According to Sankara:

"The aim of this famous Gita-Sastra is, briefly, the Supreme Bliss, a complete cessation of samsara or transmigratory life and of its cause. This accrues from that Religion (Dharma) which consists in a steady devotion to the knowledge of the Self, preceded by the renunciation of all works... The Gita-Sastra expounds this twofold Religion, whose aim is the Supreme Bliss. It expounds specially the nature of the Supreme Being and Reality known as Vasudeva, the Parabrahman, who forms the subject of the discourse". (Intro, Sastry transl.)

Following certain indications given by TSR and Willian Q Judge, I've sketched out some symbolic correspondences for the various characters (I make no claim for any revelatory definiteness on these, they are merely the result of my own pitiful reflections, please consider them as no more than a rough working hypothesis):

Collective

Pandavas – Higher Self – (Hastinapura – Atma )

Kauravas – Lower Self

 

Individual

Dhritarashra –Material world.

Pandu – Spiritual World

Septenary

Atma – Krishna

Buddhi – Draupadi

Manas – Arjuna

Kama Manas – Yudhisthira (positive aspect) – Duryodana (negative aspect)

Linga Sharira – Bhima

Prana Sharira – Nakula

Sthula Sharira – Sahadeva

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Thanks Nicholas. Here is an image of a page in Paramahansa Yogananda's translation and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita that provides one of his interpretations of the name symbolism (one of several possible symbolic meanings, this one in terms of "cosmogenesis"). He goes into great depth on the symbolism in his commentary. (For those unfamiliar, Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi") was of the same Kriya lineage, Lahiri Mahasaya being his paramguru).

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Thanks Nicholas & John - really interesting stuff - wasn't aware that this type of symbolic explanation had been so developed. I just very primitively read through the Wikipedia entry on the Mahabharata and estimated that Sahadeva seemed to have an 'earthy' character, Nakula, a kind of 'watery' character, etc...   I should probably add the passages where TSR & WQJ dish on this aspect.

Georges Dumezil, in his Mythe et Epopee has done some interesting work on this kind of symbolic approach in Indian literature, as well as Roman and Indo-European mythology in general - he actually posits the existence of an ancient system of symbolic interpretation that allowed the writers to include esoteric principles in their narratives - a remarkably theosophical concept for a modern western scholar...

http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/gita-sr/nbg-hp.htm#preface

http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/gita/bg-eg-hp.htm#foreword

 

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What I love about the character-symbolism is how varied the interpretations can be, while remaining completely legitimate and meaningful. I suspect there are many ways in which the characters and events of the mahabharata can be interpreted, each revealing some aspect of truth.

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Thanks Nicholas - here's another one:

"This valuable privilege of looking for the inner sense, while not straining after impossible meanings in the text, is permitted to all sincere students of any holy scriptures, Christian or Pagan....The moment we are aware of its existence in the poem, our inner self is ready to help the outer man to grasp after it; and in the noble pursuit of these great philosophical and moral truths, which is only our eternal endeavor to realize them as a part of our being, we can patiently wait for a perfect knowledge of the anatomy and functions of the inner man."

http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/gita/eg1.htm

As John mentions, there are various possible readings, seven levels according to the SD, here's a Greek theosophical account:

1- Theological (Essence of the gods, ex. Kronos=Intellectual world) (Philosophers)

2- Physical (Activities of gods in the world, ex. Kronos=Time) (Poets)

3- Psychic (Activities of the soul itself) (Poets)

4- Material (Equating material substances with divine natures, ex. Isis=Earth)

5- Mixed psychic & material (Religious Initiation myths, ex. Attis)

http://thriceholy.net/Texts/Sallust.html

One could actually compare the epic battle of the Pandavas and Kauravas of the Mahabharata to the Trojan War epic.

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Thomas Taylor in his "The Wandering of Ulysses"

http://www.philaletheians.co.uk/Study%20notes/Hellenic%20and%20Hell...

gives a passage from the neoplatonist Hermeas, explaining the basic symbolism of the Iliad:

"By Ilion we must understand the generated material place, which is so denominated from mud and matter (para ten iloun kai ten oulen), and in which there are war and sedition. But the Trojans are material forms, and all the lives which subsist about bodies. Hence, also, the Trojans are called genuine (ithageneis). For all the lives which subsist about bodies, and irrational souls, are favourable and attentive to their proper matter. On the contrary, the Greeks are rational souls, coming from Greece,i.e. from the intelligible into matter. Hence, the Greeks are called foreigners(Epeiloudes) and vanquish the Trojans, as being of a superior order."

So if one assumes that the symbolism interpretation is compatible, one could therefore equate the Pandavas with the Achaeans or Greeks and the Kuravas with the Trojans, but again please note that this is just my own hypothesis, as far as I'm aware.