A faith so old and a population so vast have little to show for their real existence. Unlike Christianity and Islam which take their principles of faith from prophets and saints who once walked the earth and laid their philosophies for the world to follow, Hinduism has been backed by strange experiences of individuals who sang in praise of these divine beings who gave an audience to a lucky few. Our faith doesn’t make Gods out of saints but tries to look at the Gods in totality through the eyes of our great saints. And weirdly so, they nearly had the same experience. Whether it was Kalidasa or Shivaji or Ramakrishna or some wayside aghori or tantric, the explanation of Ma Kali's form has been rather consistent. Even more strange is that even the ancient Egyptians may have had a sneak peek of her divine form and called it Anubis the Jackal in their eagerness rather than wait it out through the experience to realize that its a Goddess they were looking for.
All said and done, no matter how much we praise Science, given its shade bit easier to comprehend, we cannot write away ancient mythology that so richly describe these beings with super human strength from another realm who have invaded our hearts for generations and left us surrendering willfully to their divine needs with some hope of a blessing towards a more comfortable life which is off course very relative.
So, do they really exist... I strongly believe they do and our ancients and even the artists today in their own shabby way have tried to maintain and represent their iconography as closely as possible. We have various treatise that describe in depth, not just their nature imbibed in various names associated with them but also the way they look and the way they behave and their skillful capabilities that is beyond human nature of what you and i possess. And yet they have been strongly depicted in near human forms, though they don’t carry the name "manusha" against them. They go more along the lines of "Deva".
There is a beautiful line on Lord Shiva... a description of him in his bija mantra:
Divyaya devaya digambaraya Shiva.
The divine celestial who is white and pure, such is the beauty of Lord Shiva himself.
Agreed... but where do we look? Clearly Lord Shiva doesn’t belong to this perceptive world of ours where what I envision is completely different from what you read as the workings of this universe. And yet, in this maze of illusion and clashing perceptions that make up our lives and entangle us so deep that we cant clear our heads of these cobwebs of stale thoughts of "rightful existence", there were still a handful of people who got lucky and described strange beings of divine beauty very consistently with no difference in anyone's perception. And from that they penned down their divine visions in words which took life in form and color and today we have these divine being turning into a breathing reality in our Puja rooms and in our temples.
Clearly there is truth in it. When the Gods said "I am the divine truth" they meant that they exist beyond this perceptive world of ours. Its another story that we blame them for dumping us in it with no accountability that the pathetic way we lead our lives right now doesn’t call for any greater experience...but that is not the point.
The point is we have established through our great saints that they didn’t proclaim themselves as Gods but tried to tell us about who the Gods really are and how we can reach out to them. But they didn’t give it easy... they set us a riddle. A deep thought provoking riddle. The riddle is to find the door that leads to that zone or world which lies beyond this earthly world of illusion. Our only hint is the pancha bhootas or the five elements that are integral to our worship of these great Gods.
And so, let’s collect them all and see what we get. We worship the five elements through a complex set of activity which involves the offering of light, sound, water, fruit and flower. Fruit symbolizes earth while flower symbolizes wind [vayu]. Light symbolizes fire, water is clear and sound symbolizes ether. But this is not about symbolism as much as it is about the "real truth" embedded in the puja.
Where does fire go when the flame dies? Where does sound go when it can’t be heard any more? Where does light go when we can’t see it anymore? Where does the human soul go when it leaves the dead body behind? They disappear and transcend into another realm but they don’t die. They may reappear in another form in another place but they don't die. What is that zone where they cheat us off our senses? Is that the gateway to the other world where our divine beings reside, silent and vigilant watching us searching around blind folded with no idea?
It just increases the mystery of Hinduism tenfold, and it’s really our business to dig deep and read into the individual experiences of each of these great saints to understand who they experienced and what they felt. In their vision lies the key to that invisible door way where all these elements disappear, the secret map to which is given in our sacred pujas, our great rituals of worship that we take such pride in turning down as superstition. If we have Bhakti, we will find that secret door really fast... but if we consider the Gods as wish fulfilling trees, there is little chance of finding the invisible door to heaven anytime soon.