“I saw the beautiful buildings becoming submerged… There
was no trace of the city. Dwarka was just a name, just a memory.”
~~~ Arjuna in the Mahabharata
In the 1980’s when marine archaeologists dived into the ocean off the coast of the Gulf of Kutch, they made an extraordinary discovery. The archaeologist Dr. S. R. Rao who headed the expedition writes that seventy feet underwater they discovered the remains of a city. There were carved stone pillars, the stone jetty of a harbour, patches of walls, remains of sculptures, copper vessels inscribed in Vedic Sanskrit and most interestingly, triangular stone anchors. This proved that this long lost city had once been a busy port.
On shore excavations in 1963 and underwater expeditions between 1980 and 1993 at Bet Dwarka reclaimed a submerged city. And suddenly a chapter from the Mahabharata and the legend of the ancient capital that Lord Krishna had named Dwarka came alive. Now there was archaeological proof that Dwarka did exist at this location.
Dwarka means the doorway to eternal bliss and knowing its story gives a unique resonance to the discoveries. It was akin to finding the ruins of the palace of Hastinapur or excavating ancient weapons on the battle field of Kurukshetra. It is the realisation that the events of the Mahabharata that have been told and retold for centuries are based on actual events.
Dwarka is intimately connected to the life of Krishna, the powerful leader and statesman of the kingdom of Mathura and the story of his building a new kingdom. Krishna had killed his uncle Kansa who had usurped the throne from his father. This gained Krishna the enmity of Jarasandha the mighty king of Magadha. Two of Jarasandha’s daughters had been married to Kansa and so he decided he had to destroy Krishna.
It is said that Jarasandha attacked Mathura eighteen times and was successfully repulsed every time by Krishna’s army of Yadava warriors but he refused to give up. At this juncture Krishna took an unusual decision. He felt that the Yadavas had suffered enough and he decided to take his people away to a new kingdom. So the Yadavas travelled west from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, right across North India to the coast at Saurashtra.
Here at a place called Kushasthali, Krishna begged Samudra, the lord of the oceans to move away and give him the land for his new city. Samudra agreed and gave him twelve yojanas of land where Krishna built the magnificent city and port filled with palaces, temples, parks and lily pools. The Vishnu Purana carries many descriptions of the beauty of Dwarka that became prosperous through trade.
The marine excavations prove that the city was swept away by a massive storm and now lies under the sea. The Mahabharata tells us how at the death of Krishna, Samudra swept back and claimed the land that he had given. This was witnessed by Arjuna and he saw fabulous Dwarka vanish forever. Marine scientists speculate that it is possible that a tsunami led to this disaster like it did in the Bay of Bengal where the Pallava temples at Mahabalipuram now lie on the sea bed.
Legends never die and Lord Krishna and the legend of his great city have not been forgotten as he is worshipped at the Dwarkadhish Temple every day.