One of my favourite questions since childhood,and probably the most enduring mysteries of all time is 'What existed before the universe?'.I was also frustrated by this question.Then a few days ago,I had my 'eureka' moment(and no I didn't run out of the shower naked!).It occurred to me that the answer lies in examining the question carefully.First,let us look at the word 'existed'.Now,existence is something which is associated with the dimension of space,i.e. an object always exists between the realms of the spatial dimensions(length,breadth,height).The second word,'before' is associated with the dimension that we call time.The mistake most people mistake is that they assume that the dimensions of 'space' and 'time' existed before the creation of the universe.Infact,it is entirely possible that creation of universe resulted in the creation of space and time.Thus,any question of anything 'existing' 'before' the universe seems irrelevant.
This argument can also be extended to God.Since 'existence' is the property of 'space',and if we assume that god transcends these dimensions of space(and also time),then we can safely say that God doesn't 'exist',and nothing was 'before' him,since 'before' and 'after' refer to time,an entity that God presumably created.Thus paradoxically, we find that this apparently atheistic point of view is closer to the mystical conception of god espoused by the Vedantists,the Sufis and the Kabbalists
While we are talking about God and religion,let us shift our attention to another very important aspect,mythology.Now mythology is something that exists in probably all major cultures.The semitic religions(Christianity,Islam and Judaism) have their own mythology concerning figures like Noah,Adam and Eve,Moses etc.The Greeks had Apollo and Jupiter as their heroes.The Hindus have too many to even count(The Ramayana,Mahabharat are just the tip of the iceberg!).
The problem with myths is that people take them too literally.Myths were written as a fictional accounts(or unusually exaggerated accounts of historical events),written so that people could digest religion easily,since people in general cannot be expected to understand the esoteric ideas and the higher reality which the myth symbolizes.Also, myths serve as commentaries on the socio-political conditions of the time and the region.Hence,I don't deny that there wasn't a war in ancient India,but probably it wasn't as grand in scale as is mentioned in our epics.And probably there weren't any great floods or the creation of Adam and Eve in the literal sense of the term.It's all just a symbolic representation of something deeper.
Now what is interesting is how myths developed.In semitic cultures,myths were precursors of a more subtle,refined religious thought.Thus you have traditional religious thought giving way to ideas like Sufism and Kabbalah.However in oriental cultures like Buddhism,which started with a very refined philosophy,myths developed later as offshoots so that religion becomes more personalized and easily digestible for the common man.As far as hinduism is concerned,there is again a very unique pattern.The early Vedic period was characterised by subtle philosophy and whatever mythology existed was certainly very rudimentary(the concept of the seven elemental gods could be put under the myth category).The mystical element in Hinduism probably reached its zenith with the Upanishads.However,in the later Vedic period we find that complex mythology(The Ramayan and The Mahabharat) develops during the course of 500 to 600 years.This period coincides with the rise of Buddhism and Jainism when Hinduism was on decline.Thus probably these myths were written so that the conception of God becomes more personal rather than the esoteric ideas of Upanishads and consequently of Buddhism and Jainism.
Thus we find that the present anthromorphic conception of God in hinduism was a result of people's need of a more humanized and personal God,which was especially comforting during times of foreign invasions,when people need something concrete to cling on to,rather than just dry philosophy.This is probably why Buddhism declined in India.It's conception of God,while not incorrect was too impersonal and remote in times of trouble.