|The counterpart of
the doctrine of Adhikara is that of Asta-Devata. Out of the numerous forms of God
conceived in the past by the heart of man and recorded in the scriptures the worshipper is
taught to choose one which satisfies his spiritual longing and make that the object of his
adoration and love. This is said to be his Ista-Devata. It may be; Siva or Visnu or one of
the Avatars or one of the many forms of Sakti, the personification of the power of God.
Or it may even be a tribal deity rendered concrete to the eye of the
flesh by means of an image. For Hinduism freely encourages the use of images in worship,
so that there may be something concrete round which men's devotions may centre.
An image serves the same purpose to the common people as a flag does to the
army. It focuses men's devotions as a flag focuses men's martial valour.
And just as every soldier who is prepared to lay down his life
in defending his flag knows that in itself it is only a it of painted cloth, but that it
stands for something that he holds very dear, so every worshipper knows that the image in
the temple is in itself a piece of wood or stone fantastically carved perhaps, but that it
stands for some things that he holds sacred and eternal. Hindu scriptures clearly
say that the pratika or the substitute is not God but only a means of making the mind
dwell on God.