piece in display.

Followers of other religions who do not know about the significance of these specific ceremonies of Aavaahanam and Visarjanam and also the Symbolism of Moorti Worship blame Hindus as idolatrous out of ignorance.

1) Swami Bhaskarananda, Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
2) Varadaraja Tirumale, Vesda Maarga, Sri Lakshmi Hayagriva Trust, Bengaluru, India
3) Ramachandra Rao, Indian Temple Traditions, Kalpataru Research Academy, Bengaluru, India
4) Jagadguru Chandrasekaranada Saraswati, Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
5) N.S. Anantarangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Bengaluru, India.



                    Upasana and Bhakti

                                             By Courtesy Dr. Panchanan Satpathy

Bhakti:  Two primary meanings; 1. Love of God 2. Worship of God.

Bhakti as love of God: 

Love is an attitude enjoyed by the bhaktas toward Isvara. It is not a particular action to be performed at a particular time and place.It is an attitude enjoyed by the mind towards Isvara all the time.
Bhakti as the love of God can be of three grades:
1.       Sadhana visaya prema
2.       Saddhya visaya prema
3.       Siddha visaya prema

Bhakti as Worship: 

Worship of Isvara is a spiritual sadhana by the seeker. We will explain later.

Sadhana Vishaya Prema:

We are exposed to God, puja, prayer, Rituals, temple etc. by our parents, relatives, friends and the community. If we love, believe, and pray to God all our problems will go away and we can fulfil our desires  and achieve our goal. The goal is different to different people like good job, better comfort, better profit and better life etc. So God is used here as a means (sadhana) to achieve our goal. This is called sadhana visaya Prema. This is the bhakti of lowest grade; also called Manda Bhakti. Here Bhakta pursuits only for artha and kama.

Saddhya Vishaya Prema:

After sometime the bhakta grows slowly and matures. Bhakta realizes the goal of name, fame, wealth, position, status are all temporary within samsara. Today it is there; tomorrow gone. All are finite. The bhakta thinks, get some knowledge, some Viveka. Then he decides; I really don’t want these worldly things. I want God Himself as my goal. He knows now, he likes his goal more than the means. It is saddhya – possible.  He prays not for the worldly things but for God Himself. There is a big shift in his attitude from artha, kama to Lord. This called Saddhya Visaya Prema. This is  also called Maddhyama Bhakti.

Siddha Vishaya Prema:

As the Bhakta matures further; he wants to know who is God, what is God, what is His true nature? He looks for help, guidance, sastra and Guru etc. Now he is doing Vedanta Vichara; Vichara: enquiry about God. To his surprise he discovers; God is infinite. So One, who is infinite, cannot be away from me or anybody at any time. This Bhakta realizes; the division, the gap, the distance between him and Bhagavan is not there at all. He also discovers Bhakta is not different from Bhagavan. Bhagavan and Atma are one and the same. God is in me as Atma. God / Atma is Siddha Visaya, so this love is called Siddha Visaya Prema. This is love of highest order. Uttama Prema.
This is said by Lord Krishna to Arjuna  again and again in Bhagvat Gita “Caturvidha Bhajante Mam.” There are four types of devotees. This is all due to their Punya or Sukrutinah. They recognize and worship me. The degree of recognition, their attitude, approach and prayers are different.
1.       Artah: The one, who is in trouble, grief or sadness, distress, discomfort and in crisis, is called Arti. When the person is captured by grief or distress, whom he will call as a last resort? If he has some Punya Karma  there is Isvara in his life and he will call upon Him. He calls only when he is in distress – till then he does not think about God. This is Artah Bhakta. God is used here as Sadhana (means); so sadhna visaya Prema. Manda Bhakta. Nothing wrong with it.

2.       Artharthi: The devotee, whenever he wants to accomplish something like artha and kama, like wealth, security, power etc.  he invokes the grace of God to control certain factors, which he cannot do on his own. He wants to fulfil his Kamya Karmas by using God as means to fufil it. Devotee prays for dukkha nivruti and sukha prapti here. This is also Sadhana Visaya Prema, therefore Manda Bhakti.

3.     Jijnasa Bhakti: Jijnasa  is one, who desires to know the truth of Isvara; Isvara Tattvam. He does not use Lord as means. Lord is his goal. He uses Isvara’s grace to know Isvara. He does his nitya and naimitika karmas  for antah karan suddhi and to gain knowledge. His prayers are not for limited things within Samsara  like kamya karmas, but he is a Karma Yogi and wants to know Isvara. He has got some Viveka; a different kind of devotion. God is his goal. So Jijnasa  bhakti is Sadhya bhakti, therefore madhyama bhakti. Also madhyama  bhakti in time becomes Jnana bhakti  but not yet.

4.   Jnana Bhakti: Also called Siddha bhakti or Uttam Bhakti. He is the Jnani, who knows the truth of Isvara as Atma. The devotion in form of absolute love. What is absolute love? Between the object of love and the person who loves, there is no difference at all. The love consumes all the differences. This is only in the form of knowledge. The truth of Isvara and Atma is one and the same no difference, this knowledge is known to Jnani. This is also called Ananya bhakti: Ananya means no Other. The Lord and the devotee, the alter of bhakti, are one and the same. This is devotion of a Jnani. Bhakti is fulfilled here. All the above three bhaktas also have union with the Isvara temporarily , for them Isvara is other than themselves and therefore Isvara still remote to them;( Paroksa). Jnani bhakta is always in union with Isvara. Isvara  is immediate to jnani ( aporoksa). Jnani is isvara. Isvara is Paroksa for Artah, Artharthi and Jijnasu. Paroksa means Isvara is known indirectly. For Jijnasu there is possibility of Isvara becoming aparoksa in time. Other bhaktas also can fulfil same things in time. Lord Krishna says in Gita, Artah, Artharthi and Jijansu Bhaktas are dear to Me, but Jnani is ME.

Bhakti is a union between Jiva and Isvara. Jnani is most exalted bhakta among all forms of bhaktas Jnani is the one, who has accomplished what devotion can accomplish. Jnani is Tattva-vit. He knows truth of Isvara as Atma. Isvara is not separate from anybody, but they don’t know it. Jnani knows – he is Isvara. Devotion is only for this knowledge. If I know Atma as Isvara, then devotion resolves. Till then it is a devotion. Devotion culminates in Jnanam. The devotion is not after knowledge. Knowledge itself is devotion of highest order. So bhakti is a union between Jeeva and Isvara. We have to know, how by jnanam. The devotion fulfils in Jnanam.

Now let us look at the second meaning of Bhakti as worship. Worship is a spiritual sadhana. There are three types of worship.
1.       Karma Lakhya  Bhakti
2.       Upashana Lakhya  Bhakti
3.       Jnana Lakhaya a Bhakti

Karma Lakhya  Bhakti:

This is actually Karma yoga. All karmas are done as offering to Isvara. This is called Isvara arpana buddhi. Karma gives result called Karma Phala. Karma Phala is given by Isvara; so Isvara is called Karma phala Data. Whatever comes from Isvara, we call it Prasad. Prasad is accepted gladly without any resistance and is called Isvara Prasad Buddhi. What is the benefit of the Karma Lakhyana Bhakti? It produces anthahkarana suddhi; the purification of the mind. So mind will be calm, quiet, and peaceful . There is tranquility, Samatvam and shanti in mind.  Mind is now ready for knowledge.

Upasana Lakhya  Bhakti:

Upasana is worship as meditation. Meditation is satvit mental activity kepping Isvara in view. So it is called Sativka Manasa Vyaparam. Lord Krishna prescribes two types of meditation.
1.       Saguna Brahma Upasana or Dhyana or Aka-Rupa Upasana: Here meditation is done in particular form of Isvara. This helps to build concentration and purification of the mind.

2.       Nirguna Brahma Upasana or Nitidhyasana (Contemplation) or Viswarupa Upasana: Here meditation is done on Nirakara, or nirguna  form of the Brahman, Atma, or self. It also includes Viswarupa of the Lord. Here you see the Universe as the Lord. Here the meditator, meditation and the Lord becomes One and the same. This gives rise to universal love, respect, generosity, magnanimity and divine qualities. As Vivekananda said Upasana establishes living relationship to Bhagavan.

Jnana Lakhya  Bhakti:

Here Bhakta is not doing any Karma or meditation. Here he is pursuing knowledge – Vedanta Vichara, enquiry into the Upanisads. Only through knowledge, we will know the true nature of Isvara. Some say jnana is dry, no bhakti there. Lord Krishna negates that. He discusses various Yajnas, Pranayams, Astanga Yoga, various rituals and homas  etc. At the end He says Jnana Yajna is Yajna of highest order. Jnana Yajna is culmination of all yajnas, bhaktis, upasanas and worships. All finally fulfil in Jnanam alone. The student and the teachers of Vedanta by their discussion are only worshipping Me in form of Jnana Yajna. Bhagavat gita , vedanta clases  are jnana yajna only, why? Because the subject mater is isvara. 

Worship and bhakti are not something different. Upasana and bhakti are not different. Bhakti is not separate from Jnanam. Bhakti itself, in form of Karma Yoga in the beginning, slowly progresses to Upasana and finally culminates in Jnanam or Jnana Yajna.