The Vedas aver that God exists, and yet a study of the Vedas cannot help us understand God. God appears before us in many forms, but we fail to recognise divinity when we see it. We have doubts about what God is like and about how we should seek His mercy. Even when it comes to worship, each individual has a preferred deity, to whom he or she offers worship. Adi Sankara, keeping in mind this fact, systematised the six-fold method of worshipping the Supreme One. The six forms of worship are Saktam: the worship of Goddess Sakti; Saivam: the worship of Lord Siva; Kaumaram: the worship of Lord Subrahmanya; Ganapatyam: the worship of Lord Ganapathy; Vaishnavam: the worship of Lord Vishnu; and Sauram: the worship of Surya. The aim was to ensure that each could worship according to his preferences, for, after all, ultimately all roads of spirituality lead the Jivatma to the Paramatma.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is said to have observed that he started to worship Goddess Sakti, and after sometime he enjoyed the bliss of realising the Parabrahma: the Supreme One. So while we may choose our favourite deity according to our convenience, our bhakti towards the chosen deity will eventually lead us to the Supreme One.
Often, what stands in the way of our concentrated worship is the pull of the senses and the lure of worldly pleasures. Our mind wanders and we are unable to focus on worship. An idol then serves the purpose of focusing our thoughts on God, so that our attention remains on God. Bhakti is the surest way to lead us to God, said Sengalipuram Rama Dikshitar, in a discourse.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna shows us three paths we can take to reach the Paramatma: Karma yoga; bhakti yoga; and gnana yoga. He first speaks of karma yoga and then of bhakti yoga and finally of gnana yoga. There is a reason for His having put bhakti in the middle. One may do one’s duty, but without bhakti, this is not of much use. One may have gnana, but gnana without bhakti is empty. That is why, to indicate the greatness of bhakti, He gives it a position of centrality. In the Uddhava Gita, the Lord emphasises that bhakti yoga is superior to gnana yoga and karma yoga.