Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Lost City of Dwarka

The Lost City of Dwarka

(By Rohini Gupta (

Dwarka, city of legend and mystery, capital of blue skinned Krishna, the mystic golden land which arose from the ocean at his command and returned under the waters when his feet no longer walked the earth. Dwarka was Krishna’s stronghold, a fort built to be invincible. A city of mythic proportions, everything about Dwarka is as magical as the story of the man who built it.

The poets described Dwarka as a city so golden that it cast its radiance on the ocean for miles around it. Dwar means door, and Dwarka is a city of many doors or a gateway. It was an island, connected to the mainland by many bridges, and legend says that Krishna asked Vishwakarman, the architect of the gods to build him a city more beautiful than any before it.

Krishna’s story is well known. He was born in a prison and smuggled out to the peaceful pastoral village of Brindavan far away from the tyranny of Mathura. Krishna was just a teenager when he returned to Mathura and rearranged the political landscape of ancient India by killing Kamsa and putting the old king Ugrasena back on the throne.

Though he was not the king, Krishna was always the ruler. His Yadav clan is probably the first democratic society in the world and their system of government sounds very modern today. They were a federation of six tribes who elected their leader, but retained their king as head of the state with no real powers. Krishna, the elected leader was in actual control and made all the decisions.

An underwater archaeologist of the ASI examines an ancient structure off the shore of Dwaraka; a circular structure on the shore at Dwaraka; fragment of an ancient structure found underwater; remains of an ancient structure in the forecourt of the Shri Dwarakadhish temple. - (Photo courtesy ASI),

Like all leaders in a democracy Krishna struggled to keep the Yadavs together. The six clans each had it own leader, and there were factions within the council. The power struggles were endless, each faction jostling for control, sometimes stooping to slander and back stabbing with an occasional murder thrown in. Krishna’s hands were full just keeping his contentious clan together. He was such a towering personality that his leadership was never in question but it did not stop his rivals from plotting against him, trying to discredit him in the eyes of the people. In one notable instance they accused him of theft and it took him years to sort out the scandal.

When Krishna killed Kamsa and was unanimously elected the leader of the Yadavs, he was so young he had not even finished his education. He was sent to Guru Sandipani’s ashram to complete it. The ashrams of ancient India were the universities of today and Sandipani’s ashram was one of the best.

However Krishna was given little respite to study. Kamsa’s powerful father in law, Jarasandh launched attack after attack on Mathura. Krishna and Balaram, almost single handed, withstood seventeen assaults, but when Jaransadh enlisted foreign allies and planned to attack the city on all sides, then Krishna began to look for an alternative.

That he chose retreat shows his foresight. In those days the warrior classes considered retreat to be a disgrace. Krishna was accused of running away from battle many times in his life, but it was his audacious retreat that changed the fate of his Yadavas. He turned them from a broken tribe into a kingdom talked about all over the world with awe and wonder.

Krishna chose a remote location, far beyond the reach of Jarasandh. He picked distant Dwarka on the western coast of India, far from Mathura, and spent a year putting his plans into action. He built on the sunken remains of a previous kingdom, Kushasthali, which itself was built on older ruins, all underwater. Krishna reclaimed a hundred miles of land from the sea and called in Vishwakarman, the architect of the gods to give him a city that was the envy of the world.

The Mahabharat and the Bhagwad Puran and other texts, describe the wonders of Dwarka. The most expensive and luxurious materials were used. In those days of unbelievable riches, it was quite common to use precious stones, gold and silver as construction material. Royalty and rich nobles invariably used gold, those who could not afford it used silver or metal.

Dwarka was a city of rose and gold. The palaces and many of the mansions were built of gold, over which pink lotus domes towered, topped by soaring golden spires. The floors were made of emeralds. Precious stones studded the walls and crystal arches curved overhead, inlaid with gold. The houses were beautifully decorated and sculptures adorned the walls. Even the cowsheds were made of silver, brass and iron.

The gardens are specially mentioned. Lavish gardens were planted with fruit and flowering trees, shade trees lined the roads and fragrant flowers scented the air. Lakes and ponds full of lotuses and fountains and waterfalls delighted the eyes. The heavenly Parijaat tree was planted in abundance.

Colourful flags flew on the fort walls and cleanliness was extreme. The Bhagwat Puran describes a time when Krishna returned to the city. To welcome him every alley, lane and road was swept and sprinkled with scented water, garlands of flowers hung from every arch, and on every doorstep incense burned sweetening the air. From the higher floors above the road women dropped flower petals and lotus garlands on the procession as it wended its way down the streets, accompanied by music and dancing.

Dwarka was a very well planned city, following the highly developed science of town planning. The architect, Vishwakarman, first mapping out the highways, lanes, gates and parks. He sectioned off plots and divided the city into six zones, residential and commercial. He planned out the port and created the bridges and gateways and the fortifications. Everything was laid out in detail before the construction began.

Dwarka was built to be invincible. Two lines of massive fort walls built from huge stone blocks, ran all around it and the sea itself served as a moat. The island was cut off from the mainland and could only be approached by boat. Vishwakarman built several bridges which could be withdrawn in case of attack.

Like many kingdoms of the time Dwarka had a passport system. Its citizens were issued with a clay seal which had to be presented when they entered or left the massive gates. The seal of Dwarka was a mythical three headed dog and seals matching the description have been found in the undersea ruins today.

Dr. S. R. Rao (Archeologist)

The fortifications of Dwarka made it hard to reach. The walls were furnished with watchtowers and machines to fling fire, inflammable liquids and missiles. Its structure and location made it inaccessible and the only time it sustained damage was when the attack came, not from land or sea, but from the sky.

The Bhagwat Puran describes how King Salwa acquired an flying machine that could fly at great speed and high enough to be invisible. He mounted an two pronged attack on Dwarka in which his army laid siege to the fort while he waged war from the skies, at a time when both Balaram and Krishna were away.

The Mahabharat mentions the preparations for war. The city was sealed, no one allowed to move in or out. Mines were planted on land and the moats were filled with sharpened spikes. The bridges were removed, the docks closed to all traffic and the streets barricaded. The army was paid in advance, with gold, to keep their motivation high.

Most of the battle of Dwarka took place on land. Krishna’s son Pradyumna led the Yadav army to meet the besiegers and defeated them. But Salwa flew above the city and destroyed its structures and gardens from the air, swooping out of nowhere and taking the defenders by surprise. When Krishna returned he used his unique weapons to destroy both Salwa and his air chariot. The description given sounds very much like a missile. Salwa’s car was too high to be visible but Krishna flung a weapon that smashed into it and brought it tumbling down.

The story of Krishna and Dwarka is told in the epics and Purans, all of which are considered history. While most Indians believed that Krishna was a historical figure, many historians did not agree. Today even the die hards are changing their stance as ruins have been discovered exactly where the epics placed the legendary city, off the coast of western India, under the sea.

The excavations of Dwarka began in the early 1980s when marine archeologists found underwater stone walls. The discoveries made after that all confirm the description in the texts. They have found six layers of ruins, each above the other, showing signs of being submerged over periods of time, just as the texts described the older cities upon which Dwarka was built.

The harbour has been located, and massive triangular stone anchors suggest large trading ships. The river channel leading into the city has also been identified. Ships from across the ocean berthed in the outer harbour, and smaller vessels ferried men and goods down the Gomti river to the fort.

Stone blocks under the sea could be the ruins of the thick fort walls. Archeologists even describe holes in them that may have held flag poles. The epics describe the colourful flags which flew high over Dwarka’s walls.

Many objects, fragments of pottery, metal and stone have been uncovered, including a stone statue of Vishnu. A clay seal was also found, showing a three headed animal, just like the three headed dog mentioned in the texts.

In an interesting story, Badri Narayan, who was one of the marine archeologists investigating the site reported that all the crew members, including those who knew nothing about Krishna had “dreams full of strange visions on the night of the discovery. We felt we had stumbled on something great and unusual.”

Today findings indicate that the whole western sea coast of India may have sunk by over forty feet. Epic history, legend and fact are coming together as more and more discoveries are made on the sea bed.

Dwarka submerged shortly after Krishna left the earth. The city he had reclaimed from the ocean and turned into a marvel waited only until he was gone before it sank back to the bottom of the ocean.

After the Kurukshetra war there were 36 years of peace, while the Pandavas ruled in Hastinapur and Krishna returned to Dwarka. But all was not well in Dwarka. The Yadavs race has become too used to the easy life, too unruly, and too violent, and in the end they destroyed themselves just as predicted.

One day the men went to the mainland shores with Krishna and Balaram. They drank too much and began to argue. The arguments became violent. When Krishna and Balaram tried to mediate they were both attacked. Krishna and Balaram retired in disgust and the violence went on all night. In the morning the beach was a graveyard. No one lived, even those who had survived the battle of Kurukshetra died on that fateful shore.

Balaram retired to the forest and gave up his body. Krishna returned to Dwarka but only to make the last arrangements. Once he had sent his charioteer to fetch Arjun, he also retired to the forest and shortly left the world.

By the time Arjun arrived the city was in shock and panic, unable to believe that Krishna and Balaram were gone. The bodies of the dead still lay on the shore. Arjun performed all the last rites, lit the funeral pyres. Then, following Krishna’s instructions he gave orders to evacuate the city.

Today we know that an erupting undersea volcano can cause the huge tidal wave that is a tsunami. The description given in the texts matches a tsunami exactly. For weeks the signs were ominous. The sky was full of fiery meteors, clouds of dust and smoke obscured the sun and the moon. That sounds like an erupting volcano.

Animals are often the first to sense disaster and it was no different in Dwarka. Birds and animals howled, shrieked and cried. Rats and mice emerged to take over the streets. Animals are rarely caught in natural disasters, they sense then early enough to leave.

That was not all. Gale force winds battered the invulnerable walls and rivers changed their course and began to flow backwards. Tidal patterns often change before a tsunami. When the final end came it was over in minutes, which also sounds like a killer tsunami wave.

On the seventh day after Krishna, the evacuation of Dwarka began. The Mahabharat describes the caravan stretching for miles, chariots, carts, horsemen, soldiers, woman and children, all departing in haste. They were barely in time. Battered by the sea, the city began to break apart even as they scrambled to safety. When the last one reached the shore the big wave came and washed the golden city away.

Arjun saw it vanish under the waves, watching the great palaces, mansions and residences submerge. With tears in his eyes he watched Krishna’s golden palace disappear under the waters. The whole city was swallowed by the ocean in minutes and where Dwarka once stood the sea left no trace, becoming as calm and quiet as a lake. The age of the Mahabharat ended and the dreaded dark, degenerate Kali age took over the earth.

Dwarka may have sunk but the story lives forever. The epic stories have been sung by poets, told by story tellers, and kept alive all across the country for centuries. Today the excavations on the sea bed are unearthing the magic again. There are plans to build an underwater tunnel museum so that visitors can walk amid the fort walls on the floor of the ocean. Perhaps, after five thousand years, it is time for Dwarka to come alive once again.