The gods generally have a humanoid form: one head, two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, etc. Of course some gods have individual variations: Vishnu has four arms, Brahma has four heads, Indra has a thousand eyes, Ganesha has an elephant head, etc. But they're all variations on the standard human form. My question is, why do the gods, as well as other races like Asuras and Gandharvas, resemble human beings rather than other animals? Or to put it another way, why is it that humans resemble the gods, Asuras, Gandharvas, etc., and other animals do not?

The reason I ask is that critics of religion often use the anthropomorhic appearance of the gods to argue that the gods were invented by humans. For instance the Greek philosopher Xenophenes said "But if cattle and horses and lions had hands or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do, horses like horses and cattle like cattle also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies of such a sort as the form they themselves have." Has Hindu scripture given a response to such critiques?

Jews and Christians believe that God created man in his own image. Does Hinduism suggest a similar explanation for the appearance of humans?

Note: I'm not looking for symbolic explanations of the appearances of gods, or speculation that the appearances of gods are just how humans conceive of Brahman. I'm looking for answers that take for granted that there really is a thousand-eyed god in Swarga named Indra, a four-headed god in Brahmaloka named Brahma, etc.

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    I think it is the other way around- human beings look like gods and believe it is for evolutionary reasons. "jantUnAm nara janma durlabham". It is only in the human form that the jIva can aspire to and has the wherewithal to transcend life and death and attain higher states some of these being siddha sareeras, teja sareeras etc. which are closer to godhood. Exceptions of animals attaining higher states exist but those are just that - exceptions, most of which have had exceptional, super-human spiritual attainments in previous lives.
    – user1195
    Jul 27, 2017 at 5:04
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    Swami Vivekananda said very similar to Xenophenes. He said that man shapes God in images that he can relate to. The highest living entities in this world are humans, thus the gods are seen with human characteristics. Humans are the greatest living beings as they are the ones that can attain liberation. Even the gods have to be reborn as humans. Jul 27, 2017 at 5:07
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    Well this sloka of Srimad Bhagavatam explicitly says that Brahma created humans to resemble him. The whole chapter describes how he offered parta or semblance of his form to each of his creation and how he created Humans "In his Own Image".
    – Surya
    Jul 27, 2017 at 17:07
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    @Surya 'Brahma created humans to resemble him' - So over millions of years, Brahma caused apes to evolve in to current day humans to look like him? And before humans evolved in to their current form, how did Brahma look like? Did Brahma always have a white beard or did he age slowly while humans were evolving? Jul 27, 2017 at 18:08
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    @sv. The Srimad Bhagavatam is talking about humans beings created fully formed directly out of Brahma's body, not about evolution. Now if you're interested in how Hinduism deals with evolution, different Hindus have different views on it. Some reject the theory of evolution outright, and have written books arguing against it. Other Hindus accept evolution, and argue that there were originally two kinds of humans, humans who were evolved from apes and humans who were descended from the gods, and that the two races merged. Still others give a symbolic interpretation of Hindu scripture. Jul 27, 2017 at 19:30

4 Answers 4


why do the gods resemble human beings rather than other animals?

I am providing answer of your question from Aitareya Upanishad vreses.

It's said in the Upanishad that In the beginning the absolute Self was alone. Then He thought, "Let Me create the world's". & then He created the world's.

स ईक्षतेमे नु लोका लोकपालान्नु सृजा इति सोSद्भ्य एव पुरुष समुद्धृत्यामुर्छयत् ||1.1.3||

Sa IkshaTeme Nu Loka LokaPaLaaNuu Sruja Iti
SoDbhya Eva Purusha SaMuDdhruTyaMurchhayat

He thought, "These then are the worlds. Let Me create the protectors of the worlds." Having gathered up a (lump of the) human form from the water itself, He gave shape to it.

So It’s said that the creator took lump (like clay) and given the shape to it like Purusha i.e a humanoid form Or figure - with head , hands etc. That we call as Virat purusha .

Then he created the deities. And He subjected Him (i.e. Virat Purusha ) to hunger and thirst. Then the deities asked lord to provide the abode for them ,from where they can eat food. Then..

ताभ्यो गामानयत्ता अब्रुवन्न वै नोSयमलमिति |
ताभ्योSश्वमानयत्ता अब्रुवन्न वै नोSयमलमिति ||1.2.2||

Tabhyo GaaMaaNaYaTta AbruVaNna Vai NoYamLMiti
Tabhyo ShawaMaaNaYaTta AbruVaNna Vai NoYamLMiti

For them He (i.e. God) brought a cow. They said, "This one is not certainly adequate for us." For them He brought a horse. They said, "This one is not certainly adequate for us."

It’s said here that the lord bought the lump (Pinda) ,creature shaped like cow and horse. But the deities said that these shapes are not good for us to have our food in right way Or adequately .

Then he bought the Virat Purusha in human form to them and they liked it.

ताभ्य: पुरुषमानयत्ता अब्रुवन् सुकृतं बतेति |
पुरुषो वाव सुकृतम् | ता अब्रवीद्यथायतनं प्रविशतेति ||3||

For them He brought a man. They said "This one is well formed; man indeed is a creation of God Himself". To them He said, "Enter into your respective abodes".

Now although deities entered into their respective abodes i.e Indriyas ,but we can’t represent them like organs. Like we can’t graphically represent Prana Vayu as Or Mind as Chandrama. And even its not appropriate to represent deities like organs also cause then they will not look like divine beings.

Conclusion - So I think as deities liked this humanoid form because it is indeed the most beautiful creation of lord and found it appropriate to reside for receiving food I.e prayers etc. That indirectly means they specifically chosen this form in which they should have to be worshiped , We generally depict them in human form.And that is the reason why gods looks like human beings.

  • Well this explains 'Him' creating 'Man' but where does it says how exactly does He himself looks like?
    – Just_Do_It
    Sep 20, 2017 at 13:41
  • Upanishds are not like puranas or mythology.They only give you creation stories in brief. Here HE means nirguna Brahman ,cosmic soul which is unconditional. Sep 20, 2017 at 13:47

Gods do have characteristics that humans do not have. Indra has thousand eyes unlike human beings.


Vaishampayana said: "Then Shakra, causing the firmament and the Earth to be filled by a loud sound, came to the son of Pritha on a car and asked him to ascend it. Beholding his brothers fallen on the Earth, king Yudhishthira the just said unto that deity of a 1,000 eyes these words: ‘My brothers have all dropped down here. They must go with me. Without them by me I do not wish to go to Heaven, O lord of all the deities. The delicate princess (Draupadi) deserving of every comfort, O Purandara, should go with us. It behoveth thee to permit this.’

  • So true. Mainaka literally being a mountain is like that too. Nov 5, 2021 at 23:06
  • They were turned into eyes but first they were lady’s private organs right, from Rishi Gautam curse ? Then were turned into thousand eyes instead of thousand female private parts when lessened the punishment he was given IIRC Dec 4, 2022 at 20:54

It is as I suspected, gods don't resemble human beings, rather human beings resemble gods. Brahma created humans in his own image, as described in this chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam:

One day Brahmā, the self-born, the first living creature, felt as if the object of his life had been accomplished. At that time he evolved from his mind the Manus, who promote the welfare activities of the universe. The self-possessed creator gave them his own human form. On seeing the Manus, those who had been created earlier — the demigods, the Gandharvas and so on — applauded Brahmā, the lord of the universe. They prayed: "O creator of the universe, we are glad; what you have produced is well done. Since ritualistic acts have now been established soundly in this human form, we shall all share the sacrificial oblations."

  • What does "human form" mean? Is it the intellect? Dec 27, 2022 at 20:03

I wouldn't say that humans created Gods or Gods created humans. But, according to me, humans can only represent materially the finest in the forms they know. You can only make an idol or art of that which has form, and not of that which is formless. The formless Brāhmaṇa for e.g., cannot be drawn because it is beyond the names and forms which we as humans, see.

According to humans and just from an evolutionary perspective as well, humans are considered the finest of all life forms on Earth and thus, humans quite often represent the divine in human forms. Humans drew art forms of what they could perceive of the divine and they could only represent in art through the knowledge of the forms of humans and animals. But none of these representations of gods look exactly like human or animals, they are creatively done and can often be considered even exaggerations. For e.g. a human form with a 4 hands, weapons, along with 10 heads is an exaggeration of a human, and that really shows formidable power and omnipotence. However, it can only show the divine in form, and not in formless. As said before, an idol and formless entity is just self-contradictory.

A devotee might have a different view to this, and might say God appears in human form specifically such as Kr̥ṣṇa and Rāma, and so they are portrayed thus. This can be refuted though, as in the Purāṇas and Vaiṣṇava, Viṣṇu has incarnated in other than human forms as well, such as Matysa, Varāha etc.

Some other people, as in the other answers given might have a biblical approach, that God created human as he looks like. However, that statement is a bit problematic, because it discounts evolution of human species totally. Secondly, Īśvara is not limited by form in Indian traditions and human is by no measure the perfect form existing. If human was really the perfect form, then there wouldn't be a notion of liberation in Indian culture. So, I disagree with the stmt. that God created human in his own image. The Upaniṣads go beyond the world of name and forms, and so do many of the schools such as Sāṅkhya, Yoga, Advaita Vedānta. Firstly, no one knows what God actually looks like, they only know how they see God as. And these schools go beyond this aspect altogether. As we see, the divinity is established within all beings in some schools and traditions, and isn't limited to just human form.

In the Purāṇic texts, it is a matter of some consideration as to how the humans look this way, and how and why God created human form. In Bhakti tradition, it solidified even more, because the god in form was given explicit attention, and the notion developed among the devotees that the image of God in idols, temples and art is true as they are, as they appeared in those forms to us.

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