As the Hindu gods are “immortal” only in a very particular sense–for they are born and they die–they experience most of the great human dilemmas and often seem to differ from mortals in a few trivial details . . . and from demons even less. Yet they are regarded by Hindus as a class of beings by definition totally different from any other; they are symbols in a way that no human being, however “archetypal” his life story, can ever be. They are actors playing parts that are real only for us; they are the masks behind which we see our own faces.
–Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty Introduction, Hindu Myths (Penguin Books, 1975)