In India often we come across people who say that everything about Krishna is symbolic. The literal meaning is dependent on the symbolic meaning, and the latter reveals a higher dimension
Actually, all words are symbolic, aren’t they? But Krishna’s lila is not symbolic; its factual, it is history, real. But there are also lessons that He wants to teach us through His lila.
Krishna stages His pastimes in such a way that various essential truths are represented and revealed to us through them. We can enrich our lives by seeing this? The acharya’s (spiritual masters) explain in their purport the morals we can learn from Krishna pastimes and how we can benefit in our spiritual lives through understanding them.
They explain, for example, how each demon that came to Vrindavan represents, not symbolizes, but represents various anarthas (impurities) in our hearts that must all be killed by Krishna.
How the Kauravas and the Pandavas represent godlessness and godliness; Hiranyakashipu and Prahlad represent the demons and the devotees. (Sometimes when we say “symbolic” we think that it’s not true. So a better word is “represent”.)
All these stories teach us how a spiritualist deals with the demoniac conditions of life, how he or she combats against the dark forces by always depending on Krishna and surrendering to Krishna.
Therefore we must first of all as a prerequisite accept that the scriptures are factual that they are not mythological stories simply to portray certain human virtues as many impersonalists and mundane scholars comment.
Then we can go deeply into those facts to see how we can develop and benefit our spiritual lives by learn through what Krishna has revealed. So it is not a question of symbolism.
In fact it’s a question of going deeply into it so that we can understand so many of the wonderful things that Krishna is trying to teach us through the exhibition of His pastimes, because His pastimes are all staged and directed personally by Him; they are not ordinary mundane affairs.
He stages His wonderful pastimes in such a way so that there is a deep and wonderful philosophy and way of life that’s being revealed through them.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder acharya of ISKCON, repeatedly condemned the typical example that Kurukshetra represents the body and Pandavas represents the five senses.
Because what they want is to take the factual history of Krishna as the Supreme Personal Godhead out of Gita’s teachings.
They say that somebody has written these books just to symbolize the situation that we are all in this world and to teach how to become enlightened in that situation; therefore there is no need to surrender to Krishna, just understand the wonderful lessons of Bhagavad Gita.
Srila Prabhupada severely condemned this example. He said, “Kurukshetra is a battle field and it’s still present in this very day. And Lord Krishna, the Pandavas, and the Kuru’s they all lived.
The battle of Kurukshetra is a history; it’s a fact. Jyotisar, the place where Gita was spoken, is still present.”
Therefore we need to approach a bonafide spiritual master, who is coming in an unbroken chain of Guru-discipleship. Only then we can understand the revealed truth.