The modern city of Dwarka (meaning ‘Gateway to Heaven’ in Sanskrit) is located in the north-western Indian state of Gujarat. This city is regarded as one of the most prominent Chardham (the four sacred pilgrimage sites of Hinduism), and one of the seven most ancient religious sites in the country (the other six being Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Banaras, Kanchi and Ujjain.)
Dwarka and the Sacred City Dvārakā
The reputation of Dwarka is mainly due to the identification of the modern city with the mythological sacred city of Dvārakā, which is believed to have been the first capital of Gujarat. Dvārakā is mentioned in the Mahabharata, one of the two great epics of ancient India, as well as the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita , Skand Purana , Vishnu Purana and the Harivamsha.
According to Hindu mythology, Dvārakā was a city where Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu, once lived. It is believed that Krishna was born in Mathura, just south of Delhi in the modern state of Uttar Pradesh. His uncle, Kansa, was the tyrannical ruler of this city and was eventually killed by Krishna. Kansa’s father-in-law, who was Jarasandh, the king of Magadha, was furious when he heard of Kansa’s murder, and tried to avenge his death.
Yashoda bathing the child Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana Manuscript (1500)
Although Mathura was attacked 17 times, it did not fall to Jarasandh. Nevertheless, his clan, the Yadavs, suffered heavy losses over the course of the lengthy conflict. As Krishna realized that his people would not be able to withstand another war with Jarasandh, he decided to leave Mathura with the Yadavs.
Krishna Builds Dvārakā
In one version of the story, Krishna was said to have been brought by Garuda (the mount of Vishnu) to the coast of Saurashtra in north-western India. It was there that Krishna founded the city of Dvārakā. In another version of the story, Krishna invoked Vishwakarma, the deity of construction, when he decided to build his new city. The deity, however, informed him that the task could only be completed if Samudradev, the Lord of the Sea, provided some land. Krishna worshipped Samudradev, who was pleased, and gave him 12 yojanas (773 square km/298.5 square miles) of land. With the land granted, Vishwakarma was then able to build the city of Dvārakā.
The lord Krishna in Dvārakā. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper from the Harivamsha which narrates Krishna’s life. (circa 1600)
The Layout of the Mythological City of Dvārakā
Dvārakā is purported to have been thoroughly planned. The city is said to have been divided into six sectors which contained residential and commercial areas, wide roads, plazas, palaces (700,000 that were made of gold, silver and precious stones), as well as numerous public facilities, including beautiful gardens and lakes. A hall called the sudharma sabha (‘Meeting of True Religion’) was the place where public meetings were held. As the city was surrounded by water, it was connected to the mainland via bridges and a port.
Krishna’s childhood friend Sudama praising Krishna’s golden castle in Dvārakā. (1775-1790)
Seven Cities on the Site of Dvārakā
Krishna lived for the rest of his life in this newly-built city. Nonetheless, after being accidentally shot by an arrow whilst meditating under a tree in a forest at Bhalka Tirtha, Krishna departed from this world. After Krishna’s death, the city he founded was swallowed up by a massive flood, thus returning it to the ocean. It is said that over the centuries, a number of civilizations built their cities in the area where the city of Dvārakā once stood. The present city of Dwarka is believed to be the seventh one that was built there.
Wood carving depicting the death of Krishna.
A Mix of History and Myth
Dvārakā and its fate have been dismissed by some as merely a myth. Nevertheless, there are also those who fervently believe that there is a historical basis for this story. There have been archaeological excavations conducted in front of the modern city’s famous Dwarkadhish temple (the current structure is dated to the 16th century AD). Results from these excavations suggest that there is evidence for a destroyed proto-historic settlement dating all the way back to the 15th century BC.
Shiva as Natesa on an external wall of a temple in Pattadakal, Karnataka.
The group of 8th century monuments in Pattadakal are the culmination of the earliest experiments in the vesara style of Hindu temple architecture.
(via Twitter: Sudha G.)