Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Quest for Dwarka

The sea, that had been beating against the shores, 
broke the boundaries imposed by nature..
It rushed into the beautiful city,
and swallowed everything in its path..
I saw the grand buildings submerge one by one,
In just a few moments it was all over..
The sea had now become as placid as a lake,
There was no trace of the city anymore, 
Dwarka was just a name; just a memory..

What a terrible end to witness, the submergence of an entire metropolis in front of one's own eyes.. Yet, this is what happened to the golden city of Dwarka and according to Mahabharat's Musal Parva, Pandav Arjun was eyewitness to this destruction!

In continuation of my previous post {Pralaya - The end of Days}, I decided to explore the topic further and assess its impact on Indian history. It leads me to believe that civilization hubs on the shores of our vast peninsula have succumbed to these calamities time and again, and Dwarka, was one of the most promising candidates for such a catastrophe.

What exactly was Dwarka? We know from ancient texts that the city was located on the western shore of Indian mainland; we know it was the capital of Yadavs after they migrated from Mathura; we know Lord Krishna made the city His capital and ruled the kingdom from there; and we also know, that this fabled city was submerged under huge Tsunamis as soon as Krishna left the Earth.

Let us now dig a little deeper and find out more about the rise and fall of Dwarka.


Dwarka, the Golden City

Dwarka or Dwarawati (The-city-of-Doors) finds mention in many Sanskrit epics including the Mahabharat, Harivansha, Bhagvat Puraan, Skanda Puraan and the Vishnu Puraan.  It is one of the sacred quartet that forms Char Dham of Lord Vishnu along with Shri Badrinath, Shri Jagannath Puri and Shri Rameshwaram.

Shri Dwarkadhish Temple in the modern city of Dwarka
My visit to the ancient temple

Legend says that the city was built by none other than Vishwakarma, the architect of demigods on the order of Lord Krishna at a site selected by the Divine Eagle Garud

Krishna's Golden City from a Mughal miniature painting

In order to know more about the creation of Dwarka, we would first have to understand the geo-political realities of the time. Let us take a look at the political dynamics in the country at the end of Dvapar Yuga.

Socio-political Condition in Mahabharat Times

The end of a Yuga is always a phase of tumultuous transition. We are talking about the period from the Dusk-of-Dvapar to the Dawn-of-Kaliyuga and there was a lot of political upheaval at this time in the civilized world.

Jarasandh, the king of Magadh had emerged as the most powerful and ambitious king of the time, aspiring to become the Lord of the entire land. He had entered into alliance with other tyrant kings like Kamsa and the Kauravs through matrimony and military deterrence and most other rulers were his vassals. 

Yadavs were settled on the banks of Yamuna and the cities of Mathura and Shauripuri in present Uttar Pradesh were their major centers. Mathura, the main hub of Chandravanshis was ruled by Kamsa who had dethroned his father Ugrasen and usurped the kingdom. 

Another Yadav prince Samudravijay was ruling over Shauripuri, while his younger brother Vasudev (the father of Krishna) was the captive of Kamsa along with his wife Devaki. When Krishna grew up, He liberated His parents from the dungeons of Kamsa, killed the despot and ended his reign of tyranny but Jarasandh (Kamsa's father-in-law), vowed to take revenge.

Since Krishna was too strong an adversary, Jarasandh, who was a master strategist, decided to target the Yadav subjects and launched a series of raids against the denizens of Mathura. Krishna, being a statesman par excellence, decided to wait for the right time (aka the Mahabharat War) and meanwhile thought of a way to secure His countrymen.

He decided to move the entire population of Yadav kingdom to a place far beyond the reach of Jarasandh and picked the western coast of India. The Sabha Parva of Mahabharat gives a detailed account of Krishna's emigration to Dwarka in order to save the lives of His subjects from unwanted attacks.

Migration routes of various clans due to Jarasandh's attacks


Krishna summoned Vishwakarma, the divine architect of the demigods, and commissioned a city that would be the envy of the civilized world. However, the architect wanted to reclaim some land from the sea and the task could be completed only if Varundeva, the Lord of the sea, acquiesced to this proposal. Sri Krishna worshiped Samudra-dev, who gave them land measuring 12 yojans and Vishwakarma then built the magnificent Dwaraka, a city in gold. 

This is what we know from the Mahbharat, let us see what other literary evidence we can gather from other sources.

Historicity of Dwarka - Literary Evidence

According to the Garuḍa Purāṇ [1.16.14], Dwarka was one of the seven ancient cities in the country that are believed to lead one to Nirvana.
Ayodhyā Mathurā Māyā Kāsi Kāñchī Avantikā
Purī Dvārāvatī chaiva saptaitā moksadāyikāh

Inclusion of Dwarka in this list gives reason that it would have been a historical city as the other six cities mentioned in the verse are very much alive and thriving even today.

Other scriptures record that the city was built on the sunken remains of a previous kingdom, Kushasthali, which itself was built on older ruins. The modern city of Dwarka is located in the westernmost part of India at the confluence of the Gomati river with the sea. 

 Western region of the Indian mainland

Rishi Ved Vyas has described Dwarka in great detail and calls it 'A city so golden that it cast its radiance on the ocean for miles around it'. The city extended over 104 Kms and was divided into six well-organized sectors, residential and commercial zones, wide roads, plazas, palaces and many public utilities. 

It had a special hall called Sudharma Sabha to hold public meetings and the city had beautiful gardens filled with flowers of all seasons and beautiful lakes. It was well fortified and surrounded by a moat, spanned by bridges, boasted of a good sea harbor and had an incredible number of 700,000 palaces made of gold, silver and other precious stones!

The city of Dwarka
 Narad Muni's visit to Dwarka

After Krishna departed from Earth, about 36 years after the Mahabharat War (3102 BCE), Arjun went to Dwarka to bring Krishna's grandsons and remaining Yadavs to safety. As soon as they left, the city was submerged into the sea and the eye-witness account is mentioned in the beginning of the post.

The Vishnu Puran also mentions the submersion of Dwarka, stating-
On the same day that Krishna departed from the earth, the dark-bodied Kali Yuga descended. The oceans rose and submerged the whole of Dwarka.

Besides Dwarka, there are mentions in the scriptures of many renowned cities which were washed away by the rivers on whose banks they were situated. Mahabharat mentions that Hastinapura was washed away by the Ganga and consequently the Pandavas had to migrate to Kaudambi

Similar was the case with Pataliputra which, even though the premier city of the land, later became the worst victim of inundation according to Dandin, the author of the Dashakumaracarita

The question in front of historians now is, whether these cities ever really existed or were they just a figment of poet's imagination? Let us try to understand where archaeology stands on this question.

Archaeological Evidence

Pargiter, a noted historian in British India, was the first to suggest that Dwarka was located near the Raivataka (Girnar) mountain and also mentioned that it was constructed on the remains of an earlier city known as the Kushasthali.

The Girnar mountain is considered holy not only by Hindus but is also a major site of pilgrimage for the Jain community. It is the place where the 22nd Jain Tirthankar, Lord Neminath (who BTW was a paternal cousin of Lord Krishna), attained liberation.


Girnar Mountain
 Jain Temples on top of Mount Girnar

Jain legends tell many stories of both the brothers and acknowledge the presence of the Metropolis of Dwarka as being close to the Girnar mountains.

According to Jain texts, Shri Krishna negotiated Neminath's marriage with Rajamati, (the sister of Kamsa), but Neminath, empathizing with the animals that were to be slaughtered for the marriage feast, left the procession and renounced the world!

Interestingly, Jain tradition also recognizes Krishna as Vasudev and Jarasandh as the prati-Vasudev (similar to the Christ & anti-Christ belief) showing how important the rivalry between the two was.

The Yadav kingdom at that time spread around Junagadh district and the nearby Gir Forest (which is the last sanctuary for the Asiatic Lions today). The first excavations at the site were conducted by Deccan College, Pune and the Department of Archaeology, Govt. of Gujarat, in 1963 under the direction of H.D. Sankalia

These and other archaeological excavations unearthed artifacts that prove that modern Dwarka is the sixth settlement of the name on this site. The earlier cities have been, at various times, swallowed by the sea. The waves of the sea still lap the shores of this famous town, lending scenic beauty to this important pilgrimage destination. 

The sea adjacent to Shri Krishna Temple

Gradually, the myth of Dwarka was coming alive, but the final breakthrough came with the discovery of submerged remains of Dwarka by the Marine Archaeology Unit (MAU) jointly formed by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Underwater Exploration of Dwarka

This exploration was undertaken under the guidance of Dr. S.R. Rao. Dr. Rao is widely considered widely the Grand-father of Indian Archaeology and has served the ASI for over 32 years. He is credited with the discovery of a large number of Indus-Saraswati sites including the port city of Lothal in Gujarat.

 Dr. S. R. Rao

Before the underwater ruins were discovered, most scholars were of the view that the Mahabharat was just a mythological epic and it would be futile to look for the remains of Dwarka. However,
Dr. Rao and his team, undertook an extensive search of this city along the coast from 1984-88 and finally succeeded in finding the submerged city off the Gujarat coast.

The use of advanced techniques of geophysical survey combined with echo-sounders, mud-penetrators, sub-bottom profilers and underwater metal detectors helped uncover this missing link in our history! 

Between 1983 to 1990, the well-fortified township of Dwaraka was discovered, extending more than half a mile from the shore. In his work, The Lost City of Dwaraka, Dr. Rao has given scientific details of these discoveries and artifacts.  

You can find a similar report report on the link - {Recent underwater exploration at Bet Dwarka and Okha Mandal }

Excavations at Dwarka

Offshore exploration of the legendary city was resumed in 1988 and continued through 1990, further seaward of the Temple of Samudranarayana (Sea God) with a view to trace the plan and extent of the port-city and the purpose of the massive stone walls built on the banks of ancient Gomati. 

From the structural remains in Dwaraka and Bet Dwaraka waters, it is possible to visualise that the city-ports were large and well planned.

The findings of Bet Dwarka can actually be divided into two broad periods: Protohistoric period which includes seal, two inscriptions, a copper fishhook and late Harappan pottery; and the Historical period which consists of coins, ship anchors and pottery. 

Underwater exploration of Dwarka

JUST AS DESCRIBED in the scriptures, the township was built in SIX sectors along the banks of a river. The foundation of boulders on which the city's walls were erected proves that the land was reclaimed from the sea. 

The general layout of the city described in ancient texts agrees with that of the submerged city discovered by MAU. Mahabharat mentions a Prasada which corresponds to the high fort wall of Dwarka, a part of which is extant. The epic says that flags were flying in the city of Dwarka which can again be corroborated by the stone bases of flag posts found in the sea bed excavation. 

 Ruins of the Fort walls in Dwarka

A significant antiquity that further corroborates a statement of the Harivamsha is the SEAL bearing the motif of a three-headed animal representing the bull, unicorn and goat. The text states that every citizen of Dwarka had to carry a seal as a mark of identification and the seal recovered from the sea-bed matches with the scriptural description!

The seal of Dwarka

A large number of rectangular blocks of various sizes are also scattered in a large area in the vicinity and are evidently part of a single structure. These blocks are lying on a rocky seabed and a few of them are buried in sand.

The UAW began excavations at Dwarka again from January 2007. The objective of the excavation was to know the antiquity of the site, based on material evidence. In the offshore excavation, the ASI's trained underwater archaeologists and the divers of the Navy searched the sunken structural remains. 

According to the news releases made by the Govt. of India, the radiocarbon testing on a piece of wood from the underwater site has yielded an age of 9,500 years which would place it near the end of the last Ice Age. 

As discussed in the previous post {Pralaya - The End of Days}, the last melt-down was responsible for drowning a large number of civilizations all over the globe leading to the Flood Myths. This piece of wood could very well be a remnant of the same lost ante-diluvian civilization on the remains of which Dwarka was created. 

Offshore explorations near Bet Dwarka jetty also brought to light a number of stone anchors of different types that include triangular, Indo-Arabian and ring stones.

These are made of locally available rocks and their period may also be similar to those found at Dwarka and other places. Recent findings have also shown evidence of active Indo-Roman trade from the fourth century BCE to 4th century CE. 

Other artifacts recovered from the sea

All these findings should be able to build our faith in the belief that there indeed existed a port-city on the westernmost fringe of the Indian mainland which was into international maritime trade and hence would have been a popular and prosperous metropolis before its submergence.

The obvious next question is, what led to submergence of this massive trading city?

So what happened???

The answer lies in the progressive rise in sea-levels witnessed over thousands of years and tectonic upheavals taking place in the womb of the planet. These two combine like a potion being brewed in a witch's cauldron, and stir up giant Tsunamis capable of wiping out entire civilizations in one go!

In one of the major studies of its kind, scientists at National Institute of Oceanography have developed sea level variation history of the last ~14,500 years B.P. (Before Present), for the western coast of India. 

To generate the sea level variation curve for these past 16,000 years, they had to compile all the data of past shore line indicators available between 21°N to 14°N latitude (till south of Saurashtra Peninsula). These dates ranging from 14,500 to 1,500 yr B.P. were then plotted against height/depth from which the dated material was recovered. 

The sea level curve was then drawn based on geological reasoning and other supporting evidence such as the presence of terraces, nature of samples and inferences of sea-level rise from other stable areas.

The curve shows that 14,500 years ago, sea level along the west coast of India was about 100m lower as compared to the present, and rose to 80m depth around 12,500 years ago with a rate of ~10m/1,000 years. 

It was followed by a quiet period when the level remained unchanged for about 2,500 years, thus providing time for civilization to flourish before being engulfed by the sea again. From 10,000 to 7,000 years ago, sea level rose at a very high rate (~20m/1000 years) and after approximately 7,000 years B.P. it has fluctuated to more or less the present level.  

Animation depicting the shrinking of the Indian coast in years Before Present


The animation above shows how the shoreline has changed over thousands of years, and how much land has been lost to the sea. All along the peninsula, we have most certainly lost civilizations at various stages of development and out of these, Dwarka was one of the most prominent ones.

In another study conducted on the Seismic activity in the Western region, work in peripheral land areas of the Gulf of Cambay like Kathana, Lothal and Motibaur gave evidences of major earthquakes in the following periods -
(1) 2780 ± 150 years BP
(2) 3983 ± 150 BP and 
(3) 7540 ± 130 BP

In the first major event at about 7,600 BCE, the FIRST metropolis found in the underwater ruins appears to have succumbed to the tectonic forces and the sea appears to have inundated it. Because of this catastrophe, people would have proceeded north to the higher sea level and established the SECOND metropolis

This also got affected by faulting due to earth quakes around 4,000 BP and was destroyed by the second or the last Earthquake around 2780 ± 150 BP, when the sea transgressed to completely submerge it.

We have experienced in the recent years how catastrophic submarine earthquakes can be. They do not affect the land directly but lead to huge waves that are meters tall and are capable of wiping out cities in minutes just as described by Arjun in the beginning of the post!

Giant Tsunamis generated by Submarine Earthquakes


From our point of view, the older site of 7600 BCE could very well correspond to Kushasthali, the foundation of Shri Krishna's Dwarka and the second settlement of 4000-2800 BCE would then be the tentative time-frame of existence of the Golden City of the Lord.  

This also matches very well with Shri Krishna's historical dates that we arrived at in the post {Krishna - The Historical Enigma} and again proves that our scriptures are not mere figments of fertile imaginations but have a historical basis.

Dr. S.R. Rao after his careful research made the following statement: "The findings in Dwarka and archeological evidence found are compatible with the Mahabharat tradition and removes the lingering doubt about the historicity of the Mahabharat. We would say that Krishna definitely existed".

Krishna, the Great Statesman and King was indeed a historical figure who ruled from  the city of Dwarka until the day He departed from the mortal realm. He lived the life of a householder and raised His family in the city of Dwarka.


 Krishna, the Yadav king of Dwarka

If Dwarka excavations can throw light on the historicity of Lord Krishna, sea-bed excavations at Ayodhya situated on the banks of Sarayu might yield equally valuable information about the historicity of Lord Rama.

We, the youth of the country should participate more in spreading the knowledge of our ancient heritage and endeavor to be a part of a further exploration of its origins. Only then, we would be able to unearth the true history of our own civilization as well as that of Mankind.

 Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:

Like us on Facebook