1. so in advita-vedanta there doesn't seem to be a need for the concept of heaven and hell.
No, Advaita doesn't need a concept of heaven and hell to function. Some people say that there is a heaven, but it's a temporary place to wait for one's next embodiment. Although, again, I find that far too individual and I personally don't believe that we exist with distinct boundaries when we are not in a body.
I don't know of anyone who believes there is a hell. Generally people say that hell is what we create within our lives by our negative thoughts.
2. what you say about the allegory behind radha-krishna story is absolutely true. but i was thinking about all the puranic stories. it will be hard to find the symbolism behind all of them. for example the story of the birth of ganesha and how he gets the elephant head.
none of the stories trouble me. because i think most of the puranic stories are imaginations. some might have some historical origin but turned into myths and mythology after so much of time. but this is a historical explanation.
the reason why i asked you is to know how one see it from a religious point of view. and because you follow advaita vedanta.
Yeah, you're right, the story of Ganesha's head is pretty hard to find meaning in! I really don't know about that one. Again, it doesn't bother me. I figure it has a meaning that I am not understanding yet, but I trust that it will eventually be clear to me.
Also, I think ancient stories give a great insight into the way the human mind functions.
As an Advaitist, I don't know if the stories are historically true. I rather doubt it. I tend to have a fairly scientific mind and the stories are too fantastical. But, for me, it doesn't have to have actually happened to make it true. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone but me!
3. i don't agree with your explanation of the number 33. i think normal human being always prefer round numbers like 10, 100, 1000 etc.
for example in india elders often say "sho shal jio" - may you live 100 years. they don't say may you live 111 years of 77 years.
so i personally think it is likely that the number 33 has some other explanation.
yes, wiki in this case is not reliable because they didn't provide any reference.
I did some more looking into this and here is what I found:
HubPages: This author claims that the 330 million refers to the people waiting in "heaven" to get reborn who have been particularly good (Devas, not Gods). He does not go into why that particular number is used.
Koausa.org: This website does have an explanation for the exact number,
Hindu religion is often labeled as a religion of 330 million gods. This misunderstanding arises when people fail to grasp the symbolism of the Hindu pantheon. According to the Hindu scriptures, living beings are not apart from God, since He lives in each and every one of them in the form of atman (BG 10.39). Thus each living being is a unique manifestation of God. In ancient times it was believed that there were 330 million living beings. This gave rise to the idea of 330 million deities or gods. Actually, this vast number of gods could not have been possibly worshipped, since 330 million names could not have been designed for them. The number 330 million was simply used to give a symbolic expression to the fundamental Hindu doctrine that God lives in the hearts of all living beings.
Hindu-blog: This website also goes into some explanations about symbolism in the number "3."
In Brhadaranyaka Upanishad while discussing Brahman, Yajnavalkya is asked how many gods are there. He says that there are three hundred and three and three thousand and three gods. When the question is repeated? He says, thirty three. When the question is again repeated he says, six. Finally, after several repetitions he says ONE. (Chapter I, hymn 9, verse 1)
It reminds me of the trinity of Gods, which exists in both Christianity and Hinduism. The three who are also one, Brahman, Shiva, and Vishnu.
by the way, what do you think of lokayata tradition?
do you take it as a part of hinduism or a part of indian philosophy like buddhism and jainism and distinct from hindusim?
I am ashamed to admit that I didn't know what this was, so I went and looked that up too (on Wikipedia!).
I'm not sure that I know enough about it yet to really discuss it. On the one hand, it's hard to accept that atheism and lack of belief in an eternal soul could be Hinduism. On the other hand, Hinduism does tend to encompass so much.
I have seen people that I would think of as Hindu who are very spiritual, but don't believe in a God. Seeing the whole universe as a "divine" power or seeing humanity as a "divine" power, those things are very Hindu to my mind.
But one of the fundamental things that makes Hinduism Hinduism is the belief in an eternal soul. We do not die. Krishna makes that very clear in the Gita.
The Buddhist belief in nothingness after death is the thing that most strongly separates Buddhism from Hinduism, I think. That and the idea that you can't enjoy the world while also being aware that it is an illusion in Buddhism.
So, it is certainly a very different flavor of Hinduism from mine, but I would never exclude it. I always lean toward unity, never division.