During his wandering days, Swami Vivekananda visited Ajmer where he happened to meet the local Raja, Mangal Singh. While the court was in progress, the Raja smilingly asked Swamiji, 'Well, I have no faith in idol worship. What is going to be my fate?'
Swamiji replied, 'Surely you are joking'.
‘No, Swamiji, not at all. You see, I really cannot worship wood, earth, stone or metal, like other people. Does this mean that I shall fare worse in the life thereafter?’
While he was preparing to answer, Swamiji spotted a picture of the Maharaja on the wall.
He asked for it and holding it, he asked, 'Whose picture is this?'
The Dewan answered, ‘It is the likeness of our Maharaja'.
'Spit on it.’ Commanded Swamiji. ‘Any one of you may spit on it. What is it but a piece of paper? What objection can you have against doing so?’
Everyone stood dumbstruck.
When Swamiji insisted, the Dewan cried out, ‘What, Swamiji! What are you asking me to do? This is the likeness of our Maharaja! How can I do such a thing?’
Turning to the king, Swamiji continued, “See, Your Highness, thus it also is with the devotees who worship stone and metal images of gods and goddesses. It is because an image brings to their minds their Ishta, or some special form and attributes of the Divinity, and helps them to concentrate, that the devotees worship God in an image. They do not worship the stone or the metal as such. I have traveled in many places, but nowhere have I found a single Hindu worshiping an image, saying, 'O Stone, I worship Thee. O Metal, be merciful to me.' Everyone, Maharaja, is worshiping the same one God who is the Supreme Spirit, the Soul of Pure Knowledge. And God appears to all according to their understanding and their representation of Him."
(from “Vedanta Kesari- May 2012”)