Idol Worship

"False idols" redirects here. For the Tricky album, see False Idols.
"Idolater" redirects here. For other uses, see Idolator (disambiguation).


Idolatry is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol or a physical object such as a cult image as a god, or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving honour and regard to created forms. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although views as to what constitutes idolatry may differ within and between them. In other religions the use of cult images is accepted. Which images, ideas, and objects constitute idolatry is often a matter of considerable contention.

Behaviour considered idolatrous or potentially idolatrous may include the creation of any type of image of the deity, or of other figures of religious significance such as prophets, saints, and clergy, the creation of images of any person or animal at all, and the use of religious symbols, or secular ones. In addition, theologians have extended the concept to include giving undue importance to other aspects of religion, or to non-religious aspects of life in general, with no involvement of images specifically. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. Man commits idolatry whenever he honours and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods, or demons (for example satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money etc."[1]

The avoidance of the use of images for religious reasons is called aniconism. The destruction of religious images within a culture is called iconoclasm, of which there have been many major episodes in history.

Etymology

The word idolatry comes (by haplology) from the Greek word εἰδωλολατρία eidololatria parasynthetically from εἰδωλολάτρης from εἴδωλον eidolon, "image" or "figure", and λάτρις latris, "worshipper"[2] or λατρεύειν latreuein, "to worship" from λάτρον latron "payment". Although the Greek appears to be a loan translation of the Hebrew phrase avodat elilim, which is attested in rabbinic literature (e.g., bChul., 13b, Bar.), the Greek term itself is not found in the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus, or in other Hellenistic Jewish writings. It is also not found in (pre-Christian) Greek literature. In the New Testament, the Greek word is found only in the letters of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation, where it has a derogatory meaning, as one of the vices. It is also found in the Didache and the Apostolic Decree includes a prohibition from the "pollution of idols". Hebrew terms for idolatry include avodah zarah (foreign worship) and avodat kochavim umazalot (worship of planets and constellations).[3]

In current context, however, idolatry is not limited to religious concepts. It can also refer to a social phenomenon where false perceptions are created and worshipped, or even used as a term in the entertainment industry.

Christianity

Main articles: Idolatry and Christianity and Aniconism in Christianity


The Christian view of idolatry may generally be divided into two general categories, the Catholic/Orthodox view (which accepts the use of religious icons and other images) and the Protestant view. Fundamentalist Protestants still often accuse these other Christians of idolatry, iconolatry, and even paganism for failing to "cleanse their faith" of the use of images; in the Protestant Reformation such language was common to all Protestants. Puritan groups adopted a view similar to Judaism (as a result they were accused of Judaizing), denouncing all forms of religious objects, whether in three-dimensional or two-dimensional form, including even a plain cross.[7]

The problem springs from differences in interpretation of the Ten Commandments. "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (RSV Exodus 20:3-6).

The Roman Catholic and particularly the Orthodox Churches cite St. John of Damascus' work "On the Divine Image" to defend the use of icons. He wrote in direct response to the Byzantine iconoclasm that began in the 8th century by the Byzantine emperor Leo III and continued by his successor Constantine V. St. John maintains that depicting the invisible God is indeed wrong, but he argues that the incarnation, where "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14), indicates that the invisible God became visible, and as a result it is permissible to depict Jesus Christ. He argues: "When He who is bodiless and without form... existing in the form of God, empties Himself and takes the form of a servant in substance and in stature and is found in a body of flesh, then you draw His image..."

He also observes that in the Old Testament, images and statues were not absolutely condemned in themselves: examples include the images of book of Numbers.

He defends external acts of honour towards icons, arguing that there are "different kinds of worship" and that the honour shown to icons differs entirely from the adoration of God. He continues by citing Old Testament examples of forms of "honour": "Jacob bowed to the ground before Esau, his brother, and also before the tip of his son Joseph's staff (Genesis 33:3). He bowed down, but did not adore. Joshua, the Son of Nun, and Daniel bowed in veneration before an angel of God (St. Basil who asserts, "the honour given to the image is transferred to its prototype". St. John argues therefore that venerating an image of Christ does not terminate at the image itself – the material of the image is not the object of worship – rather it goes beyond the image, to the prototype.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians use religious objects such as statues, Crosses, Icons, incense, the Gospel, Bible, candles and religious vestments. Icons are mainly in two- but rarely in three-dimensional form. These are in dogmatic theory venerated as objects filled with God's grace and power -- (therefore Eastern Orthodoxy declares they are not "hollow forms" or cult images).

Evidence for the use of these is found in the Old Testament and in Early Christian worship. For example, the veneration of the tombs and statues of martyrs was common among early Christian communities. In 397 St. Augustine of Hippo, in his Confessions 6.2.2, tells the story of his mother making offerings for the statues and tombs of martyrs. This is a very early form of Christianity, as the Biblical Canon had only been adopted about 30 years previously at the Council of Laodicea, however see Development of the Christian biblical canon for details.

The offering of veneration in the form of latria (the veneration due God) is doctrinally forbidden by the Orthodox Church; however veneration of religious pictures or Icons in the form of dulia is not only allowed but obligatory. Some outside observers find it difficult to distinguish these two levels of veneration in practice, but the distinction is maintained and taught by believers in many of the hymns and prayers that are sung and prayed throughout the liturgical year.

In Orthodox apologetics for icons, a similarity is asserted between icons and the manufacture by Moses (under God's commandment) of the Bronze Snake, which was, Orthodoxy says, given the grace and power of God to heal those bitten by real snakes. "And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any person, when he beheld the serpent of brass, they lived"(Numbers 21:9). Another similarity is declared with the Ark of the Covenant described as the ritual object above which Yahweh was present (Numbers 10:33-36); or the burning bush which, according to Exodus, God spoke to Moses through; or the Ten Commandments which were the Word of God ("Dabar Elohim") in tablet form. These inanimate objects became a medium by which God worked to teach, speak to, encourage and heal the Hebrew faithful.

Veneration of icons through proskynesis was codified in the Seventh Ecumenical Council during the Byzantine Iconoclast controversy, in which St. John of Damascus was pivotal. Icon veneration is also practiced in the Catholic Church, which accepts the declarations of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but it is practiced to a lesser extent, since Latin-rite Catholics today do not usually prostrate and kiss icons, and the Second Vatican Council enjoined moderation in the use of images. Eastern-rite Catholics still use icons in their Divine Liturgy, however.

Some Protestant groups avoid the use of images in any context suggestive of veneration. Religious images are common in Catholic, Orthodox churches. The use of some religious images and symbols, for example in printed matter, is now more common among many modern Protestant groups than was the case in the 16th century, but large publicly displayed images, except the cross, are rare. Many Conservative Christians avoid any use of religious images, even for inspiration, as idolatry.

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Hinduism

Main article: Murti


Hinduism grants equal status to all forms of worship[8] and therefore it neither prescribes nor proscribes worship of images (murti) or idols.

Allegory is a key element of Hindu religion. Each attribute of the God as imagined by the devotee is depicted in form of a deity such as purity and potency in linga, fierce ruthlessness towards evil in durga, cosmic force in Vishnu, amenable kindness and auspiciousness in Ganesha, extreme and indomitable power and pride in Murugan, power in Hanuman. The multiple heads or limbs of Lord Vishnu or goddess Durga often seen in Hindu art, for example, would be intended to represent divine omniscience and omnipotence, whereas the use of an animal icons for vehicle would seek to allegorically represent particular abstract qualities associated with that animal/bird such as astuteness, agility or power. Gestures (mudra) the hand or the holding of a certain object are also heavily weighted with meaning. Certain tenets such as non-violence and search for God in all beings living and non-living led to depiction of several other forms.

Each individual icon thus becomes to the Hindu worshiper a complex statement of faith and every detail may be a focus of meditation and spiritual insight. To fully equate the divine with its icons or murtis would be a misinterpretation of the Hindu concept of divine reality. The argument of scholars of Abrahamic faiths is that any attempt to represent their god will only fall short since there is nothing equal to him and that such representations should not be worshipped. Further they opine that it is he that gives a certain creation or creature a certain set of qualities and making gods out of them is insulting the creator. In the same way, Veda-centric Hindu reformist movements in the 18th–19th centuries such as the Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj, were also highly critical of image worship like the Semitic religions and called for a return to the ancient Vedic and Upanishadic teachings.[9]

In the ancient Vedic period worship was primarily centred around the open-air fire altar (yajna-kunda) and no physical representations of the divine were used. A text in the Shukla Yajur-veda (32.3) reads, “Of Him there is no likeness (pratima), whose glory is infinite”. The Upanishads, which form the philosophical conclusions (vedanta) of the Vedas, repeatedly stress the formlessness (nirākāra, no material form) and unimaginable nature of God, and advise the aspirant to realise the divine presence inwardly. However by the time of Bhagavata Purana, meditation was recommended along with and worship of pratima (murti) with the understanding that it is not an ordinary material object.[10]

The Hindu sages closed their eyes and meditated silently (forms of Skt. tapasya and Skt. sadhana) - they did not need enclosures/buildings, nor even words or mental images for their meditation. But these sages did not abuse any one's murtis or call its worship a sin. They recognized it as an approach/stage in an individual's sincere spiritual progress guided by the principles of Dharma.

As Swami Vivekananda said, "Would it be right for an old man to say that childhood is sin or youth is sin? .... Just because a few have passed by ignorance and attained knowledge, they cannot ignore that there are innumerable who haven’t tried at all. It is to be noted that in a man's journey of life, he is ever learning, some men are more literate, some are less; so is the case with some communities of our society against others (this dichotomy is common to all countries). The bottom line is: -

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If Vedanta truly epitomizes the state of learnedness, in achieving this spiritual progress "the first stage for a layman is the external/material worship; struggling to rise high, mental prayer is the next stage, but the highest stage is when the divine has been realized"[11] Unity in variety is the scheme of nature, and the Hindu has recognized it and practised ever since the yore through his equanimity to all and universal tolerance".[12] This conscious Hindu recognition and the respect for different approaches to sincere worship proved useful to Jews who migrated to India (for trading or fleeing persecution by other anti-idolatrous Abrahamical religions) and thrived for many hundreds of years before moving back to Israel in 1948.[13] Thus for the common masses,

Now that Vedanta is recognised as the summit of spirituality, one should learn what the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad discusses on the essence of Vedanta. The dialogue between Rishi Yajnavalkya and his wife, Maitreyi, elaborates the essence of Vedanta. The three recognized states to the path of Self-realization are: Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana. 'Sravana' is the discourse of scriptures from a qualified Guru. 'Manana' means constant reflection upon what has been learnt so that intellectual conviction may be produced in the mind. Finally, 'Nididhyasana' implies meditation that helps to cause a direct realization of the unity of things in God. Knowledge should lead to experience; intellectual conviction should result in perception (pravritti). That is why meditation comes in the last stage of the spiritual journey. Again the scriptures insist that successful completion of the states is neither necessary nor sufficient for Self-realization.

Striving for Moksha (salvation) i.e. one-ness with the universal soul (Brahman) is the ultimate goal of Impersonalism. One should try to understand supreme person through worship (Bhakti yoga) or meditation (Raja Yoga), or by performing one's duties well (Karma Yoga) or pursuing the intellectual path (Jnana Yoga) is the goal of (DevoteesTemplate:Dn) or (Personalist).

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates Lord Krishna's divine words from Bhagavad Gita, "Be steadfast in yoga (yoga-sthaḥ), O Arjuna, perform your duty (kuru karmani) and abandon all attachment (sangam) to success or failure (siddhy-asiddhyoḥ). Such evenness of mind (samatvam) is called yoga."[59]

The Hindus believe with regard to God that he is one, eternal, without beginning and end, acting by free-will, almighty, all-wise, living, giving life, ruling, preserving; one who in his sovereignty is unique, beyond all likeness and unlikeness, and that he does not resemble anything nor does anything resemble.[13]

Although Vedas describe God as a power beyond imagination and that individuals should pursue a path of enlightenment / Vedanta, the truth however is, they do not reject Idol Worship. In Puja Vidhaan/Prakriya, there is a host of procedures such as (1).Suchi i.e. cleanliness, use of silks, (2). Muhurat i.e. Auspicious Timing (3).Guru vandanam(4).Symbols such as wearing preferably silks, donning tilak or decoration of the pooja griha and mandir with lights, flowers & rangoli (5). Solemnising the deity – avaahana (invitation), sthaapan (installation) and puja (worship). (3). Use of 'puja dravya' such as ganga jal, akshata, kumkum, turmeric, panchamrita et., (6).Invocation through mantras or dhyanam i.e. silent meditation (7).'kirtans / bhajans' i.e. transcendental experience (7). Gifts to friends & relatives and Charity to the poor. Inter alia, the idol becomes an interface with the God – although He is formless the devotee can conjure the Lord of his definition in all his grandeur, power and divine attributes like karuna and kripa. That 'He' is formless is known to every Hindu but idol worship is one of the several ingredients of Bhakti to enable mortal beings of different backgrounds and limitations to approach and experience Him the one Supreme Being.

Thus as Christopher John Fuller, Professor of anthropology at London School of Economics notes that an image cannot be equated with a deity and the object of worship is the deity whose power is inside the image, and the image is not the object of worship itself.[14]

The misleading notion that Hinduism is fundamentally idolatrous was addressed in the context of Abrahamic religions by the 11th-century Muslim scholar Al-Biruni. Al-Biruni rejected the notion and established that Hindus do not necessarily need anthropomorphisms, but the crowd and the members of the single sects use them most extensively.[15] Al-Biruni wrote that the Hindus believe with regard to God that He is one, eternal, without beginning and end, acting by free-will, almighty, all-wise, living, giving life, ruling, preserving; one who in his sovereignty is unique, beyond all likeness and unlikeness, and that he does not resemble anything nor does anything resemble Him.[15]

From a historical perspective, image worship (Murti-PujA) is an ancient tradition as a small part within the overall Hindu tradition, with the oldest extant images of the classical Pauranik deities allegedly dating to Ramayana when Rama worshipped Lord Shiva at Rameswaram. Other early archaeological finds include idols of the Gupta period (c. 3rd to 7th centuries CE).

Although Hinduism is commonly represented by such anthropomorphic religious icons such as murtis, aniconism is equally represented with such abstract symbols of God such as the Shiva linga and the saligrama.[16] Furthermore, Hindus have found it easier to focus on anthropomorphic icons, as Lord Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 5.

Islam

Main articles: Shirk (Islam) and Taghut

In Islam, šhirk (Arabic: شرك‎) is the major sin of idolatry or polytheism. Islam strongly prohibits all form of idolatry. It refers to the deification of anyone or anything other than the singular God.[17] Shirk is also associating partners with him, giving his characteristics to others beside him, or not believing in his characteristics.[17][18]

Within Islam, šhirk is an unforgivable crime; God may forgive any sin except for committing šhirk.[17][19] It is the vice that is opposed to the virtue of tawhid, literally "declaring [that which is] one", often translated into the English term monotheism.[17][18]

As in the other Abrahamic religions, in practice the term has been greatly extended and may be used very widely within Islam to describe behaviour that is deprecated, including the use of images in a way that is seen as un-Islamic, but does not literally constitute worship.

The word šhirk comes from the Arabic root Š-R-K (ش ر ك), with the general meaning of "to share".[20] In the context of the Qur'an, the particular sense of "sharing as an equal partner" is usually understood, so that polytheism is "attributing a partner to Allah". In the Qur'an, šhirk and the related word (plural Stem IV active participle) mušrikūn (مشركون) "those who commit shirk and plot against Islam" often clearly refers to the enemies of Islam (as in verse 9.1–15) but sometimes it also refers to erring Muslims.

Jewish thought

Judaism strongly prohibits any form of idolatry, and holds that idolatry is not limited to the worship of a statue or picture itself, but also includes worship of the Almighty Himself with the use of mediators and/or any artistic representations of God such as "Jesus on the Cross". According to this understanding, even if one directs his worship to the Almighty Himself and not to a statue, picture, or some other created thing, but yet he uses a created thing as a representation of the Almighty in order to assist in his worship of the Almighty, this is also considered a form of idolatry. In fact, Maimonides explains in chapter 1 of Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim (Avoda Zarah) in the Mishneh Torah that this is one of the ways that idolatry began.

While such scholars as Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda, and Rabbi Yehuda Halevi elaborated on proper monotheism and the issues of idolatry, without a doubt Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) was the most thorough in his elucidation of monotheism and the problems of idolatry. This is seen in his work known as the Mishnah Torah, in the Guide for the Perplexed, and in the various shorter writings he composed. In the Mishnah Torah, intended to be a complete compilation of Talmudic law, the theme of proclaiming the Unity of the Creator and eradication of idolatry is not limited to the sections specified for these topics. Rather, it permeates every section of the work as the purpose and foundation of the entire Torah. In the Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides so clarifies his understanding of monotheism and idolatry that in its light even certain Jewish communities of his time, and today, become suspect of idolatry. This was the core reason for his controversy, even more so than the issue of philosophy.

In short, the proper Jewish definition of idolatry is to do an act of worship toward any created thing, to believe that a particular created thing is an independent power, or to make something a mediator between ourselves and the Almighty. These laws are codified in the Mishneh Torah, mainly in the section called Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim (Avodah Zarah) — The Laws of Strange Worship (Idolatry). It is considered a great insult to God to worship one of His creations instead of Him or together with Him. According to the Noahide Laws, the 7 laws which Jews believe to be binding on the non-Jewish world, the non-Israelite nations are also Forbidden to worship anything other than the Absolute Creator. One can find this in Hilkhot Melakhim u'Milhhamotehem (Laws of Kings and their Wars) chapter 9 in the Mishneh Torah. Judaism holds that any beliefs or practices which significantly interfere with a Jew's relationship with God may, at some point, be deemed idolatry.

In the Torah

Image worship existed in the time of Jacob, from the account of Rachel taking images along with her on leaving her father's house, which is given in the Book of Genesis. According to the midrash Genesis Rabba, Abraham's father, Terah, was both an idol manufacturer and worshipper. It is recounted in both traditional Jewish texts and in the Quran that when Abraham discovered the true God, he destroyed his father's idols.

The commandments in the Hebrew Bible against idolatry forbade the adoption of the beliefs and practices of the pagans who lived amongst the Israelites at the time, especially the religions of ancient Akkad, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.

By and large, the [Bible] has succeeded in its task [of uprooting idolatry]. The Jewish People abandoned paganism and heralded monotheism. Through Judaism's offshoots of Christianity and Islam, much of the world has come to reject paganism and polytheism, and to believe in the One God.[22]

Some of these pagan religions, it is claimed in the Bible, had a set of practices which were prohibited under Jewish law, such as sex rites, cultic male and female prostitution, passing a child through a fire to Molech, and child sacrifice.

There is no one section that clearly defines idolatry; rather there are a number of commandments on this subject spread through the books of the Hebrew Bible, some of which were written in different historical eras, in response to different issues. Taking these verses together, idolatry in the Hebrew Bible is defined as either:

  • the worship of idols (or images)
  • the worship of polytheistic gods by use of idols (or images)
  • the worship of animals or people
  • the use of idols in the worship of God.

In a number of places, the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and by the hand of the prophets I use similes.”

The Bible records a struggle between the prophet's attempt to spread pure monotheism, and the tendency of some people, especially rulers such as Je 2:28).

The Bible has many terms for idolatry, and their usage represents the horror with which they filled the writers of the Bible [adherents of Jewish faith maintain that the Torah is the eternally binding word of God]. Thus idols are stigmatized "non-God" (Is 44:20 et passim), and similar epithets.

Pagan idols are described as being made of gold, silver, wood, and stone. They are described as being only the work of men's hands, unable to speak, see, hear, smell, eat, grasp, or feel, and powerless either to injure or to benefit (Ps 135:15–18)

Idols were either designated in Hebrew by a term of general significance, or were named according to their material or the manner in which they were made. They were said to have been placed upon pedestals and fastened with chains of silver or nails of iron, lest they should fall over or be carried off (Ws 15:4).

At first the gods and their images were conceived of as identical[Dn 11:8), and a similar custom is frequently mentioned in the cuneiform texts.

Idolatry as a negative stereotyping process

Yehezkel Kaufman (1960) has suggested that when God gave commandments regarding idolatry he meant it to be understood in its most literal form: according to the Bible, most idolaters really believed that their idols were gods, and Kaufman holds that this is an error in assuming that all idolatry was of this type, when in some cases, idols may have only been representations of gods. Kaufman writes that "We may perhaps say that the Bible sees in paganism only its lowest level, the level of mana-beliefs...the prophets ignore what we know to be authentic paganism (i.e., its elaborate mythology about the origin and exploits of the gods and their ultimate subjection to a meta-divine reservoir of impersonal power representing Fate or Necessity.) Their [the Biblical author's] whole condemnation revolves around the taunt of fetishism."

However, Kaufman holds that in some places idolaters worshipped gods and spirits that existed independently of idols, and not the forms of the idols themselves. For instance, in a passage in 1 Kings 18:27,[23] the Hebrew prophet Elijah challenges the priests of Baal atop of Mount Carmel to persuade their god to perform a miracle, after they had begun to try to persuade the Jews to take up idolatry. The pagan priests beseeched their god without the use of an idol, which in Kaufman's view, indicates that Baal was not an idol, but rather one of the polytheistic gods that merely could be worshipped through the use of an idol.

Orestes Brownson asserts that the pagans in the Hebrew Bible did not literally worship the objects themselves, so that the issue of idolatry is really concerned with whether one is pursuing a "false god" or "the true God". Brownson may have been correct,[24] but some claim Brownson's theory contradicts the understanding of the Ancient Hebrews, whose culture was contemporary with others that practiced "idol worship." The opponents claim that the Book of Daniel, Chapter 14,[25] illustrates the Hebrew understanding of idols, but this chapter is rejected as apocryphal by Protestants and is not included in most contemporary translations of the Bible. In Daniel 14, Cyrus, king of the Persians, worships two deities, a deity named Bel and a dragon. Daniel 14 characterizes the king and some of the Babylonians as believing, literally, that Bel and the dragon are living gods:

Now the Babylons had an idol, called Bel, and there were spent upon him every day twelve great measures of fine flour, and forty sheep, and six vessels of wine.[4] And the king worshipped it and went daily to adore it: but Daniel worshipped his own God. And the king said unto him, Why dost not thou worship Bel?[5] Who answered and said, Because I may not worship idols made with hands, but the living God, who hath created the heaven and the earth, and hath sovereignty over all flesh.[6] Then said the king unto him, Thinkest thou not that Bel is a living God? seest thou not how much he eateth and drinketh every day?....

Sikhism

Main article: Idolatry in Sikhism

The Guru Granth Sahib, the central scripture and Guru of Sikhs, strongly rejects idolatry.[26] Idolatry is also rejected by the Dasam Granth a scripture by the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, and within numerous rehatnamas (documents codifying the code of conduct of the Sikh religion), such as the Sikh Rehat Maryada and the Budha Dal Rehatnama. Sikhism criticises the practice of using idols to represent God and pray to him, and instead puts forward that the shabad, the word of God, is his "true" murti (deific representation), meaning that true prayer and worship of God is through meditation. The rejection of idol worship is demonstrated in Guru Granth Sahib Ji: "Worshipping their idols, the Hindus die; the Muslims die bowing their heads." (Ang 556).

In practice images of human figures of religious significance, such as the Sikh gurus, are common in modern Sikhism, and the Sikh attitude to non-religious images is generally relaxed.

See also

References

External links

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  • Galich, Russia) (Russian)

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