People associate all kinds of things with altars. Some associate them with the “dark arts”; those who are more knowledgable in neo-paganism and the psychic arts know that they are used for focusing energy, raising positive intention and honoring life in its many aspects. But fewer people know that practicing Hindus are the kings and queens of home altars, often decorating their family homes with multiple devotional altars to the various gods and goddesses of Hinduism. The images of gods and goddesses included on these altars are referred to as “murtis.” (From Wikipedia:)
In Hinduism, a murti (Devanagari: मूर्ति), or murthi, typically refers to an image which expresses a Divine Spirit (murta). Meaning literally “embodiment”, a murti is a representation of a divinity, made usually of stone, wood, or metal, which serves as a means through which a divinity may be worshiped. Hindus consider a murti worthy of serving as a focus of divine worship only after the divine is invoked in it for the purpose of offering worship. The depiction of the divinity must reflect the gestures and proportions outlined in religious tradition, the Murti is like a way to communicate with the abstract one god, it is a means of communication with the one god orBrahman in Hinduism. Murti is synonymous with statue or idol.
Houma Today reports:
The altar on C.K. Hiranya Gowda’s kitchen counter is small but elegant.
There’s a small sandalwood sculpture of Sri Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity, along with other small sculptures of Hanuman and Devi, two other deities.
A small oil lamp burns near the altar. Fresh flowers and fruit are set out as offerings.
Every day Gowda, a retired ear, nose and throat doctor, starts his day with prayer and meditation in front of the altar. It’s a practice he learned from his parents while growing up in rural India. Every day his prayer is the same.
“I pray that God gives me the strength to do the best I can do,” Gowda said.
The Vishnu exhibit at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville is bringing attention to home shrines or altars. Gowda’s altar is one of five Hindu home shrines featured, and it’s on display till the end of May. But Hindus aren’t alone in their practice: Buddhists, Catholics and even a Nashville Lutheran use them for worship.
What do you think—how can murtis and sacred imagery help us in our practice?