I have read in several places that the yuga dharma in the age prior to Kali-yuga was deity worship, whereas the yuga dharma for our current age is chanting. Do you feel that the current state of deity worship in Kali-yuga is a sentimental holdover of the prior age and ultimately unnecessary, or is it still a valid means of spiritual advancement and necessary for our current movement?
Even in this age, Deity worship helps us to advance in Krishna consciousness. Prabhupada often gave the example of a train running on two parallel tracks, Bhagavata-vidhi (preaching Bhagavatam) and Pancaratrika-vidhi (Deity worship, which is conducted according to Pancaratrika rules). At the same time, in this age, chanting and preaching are the central processes. Prabhupada emphasized that Deity worship keeps us strong and pure for preaching, so preaching is the central activity. In that sense, we are not missing the yuga-point.
I was struck by a story in Rancor Prabhu’s history of early ISKCON in the UK. An intelligent French girl came from Paris to learn about Krishna consciousness. Despite staying in the temple, serving, etc., even seeing Prabhupada, she could not quite grasp personalism, having been immersed in impersonal metaphysics. Then, in her own words, one day she made a flower garland for the Deities and her epiphany occurred. She understood that God is a person.
Being personally inclined more to the intellectual side, I found this to be a salutary story. At the same time, when Prabhupada asked me in 1974 to be the GBC for Latin America, he said to me, “Let the others build temples and worship the Deities. For the more advanced devotees, there is preaching, writing books, etc.” Prabhupada also often said that Deity worship, as a central process, was for the neophytes.
So putting all this together, we come up with a balanced view of the matter. Thus, were I to do a new project away from the temples, I would definitely have some simple form of puja, both for my own purification and for the other members, though I would of course try to do this appropriately in terms of scale and emphasis.