Today we know God as Tridev or the Holy Trinity, and the conundrum of innumerous devis and devatas around them. However this is the knowledge that accumulated over thousands and thousands of years. Common understanding makes us believe that Gods and Goddesses are real entities that did and still do great real things. And that might be true, since ‘belief creates reality’. But the essence of these tales lies in the real philosophies that they want to impart. Well, all of this is a separate conversation (more of a debate), but a little understanding of the journey of this knowledge might help to see our mythology beyond the blind sight of popular religion.
As discussed in the introductory article (which if you missed, you can read here to get a little backstory), the course of Hindu Mythology is divided into various stages. Chronologically, our holy texts are Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas.
During the Vedic times, we worshipped nature and hence the concept of Gods like Surya (sun), Indra (rain), Chandra (moon) and Agni (fire). During this time there were no temples, idols or stories; the method of worship was through yagnas. Consequently, the Vedas contain mantras, detailed rituals and melodies. The yagnas were complicated procedures performed exclusively by Brahmins and the concept of temples was different, like natya mandap (theatre) and nritya mandap (dance hall).
In the Puranic era, the yagna parampara (tradition) was abandoned and agama parampara was embraced. The temples of Gods and Goddesses, especially Shiv and Vishnu were found. This shift might have contributed to why Brahma is not worshipped in temples (I know there are two of his temples, but look at the comparative ratio) because as a Brahmin he was associated with the Vedic era. There are also other tales that suggest why he is not worshipped.
One thing that can be extracted from the chronology of events, is that the Gods never made people- but people made Gods according to their collective needs. The Vedic era reflects the need of mystery and indirect beliefs. And intangible myth is one way to establish beliefs. The Gods were far away, beyond our reach. Nobody knew how they felt, looked, if they spoke a language. But they cared for us for us through the nature we lived in. They did not have a face, but the world around us reinforced the belief that they existed.
Another reason for this need by the people then, is because farming was largely the only occupation that existed then. The entire life of people depended solely on farming, and that depended on the light (Surya) and rain (Indra) that God sent for his people. The moon was a distant thing people saw that changed phases (mystical, no?) and fire helped them cook food. The need creates a God.
With the Puranic period that came just 2000 years ago, the Gods had faces, bodies and stories. At that time, people had started to have multiple occupations and began to expertise in many subjects. The exclusivity of Brahmins also changed its meaning since yagnas were no longer performed. With knowledge comes the nature of doubt. The Vedic principles were too complicated for a common man to fathom, especially now when he had studies and jobs. Hence the Puranas explored the meaning of Vedas and Upanishads and explained those principles via stories.
It can be understood that people in the Puranic era needed a manifestation to believe- a tangible God about whom they knew. The mystery lasted only so long and now they needed a physical entity to behold and trust. The Gods were now accessible by a common man, with a history and a physical form that he know of. And tangible myth is another way to establish beliefs.
Now that we know how stuff evolved for Hindu Mythology, it is worth giving a thought if and whether our mythology is a source of knowledge and wisdom as much as it is religious texts. It is understandable that today everything about mythology is religious and vision-hindering for millennials. But it is also a national asset, if you can come to think of it like that. Regardless, if or not you wish to believe in Hinduism and its mythology, there are other concepts that come out of this.
Think of all tangible things religion has been able to do, good or bad. All of that came from the need and desire of man himself. Whenever he needed something to hold on to, he created a myth (hence, mythology). A different need created a different concept of God.
Maybe we did not want to accept that our beliefs create our lives- so we put that on God, to get someone to fear, apologize to, and please. Hence the saying that God resides in us, because the end of this loop could be within ourselves.