Situated around 500km (310 miles) north of Mumbai as the crow flies, on India’s western coast, the modern city of Dwarka is a bustling port town. But alongside the modern streets and shops lies a far older and more mystical tradition. Royal home of Lord Krishna that is believed to be a gateway to heaven.
The clue is hidden in the name. Dwarka derives from the far older “Dvaraka” which means “Gateway to Heaven”. It was here that, according to ancient Hindu texts, Lord Krishna, the 8th avatar of Vishnu, is believed to have resided.
Krishna is said to have built Dvaraka, raising a vast swathe of land from the seabed to form his city. Indeed an ancient temple still exists on the site, and it is considered a major religious center and destination for Hindu pilgrims.
But what was meant by the mysterious title given to the city? If Krishna’s ancient city was indeed a “Gateway to Heaven”, where did it lead?
It is said that Krishna was actually born in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, far away in the east in the foothills of the Himalayas. Kansa, his uncle, was known to be a tyrannical ruler and Lord Krishna came to prominence as the man who overthrew and killed him.
Jarasandh, the father-in-law of Kansa, became furious on hearing of his death and swore vengeance. Mathura was subjected to a series of vicious assaults, some 17 in all. However, the city resisted the attacks and time and again, as the dust settled, emerged inviolate.
However, the attacks took their toll on the city and eventually Lord Krishna was forced to make a decision. Realizing his people would not be able to survive any further war against Jarasandh, he chose to leave Mathura along with Yadavas, an ancient people who traced their descent from the legendary king Yadu.
Krishna is known to have spent the rest of his life on Earth in Dwaraka, the city he founded. It would be here that. Meditating under a tree, he was accidentally shot and killed by an arrow. But his city endured. Although the ancient texts tell that Dvaraka was swallowed by a massive flood, over the centuries, different civilizations built their own cities in the place where Dvaraka once stood.
The present city is known to be the seventh one on the original site.
The Building of Dvaraka
Krishna built his great city with the help of Hindu gods and demigods. Guided to Saurashtra in north-western India by Garuda, a winged demigod and the mount of Lord Vishnu, he sought the aid of the deity of construction, Vishwakarma, once he had chosen his site.
However, Vishwakarma informed Krishna that building the new city was only possible if the Lord of the sea, Samudradev, could provide some land. In order to please Samudradev, Krishna made offerings to him and honored him.
Finally, Samudradev was pleased and provided Krishna with 12 yojanas (some 773 square km or 283 square miles) of land. On the granted land, Vishwakarma constructed the city of Dvaraka.
In the Hindu texts, the city of Dvaraka has been elaborately described. The city was believed to be full of sounds of the calling of cranes and swans, along with the sounds of bees and birds flying, all signs of a harmonious and peaceful place.
What is also emphasized is the sheer wealth and size of the city, something only the gods could provide. Dvaraka was said to have had 900,000 royal palaces, all constructed made of crystal, gold, and silver and decorated with emeralds. Within the palaces, the furnishings were of jewels and gold.
The charming city of Dvaraka has a well laid-out system of roads, marketplaces, and intersections. Dvaraka also had a number of public facilities, including lakes and beautiful gardens. The commercial streets, courtyards, residential patios, as well as roads were sprinkled with water.
There also existed a private quarter in the city of Dvaraka where the rulers worshipped. In this district, Vishwakarma was believed to have executed all his divine skills. It was also Lord Hari Krishna’s residential area.
In the city of Dvaraka, a hall named “Sudharma Sabha” was located. It was here that all the public meetings were held, and the public decisions made. All was harmony and in tune with nature.
Excavation of the City of Dvaraka
By now you may be thinking that all this sounds too good to be true, and perhaps you are right. Nothing of this first city survives in present day Dwarka, and even the ancient Hindu temple, known to date back at least 2,500 years, was destroyed in antiquity. What stands today is from the 16th century.
It seems clear that the city as described cannot be in the exact same location as the modern Dwarka, and indeed the texts seem to support this. Dvaraka is described as being surrounded by water on all sides, connected to the mainland with a port and a number of bridges. And the city was, after all, first destroyed by a massive flood.
Armed with these clues, the search for a lost, submerged part of Dvaraka started during the 1930s. However, it was only in the year 1963 that the first archaeological excavation took place. During the excavation, a number of ancient artifacts were discovered, apparently confirming the theory.
An underwater archaeologist also found submerged remains of the city of Dvaraka and, between the years 1983 and 1990, the archaeologists found a fortified foundation. On the foundation, the walls of the city are believed to have been built.
The stone blocks that were used for irrigations systems, pillars, and construction were discovered. A number of stone anchors were also found from the site, whose size suggest that the city was indeed much larger than its current size.
Moreover, artifacts recovered from the submerged portion of the city reveal the fact that there was apparently a trading relationship between Arabic and Indian civilizations during the 15th to 18th centuries. It was also a significant trade port in the past.
A Gateway to the West?
Is the answer to the conundrum in this trading relationship? Dvaraka was advantageously placed on the Arabian sea and would be positioned as the first port of call for many traders looking to skirt the open ocean and arrive by ship to the Indian subcontinent.
Such a location, analogous to Venice in the Mediterranean, would allow the city to grow wealthy and prosper as a vital link in maritime trade between east and west. Perhaps this is how it earned its reputation as a serene, beautiful and fabulously wealthy place.
It would seem the trading links may be traced as far back as the time of Krishna, as mythologized in the ancient texts. Truly, to those who visited the city, it would have seemed that the goods that arrived and the wealth that came with them, could only have come from heaven.
Top Image: The fabulous and fabled city of Dvaraka. Source: Kesu Kalan / Public Domain.
By Bipin Dimri
Mingren, W. 2015. Dwarka: The Home of Krishna is a Gateway to Heaven and an Underwater City. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-asia/dwarka-home-krishna-gateway-heaven-and-underwater-city-004227
UNESCO, 2022. Dwarka. Available at: https://en.unesco.org/silkroad/silk-road-themes/underwater-heritage/dwarka#:~:text=Numerous%20ancient%20artefacts%20were%20found,built%20along%20the%20river%20banks
Bajpai, S. 2021. Dwarka: Lord Krishna’s Kingdom. Available at: https://indiacurrents.com/dwarka-lord-krishnas-kingdom/