Swami Vivekananda while touring once reached state of Alwar in the North. The Prime Minister (Diwan) of that state was impressed by his lecture and took him to the palace to meet the Raja Mangalsingh. The king was living in luxury. Also he had ego of being the king. When he saw Vivekananda, he felt after all he is just a young ascetic! How much experience will he have although he givesdiscourse in English? Let me pull his leg. With this thought the king said ‘Swamiji, I believe that idol worship is really a sign of being backward. I really pity anyone who offers turmeric, vermilion and flowers to an idol and also for paying obeisance to God. What is your opinion about this?’
Instead of giving a direct answer to the king, Swamijiturned toward the Diwan and said, ‘Diwanji will you go and spit on the photograph which is hung on the wall?’ Diwanji trembled when he heard this.
Diwanji just glanced sneakily from the corner of his eyes at the king whose face had become red with anger and said, ‘Swamiji what are you saying? This is the picture of the late father of the king !’ Vivekananda said, ‘Diwanji, this is just a thick paper coloured withblack ink’. Then he said to the king, ‘In this picture there are no bones, flesh or soul of your father and it is incorrect to think that itis just a thick paper with a picture of black ink. Similarly it is incorrect to think that worship of the idol of God is incorrect.’” Further the swami said, ‘The devotees who worship the idol are aware that idol is not God, but it is difficult to meditate upon the Nirgun (Unmanifest), formless God for a common man. It is the first step to begin devotion to God. Later he can achieve the aim of merging in God’. The king became introverted and thoughtful after listening to this.
-Pujya Dr. Vasant Balaji Athavale. (Year 1990)