Om Sweet Om

Om Sweet Om

Impressive images of festivals, unimpressive use of “idol”

Just recently, the Atlantic published some amazing photographs of Hindu festivals that demonstrate the colorfulness, diversity, and inclusiveness of Hinduism.  The pictures are stunning and have been taken not only in India, but also in England, Nepal, and Bali – the only Hindu-majority island in Indonesia.  Being from the Indian state of Gujarat, I’m slightly partial to pictures #2 and #37! accompanying captions are definitely some of the better ones that I’ve seen over the years.  Still, I take particular issue with the continued use of the word “idol” (see captions #1, #10, #11, #19…) as it carries a negative connotation.  In fact, a quick Google search yields the following definition for idol: a. An image used as an object of worship. b. A false god.


A number of years ago, the Hindu American Foundation created a Media Toolkit aimed at rectifying some of the common misrepresentations and omissions found in the media’s coverage of Hinduism.  Among the six misrepresentations identified was the use of the word “idol.”  The toolkit recommends the use of the Sanskrit term murti, which “refers to a powerful visual tool for contemplating the nature of God…Followers of Hinduism do not blindly worship idols, but use divine images, murtis, as focal points designed to be aides in meditation and prayer. Hindus do not consider God to be limited to the murti, but it is a sacred symbol that offers a medium for worship. Indeed, Hindus perceive only one God who is infinite and can be addressed in infinite ways and the multiple Gods and Goddesses are a manifestation of that infinite.”


The use of the word “idol” is not unique to the Atlantic.  It has been used time and time again to describe the various murtis that adorn Hindu temples and homes.  While I believe that most journalists do not intend offense in using the term, I still hope to see a shift in terminology to ensure a more accurate portrayal of a faith that often tends to be misunderstood.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bhagwandeen Ramroop,

    Hare Krishna,
    Dear Sheetal Bahen,very interesting article,
    as a Guyanese living in Canada I always hated
    that word “idol”,instead I was told to use
    the word “icon”. Professor Dr. Rambachan from the University Of Minesotta, a Sanskrit
    Scholar also embrace this word. Thank you.
    B. Ramroop

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mary

    Now if we could only stop people from using the term “Guru” for any expert about any particular subject! I know it’s pretty much impossible, but I can dream……..

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment GaudioLugens

    The same kind of misunderstanding by unenlightened outsiders is often directed at Catholics who might appear to praying to the statue of a saint or of Christ himself, when they are actually praying thru it or by means of it. Gaudio Lugens Iudices.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Neil

    This statement is quite true and I endorse it fully! Too many people use the term “idol” when they really mean “murti” or “vigraha”! A somewhat similar situation exists where mandirs and shivalayas etc., are called “temples” which originally meant a place where heathen acts are performed!

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