Hindu religion has several deities. All the deities have human form and there are as many rituals to please the deities. Buddhists worship Lord Buddha and Christians worship Lord Jesus. Although there are so many deities whom we know as GOD, Hindu philosophy again stresses on the niraakar form of God as the ultimate form.
How can God have a form? Human life and human body itself is a cage, bondage, for the formless free soul. Human life is attained to clean the soul of all the layers of dirt it accumulates due to our ignorance of our real self; due to which we fall into the trap of various vices of the material world. Human life and human body is Maya, an illusion. We have to see beyond this illusion. A material, human body will have all the ailments, attachments and miseries of worldly life. God or the immortal soul is above all these worldly ups and downs. The soul is neutral to all the worldly type of pleasure and pain. So how can it have a human body?
The Niraakaar form of God is thus a higher form and it can be perceived only by people who have attained or progressed to a certain level of spiritual development. This does not mean that we should shun or criticize idol worship. This is because idol worship is like a stepping stone to realizing God in the Niraakar form.
We worship God in the human form because that way it is easier for us. It is simpler to perceive God as Mother, father, beloved or friend when we imagine God in the human form of Shri Krishna, Maa Durga, and Shiva etc. As we find love and attachment with God through idol worship, we gradually move higher in our quest for spiritual realization, till the stage comes when we will no more require some solid form or rituals to feel God. God then truly becomes omnipresent!
It is then that we realize that the form that we worshipped all the time too has a deeper meaning, than just being a human idol. For example, Goddess Kaali standing on Mahadev/Shiv, commonly has a mythological story about Maa Kaali returning furiously, trampling everyone coming on her way, after a severe war with the asurasas. In order to check her anger and calm her down, Shiva her husband, lies down on her path. When Goddess Kali unknowingly steps on Shiva, she feels very ashamed and comes back to her sense. This is the folklore. But the actual significance of the Goddess standing on Shiva is- Goddess Kali depicts Maya (worldly illusions) and Lord Shiva is the ultimate of this universe. Only when the veil of Maya moves away, can we see the real self, Shiva! Same is with Shivalinga. It is a beautiful symbol of creation.
As a child and all through my teenage years I never could understand the significance of the rituals of worship. I never felt like performing them. I felt somewhat ashamed and guilty too, because everyone around me performed those rituals so lovingly and with such devotion, but I could feel none! I thought may be I am a non believer, an atheist. But in the existence of God, I very much believed. I felt confused. I even tried to perform the rituals religiously to develop the devotion I saw in others. But nothing came out of it. This confusion led me to read about ‘Who and what is God’. Then I realized I had nothing to feel bad about, because I don’t attend kirtans or I don’t perform or know all the rituals. Important thing is I felt God in myself and in everything around me. God is simply a divine light for me, and God is also in the form of the many flowers that blossom in my garden and the unlimited gifts of fruits & vegetables that He sends to my small kitchen garden.
I am more comfortable with the Niraakaar form of God, for whom I need not go to a temple. He is always in my heart. But at the same time, I also favor temples, mosques, churches too, as I know this is the path that will lead many more people to that higher realization.