Tuesday, 3 April 2018
D for Dwarka
The mythical city of Dvaraka
No account of the ancient cities of India can be complete without the mention of its most sparkling and magnificent mythical city, the capital of Lord Krishna’s empire, Dwarka. The city with its fantastic myths and rich history stakes a claim to pre-date the earliest settlements discovered on the Indian subcontinent and establishes its existence to almost nine thousand years ago.
Mythology has it that Dwarka was built by Lord Krishna on even an earlier sacred city called Kusasthali, established by the Aryans during the Puranaic age in Saurashtra. The rebuilding of the city after the settlement of the Yadavas who migrated from Mathura and the subsequent history is well cited in the Mahabharata, which remains the major source of information about the mythical Dwarka. It is said that Krishna left Mathura after fighting Jarasandha, the King of Magadha, and settled here. He reclaimed 12 yojanas of land (96 square kilometres) of land from the sea to recreate Dwarka.
Krishna named the city Dwarka (Sanskrit: Dvaraka) meaning the city of gates, where Dvar in Sanskrit means gate and ‘ka’ is a reference to the multiple grand gates the city was known to have. Many believed it to be the ‘gateway to heaven’ and visited Dwarka to attain salvation. The city was also known by other names like, ‘Dvarika’, and ‘Dvaravati’.
As described in the Bhagavat Purana, Dwarka was a city filled with sights and sounds of happiness: of birds and bees, of flowery gardens and parks, streams of water trickling along its well-lined channels. The roads, commercial streets and residential districts were well laid out and the city boasted of innumerable palaces which were furnished with sparkling jewels and grand curtains. Of these, the quarters of Lord Krishna and his queens were the most notable and opulent, which according to legend were constructed by the demi-god of architecture, Vishwakarma himself. Overall the city shown in such ornate structures, opulent mansions and glowing magnificence that it was often referred to as the ‘city of gold’.
Dwarka, though such a brilliant city and the capital of an equally worthy empire, was often fraught with risks of attacks from the demon kings. Notable among them was the Asura king Salva, who often plagued Krishna and had on one occasion, even destroyed parts of the glittering Dwarka with energy weapons shot from his super-fast flying craft, the description of which is also found in the Mahabharata. For the witnesses to that raging battle between Krishna and Salva over the skies of Dwarka, “Salva’s flying craft discharged weapons which flew like lightning strikes on the city of Dwarka.” However, Krishna was successful in turning the tide of the battle and saving his city.
Dwarka finds innumerable mention in the Puranas, texts like the Harivamsa and probably the maximum in the epic Mahabharata. The Pandavas visited Dwarka during their exile, and even after their successful campaign at the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna came back to Dwarka. But the most important reference to Dwarka found in the Mahabharata (in the Mausala Parva) is in the words of Arjuna, who loved the city very much and had returned to visit the place with his brothers before the Pandavas retired from the world. The lament in Arjuna’s words on seeing the ornate city being submerged by the ocean is a fitting tribute to the mythical Dwarka, lost forever:
“The sea which had been beating against the shores, suddenly broke the boundary imposed on it by nature. The sea rushed into the city. It coursed through the streets of this magnificent city. The waters slowly covered up everything in the city. I saw the beautiful buildings and mansions being submerged one by one. In a matter of few moments it was all over. The sea had become placid as a lake. There was no trace left of the city… Dvaraka was just a name, just a memory.”
The mythical Dvaraka was said to have been submerged in the ocean and thus destroyed, within a short span of Krishna leaving the earth. Mythology has it that Krishna’s departure and the destruction of Dwarka at the hands on nature, heralded the advent of the ‘kali yuga’ (the current time-cycle of the universe as per Hindu scriptures) around the time of 3102 BC.
In the period 1983 – 1990, in the marine archaeological excavations conducted by the Indian Institute of Oceanography, yielded miraculous findings of ruins of a city ranging a distance of 9 kms, submerged in the sea off the coast of the Bay of Cambay. Dr S S Rao, an eminent Indian archaeologist confirms, “The available archaeological evidence from on-shore and off-shore excavations confirms the existence of a city-state with a couple of satellite towns dating back to the period of 1500 BC.” He considered it reasonable to conclude that this submerged city is the Dvaraka, as described in the Mahabharata.
Dwarka in later history
The current location of Dwarka is also based on a city founded by Krishna near the mouth of the River Gomti. In about 200 AD, the Mahakshatriya Rudradama defeated the King of Dwarka, Vasudev II and established his rule. He embraced Vaishnava religion and worshipped Krishna in Dwarka. Later, his successor, Vajranabha built a small temple structure and deified an idol of Krishna in it.
This was later on accentuated and built on a grander scale into the Dwarakadheesh Temple with Krishna as the supreme deity. Vaishnava Hinduism as a religious sect flourished for the next few centuries across the country and during 686 and 717 AD, Adi Shankaracharya brought Dwaraka into the folds of the ‘Char Dhaam’ (the four religious seats) of Hinduism, thus catapulting Dwarka as a prominent religious pilgrim centre for the Hindus entrenching the Dwarakadheesh Temple at its heart.
Both Dwarka and its grand temple suffered similar fates in the ensuing centuries, being plundered repeatedly at the hands of the Muslim invaders: in 1241 by Mohammed Shah and in 1473 by Mahmud Begada, the Sultan of Gujarat when the province was completely conquered and wrested by the Muslim rulers.
Such skirmishes went on till the time of the British Raj and the Dwarakadheesh Temple was rebuilt and repaired many times after repeated invasions, loots and destructions.
The city of Dwarka, as it stands today on the coast of Gujarat, bears a stoic history of proudly living its ancient lineage and remains a sparkling jewel in the cultural heritage of our country.
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