The ultimate ideal, liberation, is attained only when we are rid of all our sins for sin places a distance between us and God. Sin is overcome when we remain devoted to Him for then we try to lead a pure life when there is no ill in thought, word or action. Lord Krishna's encounter with the serpent Kaliya is symbolic of His benign grace that not merely took away the effects of the serpent's poison in the cows and cowherds, but extends in more subtle ways to cleanse us of our sins that we have accumulated through countless births, pointed out Asuri Sri Madhavachariar in a lecture.
The Lord went to the banks of the river Kalindi along with the cowherds. Unable to bear the scorching heat, the cows and the boys drank the water from the river. Such was the poison in the waters that mere contact with it rendered them all unconscious and lifeless. At that time Lord Krishna, the Supreme Being, appraised the situation and by His benevolent glance brought them back to life.
The fierce serpent Kaliya residing in Kalindhi manifested unrestricted sway over the entire vicinity leaving the trees on the banks withered and causing the birds flying around to fall down dead. So the Lord decided to rid the river of the serpent. He climbed a withered Kadamba tree on the banks of the river and dived deep into the water.
The impact angered Kaliya who began to attack the Lord. The serpent bit the Lord and finding Him still alive, it coiled its long and huge body around the Lord making Him almost invisible.
There was consternation among the Vrajas who were anxious about the Lord's welfare. But soon the Lord released Himself from the clutches of the snake and appeared on the water surface.
The Lord then mounted the hoods of the serpent and danced so that the hoods were trampled and the body of the serpent began to bleed. Kaliya's wives pleaded with the Lord with fervent prayers to pardon him. They acknowledged Kaliya's evil nature. The Lord ordered the serpent to quit the river and henceforth reside in an island in the mid-ocean with his family.