Question and Answer by: Sri Rami Sivan. {In the series "Sri Ranga Vijayam", references were made as to how the ArchA vigraha of Lord Sri RanganAtha came into the hands of IkshvAghu dynasty, then on to VibheeshaNa and how it came to be consecrated in Srirangam. A western member of "Sri Ranga Sri" from Sydney, Australia was upset over the use of the word "idol" with reference to the "ArchA vigraha" of the Lord. Please read our reply and his further comments thereon and favor us with your feedback to Sri_Ranga_Sri@... and NOT to the "yahoogroup" address. -- Editor}
He wrote:-

"Dear Sir
Adiyen dasanudasan

I am a westerner who was given SamAsrayaNam by His Holiness Yatiraja Jiyar Swamigal of Sriperumbudur. Some years back I was appointed as AchArya of the Ten Sampradaya by His Holiness. Here in Sydney Australia we have established a branch of the Yatiraja Jiyar Matt with both Indian and western members, and are having regular programs, Bhagavad aradhanai, upanyasa and kAlakshEpams, utsavams etc. We have jokingly called ourselves "Metgalai" Sampradaya, because there are certain points of the Vadakalai Sam. which we consider as correct and some points of the Tengalai Same of which are more valid. The long -standing conflict between the two branches of the Sampradaya should be bridged, we feel, Swami Desikan was indeed one of the greatest luminaries that appeared post Bhashyakara, but Manavalamamuni was not without greatness and wisdom. We in Australia study the works of both the AchAryas with equal reverence.

I have a great regard for your journal but there is one thing that disturbs me greatly being a westerner; - the use of the word IDOL. This is a horrible, pejorative term coined by missionaries to denigrate the practice of ArchA Aradhana - it is a term of colonialism, cultural oppression and religious imperialism that should never be used by us. The correct term to use is ICON, it is a neutral term in modern society and is also the name which the Catholics apply to their own ArchA.

Yours humbly
in the service of Srimannarayana and the prapannas.
Sri Rama Ramanuja Acharya
Our Reply:

Dear Swamin:

I am so happy to learn about the unity efforts in Sydney and your multifaceted kainkaryams. I am also trying my best in this regard in the U.S.A.

You have observed - "there is one thing that disturbs me greatly being a westerner; the use of the word IDOL. This is a horrible, pejorative term coined by missionaries to denigrate the practice of ArchA Aradhana - it is a term of colonialism, cultural oppression and religious imperialism that should never be used by us. The correct term to use is ICON, it is a neutral term in modern society and is also the name which the Catholics apply to their own ArchA".

I appreciate the spirit in which you have advised the use of the word "Icon" in the place of "Idol". As per the standard dictionaries, both the words are synonymous and nothing pejorative about the word "idol" (Vide "Roget's Thesaurus of English words and phrases" pages 940-941)

The meanings of the word "Idol" are as follows: Image, Exceller, Desired object, Person of repute, Loved one, Favorite, Good man, God, etc.
The meanings of the word "Icon" are as follows: Copy, Image, Picture, Ritual object etc. You may kindly review with reference to the above and if you still feel that "Idol" may not be used, please feel free to inform me.
His further Comments:

Dear Anbil
Adiyen Dasanudasan!

Thank you very much for replying to me in spite of your busy schedule. I refer to your dictionary definitions. The use of language is not only according to the literal dictionary definitions - but also culturally based.

I know that in India alone it is very common for Hindus to refer to Archas as Idols. In the west the same Archas in churches and religious establishments are never referred to as idols but as icons. So although this usage is common amongst Hindus and perfectly acceptable - to westerners this is a very negative term used to denigrate, never to appreciate. So in my teaching I have always found it useful to use the culturally based language of the masses. I teach many westerners and whenever they hear this word idol they cringe.

If you read the bible you will find this term used pejoratively against the gods of the pagan masses and it states quite clearly the God of the bible hates idol worship and idolaters. So, Western culture is informed by biblical ideas and concepts and hence the discomfort with this term.

If your magazine and upadeshams are directed only at expatriate Srivaishnavas - there is no problem and my well-intentioned remarks are merely superfluous but if you anticipate reaching out to western readers and potential prapannas - then I think you should consider changing terms. For your interest I am including some quotes from the Bible.
Thank you for your time
Dasanudasan RamAnuja Dasan
Jehovah¹s views on idol worship Ex 20:3-5 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

Ex.17:7 They must no longer offer any of their sacrifices to the goat idols to whom they prostitute themselves. This is to be a lasting ordinance for them and for the generations to come.'

Eze 23:49 And they shall recompense your lewdness upon you, and you shall bear the sins of your idols: and you shall know that I [am] the Lord GOD.

Ex 20:23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Ex 23:24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.

Ex 32:31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves idols of gold.

De 32:16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols.

As you can see from the foregoing the term IDOL always has negative associations in the Judeo-Christian culture.

Jehovah¹s views on other religious groups (Hindus, Buddhists, jains etc)

Ex 23:33 Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you."

Ex 34:15 "Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices.

De 7:16 You must destroy all the peoples the LORD your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.

De 7:25 The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the LORD your God.

De 12:2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods.

De 12:3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.

Jos 24:23 "Now then," said Joshua, "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."

1Sa 15:23 For rebellion [is as] the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness [is as] iniquity and idolatry.

1Co 10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

Jehovah on Non Judeo/Christian spiritual masters (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain etc.) De 18:20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death."

Jehovah¹s views on Conversion to another religion De 13:6 -11 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him.

Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no-one among you will do such an evil thing again.

12-16 If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods you have not known), then you must enquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. Gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. It is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt.

Ga 5:20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,