A devotee told me that the statue of Krishna on the cart is actually believed to be Krishna, himself, and is revered as such. This devotee believes that the statue was watching the dancing, which was all done for him. In Catholicism, the more conservative and concrete thinking believers worship the statues in the churches, whereas the more liberal believers think that the statues are not God, but are useful representations of him and his saints, to help focus worship to the real God and saints who are in heaven.
Is there some similar continuum of belief and thought, from concrete to symbolic, about the Krishna statues, or must all devotees believe that the statues are incarnations of Krishna, to be worshiped?
Regarding the status of the Deities (statues), this is of course ultimately an ontological question regarding the existential status of an image of the Lord. I cover this extensively in my course on the Religions of India.
Here’s the essence:
Those religions, primarily Middle Eastern traditions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, that teach a dualistic system, wherein God is fundamentally and almost irrevocably different from his creation, tend to eschew the worship of visible images. The strident dualism of such thought leads to a very negative view of the physical world, and of matter as an unsuitable vehicle for divine revelation.
On the other hand, traditions of Indo-European origin, such as those of India and pre-Christian Europe, often conceive of the physical world as an emanation of the Absolute, and thus different, but also one with its source. Thus in contact with God, the physical world is restored to sacredness and, at God’s will, may become a vehicle for His epiphany. Of course even in Roman Catholicism, we can historically observe a penchant for worshiping visible images. And the Old Testament describes various epiphanies or manifestations of God within the physical world. One famous example is God’s appearance to Moses in a burning bush.
In Krishna consciousness we understand clearly that matter is the inferior energy of Krishna, souls being His superior energy. Yet even matter, by the will of God, can reveal its creator. Within a traditional Indian ontological debate, this is called sat-karya-vada, or the claim that a cause is somehow present in its effect. Thus God is imminent within the material world, which is an effect of His creative acts, and this imminence may be brought to the surface when material objects, such as marble or metal, are directly engaged as vehicles of worship according to authorized prescriptions. Prabhupada used to give the example that we cannot drop a stamped letter in any box and hope it will reach its destination, but if we drop the letter in an authorized post box, it will be delivered. Similarly we can offer our worship to Krishna thru authorized physical media in the form of Deities.
Finally, in practice, it is a universal experience of those who take it seriously that such worship does greatly facilitate the cultivation of love for God, and is thus seen as a merciful concession by God to conditioned souls whose consciousness is presently trapped in God’s physical creation.