There are a lot of god-descriptions (and others) in Hinduism, a lot of which are said to be metaphorical.

For example, the snake around Lord Shiva's neck, is in some stories said to be a metaphor for the rise in Kundalini, and the three coils around his neck are said to symbolize his control over the past, present, and future. But in other stories, there's the story of the Samudra Manthan, where Lord Shiva granted the snakes a place around his neck as a reward for drinking some of the Halahal, and the snakes also supposedly help him stop the poison from going deeper into his body.

For another example, the conch in Lord Vishnu's hand is said to symbolize victory, and his color as blue is often claimed to be symbolic, like here.

My question is, is/was there a being actually sitting in a yogi pose with a snake around his neck, and another one with a conch in his hand resting on a giant snake in an ocean of milk (Ksheersagar), or are all these descriptions supposed to represent something? How do I differentiate between what is real and what is metaphorical, because even some gods, like Kaam-dev seem to be largely symbolical because lust originates within the mind?

TL;DR: Are gods(and their descriptions) real, or are they supposed to be metaphors to represent certain things or teach us something? And how do I differentiate between the two?

  • 1
    Generally not always- See only if something exists can somebody derive symbolism out of it. If Bhagwan Vishnu has been seeing holding a conch, only then can a person derive symbolism and interpret why he holds a conch. Interpretation is subjective to different people, and scriptures do not provide much symbolism on why gods have this. IMO, symbolism is a very modern concept to explain “modernists and the college generation”. Meerabai experienced Krishna in his form. Why does he hold a flute? Is it symbolism? Or real? It’s because she saw him with a flute that we can ponder on it’s symbolism.
    – Adiyarkku
    Commented Dec 31, 2020 at 8:05
  • Further as far as the gods being real is concerned: the same parmaatma takes various forms for different functions and for the sake of his devotees. You can have a look at : supreme god vs Trimurti
    – Adiyarkku
    Commented Dec 31, 2020 at 8:07
  • 2
    This one reasons many sects arose within Hinduism. If you look closely everything is metaphorical yet others may disagree. All of the stories within purana's and other scriptures contain a deeper meaning. For example Rama represents the ideal man, Lakshmana the ideal brother, Sita the ideal woman and Hanuman the ideal bhakt.
    – Wikash_
    Commented Dec 31, 2020 at 11:18
  • 1
    Read Introduction, it nicely explains the three ways we interpret it. archive.org/details/SriChakraProfS.K.RamachandraRao/page/n19/…
    – Second
    Commented Dec 31, 2020 at 13:37
  • 2
    @Archit Thanks :) I was asking this because I'm confused as to whether the 'Tap, Jap' etc still work. In most of the stories I've heard, Bhagwaan Vishnu and Shiva do appear to give boons on occasion, so they ARE sometimes visible, in most stories. I know its Kali-Yuga, and gods are supposed to not be visible to humans, but I'm just looking for a bit of proof that boons are even possible, because I guess actually pleasing the gods, even in the earlier Yugas is supposed to be terribly difficult. Is there a description in texts given regarding this aspect in Kali Yuga?
    – VVidyan
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 20:51


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