There are various ways to relate to the Brahman, the creator. Worship is one of them and ritualistic worship is not the same as a mental worship. In the ritualistic worship an idol of the Deity is must. Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya of Srimad Ramanuja conceives Brahman in a fivefold series of manifestations known as PARA, VYUHA, VIBHAVA, ARCHA & ANTARYAMI. Para is the Omnipresent state, Vyuha is the Cosmic state, Vibhava is Incarnation state, Archa is Manifest state and finally Antaryami is the Immanent state.
A seeker can connect to Brahman in any of the forms depending on his mental ability to grasp the vastitude of Brahman, the creator. The scriptures say that the ultimate realisation is the form known as Para, the Omnipresent one in which everything abides, including one’s own Self. When the Para is realised in everything then the Upanishad Mahavakya of “Tat Tvam Asi” is appropriate. Here the Self is not becoming one with Brahman as Samya Bhava (Emotion of Equality) as explained in Advaita, but it is to be identical to Brahman as Ikeya Bhava (Emotion of Identity). It is just a matter of interpretation by different schools of thought, but what cannot be denied is that this Self is in the nature of Brahman and comprehending it will liberated the seeker from the cycle of rebirth.
The scholars of Vishistadvaita after Srimad Ramanuja have made it easy to understand the five forms by comparing it with water. The basic necessity for any form of life is water. Water is available in nature first in clouds, then in oceans, rivers, wells and in our house in vessels.
Though there is water in the cloud it is impossible for us to drink from it. Water in the cloud is comparable to Para, the Omnipresent state. We are aware that cloud has water so also we know Brahman as Absolute. We realise that Para contains everything in it, but beyond our reach.
The vast water body on earth is the ocean. We can visualise it but we are unable to consume the water from it, Vyuha, the Cosmic form is also the same, we can see the universe but we cannot grasp its infinity. Without ocean the water cycle cannot sustain, likewise without Vyuha, universe cannot exist and life in it cannot thrive. Level of manifestation in Vyuha form is unimaginable, but realisation of this manifestation can occur once the seeker has the knowledge that this cosmos has emanated from Hiranyagarbha, the primordial atom.
Just as we have many rivers from which we use water for various purposes, we have Vibhava, the incarnation form. Vibhava pertains to various Avataras Brahman has donned; it is for the seekers of different generations to draw the essence from them and enrich themselves. The knowledge of Avataras and their purpose helps in improving the awareness level of a person on the existence of Brahman.
Archa, the Manifest state finds its place in Vigraha aradhana, adoring the personal Deity; it is like having a well at our premises. The water from the cloud descends as rain and flows as river. A part of the river water goes into ground and can be retrieved by digging a well. The water analogy also would show how easy it is to draw water from a well which is personal to one who owns it. Adoring the personal Deity concept is as easy a way as using the water from the well.
The water in my tumbler from which I can sate my thirst is Antaryami, the immanent state. The Omnipresent Brahman which was like the cloud has descended into the tumbler which I can say is mine, like how Brahman resides in the cave of my heart….. He resides in me as “OM.”