During his wandering days, Swami Vivekananda reached Alwar in Rajasthan. He visited the Maharaja of Alwar, who told him that he did not believe in image worship and spoke disparagingly about it. He said that it was foolish to worship mud, stones, etc. Swamiji did not say anything. Suddenly, he noticed a photograph of the Maharaja which was adorning the wall there. He asked a minister to bring it down. When it was done, he suddenly asked the minister to spit on the photograph. The minister was stunned and didn’t know what to do. Swamiji strongly exhorted him to spit on the photograph.
When the minister protested saying that it was the picture of the Maharaja, a person worthy of honour and respect, Swamiji argued that it was, after all, a piece of paper and spitting on it wouldn’t amount to disrespecting the Maharaja. But the minister would not agree.
Then Swamiji explained that although it was a piece of paper, it had the likeness of the Maharaja. The minister and other subjects of the Maharaja saw the Maharaja himself in that piece of paper and hence showed honour and respect to it.
Swami Vivekananda explained to the Maharaja that people don’t worship stone or mud or timber. When they worship the image, they worship God through the symbol of the image. That is why when they pray they don’t use the words ‘O timber, give me this; O stone, give me that.’ They pray to their God out of love and adoration.
The Maharaja’s eyes were opened. He said he could now clearly understand the true meaning of image worship. There are many rituals and customs in Hinduism full of deep meaning and significance which only people of discerning intellect can understand and appreciate.