Dwaraka is a coastal town in the Jamnagar district of Gujarat. Traditionally, modern Dwaraka is identified with Dvaraka, mentioned in the Mahabharata as Krishna's city. Dwarka is one of the Chardham, four sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites, and is one of the Sapta Puri, the seven most ancient religious cities in the country. Dwarka is often identified with the Dwarka Kingdom, the ancient kingdom of Krishna, and is believed to have been the first capital of Gujarat.
The story of Krishna as told in the sacred scripture Srimad Bhagavatam describes the scenario that led to the construction of Dwarka. Once, when Krishna was ruling the city of Mathura, the kingdom was repeatedly attacked by Jarasandha, the tyrant King of Magadha (the present-day Bihar, India), around 17 times. The Monarch lost to Krishna in all 17 battles, and he attacked Mathura the 18th time. At this stage, Krishna decided to build a separate city on an island on the Western coast of India, to save his citizens, his Yadava clan from the trouble of repeated wars.
Ancient Dwaraka sank into the sea and hence is an important archaeological site. The first clear historical record of the lost city is dated 574 A.D. and occurs in the Palitana Plates of Samanta Simhaditya. This inscription refers to Dwaraka as the capital of the western coast of Saurashtra and still more important, states that Sri Krishna lived here.
Under the guidance of Dr. Rao, a great marine archaeologist, a team consisting of expert underwater explorers, trained diver-photographers, and archaeologists were formed.
The Marine Archaeological Unit (MAU) of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) conducted the second round of excavations in 1979 under the supervision of Dr. S. R. Rao (one of the most respected archaeologists in India). An emeritus scientist at the marine archaeology unit of the National Institute of Oceanography, Rao has excavated a large number of Harappan sites including the port city of Lothal in Gujarat. He found distinct pottery known as lustrous red ware, which could be more than 3,000 years old. Based on the results of these excavations, the search for the sunken city in the Arabian Sea began in 1981. Scientists and archaeologists have continually worked on the site for 20 years.
The project for underwater exploration was sanctioned in 1984, directly by the then Prime Minister for three years. Excavation under the sea is a hard and strenuous task. The sea offers too much resistance. Excavation is possible only between November and February, during low tide. The sea has to be smooth and there should be bright sunshine. All these requirements effectively reduce the number of diving days to 40 to 45 in one season. To make the maximum use of the time available, divers use echo sounder to get a fairly accurate idea of the location and the depth of the object underwater. The side scan sonar offers a view of the sea floor. The sonar signals sent inside the water return the signals. Reading of the signals reveals the broad nature of the object under water. Underwater scooters, besides the usual diving equipment like scuba, were also pressed into service. Between 1983 and 1990, S.R.Rao's team came across discoveries that cemented the existence of a submerged city.
In January 2007, the Underwater Archaeology Wing (UAW) of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) began excavations at Dwaraka again. Alok Tripathi, Superintending Archaeologist, UAW, said the ancient underwater structures found in the Arabian Sea were yet to be identified. "We have to find out what they are. They are fragments. I would not like to call them a wall or a temple. They are part of some structure," said Dr. Tripathi, himself a trained diver. Dr. Tripathi had said: "To study the antiquity of the site holistically, excavations are being conducted simultaneously both on land [close to the Dwarakadhish temple] and undersea so that finds from both the places can be co-related and analyzed scientifically."
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. The finds were studied, dated, and documented. On land, the excavation was done in the forecourt of the Dwarakadhish temple. Students from Gwalior, Lucknow, Pune, Vadodara, Varanasi, and Bikaner joined in to help the ASI archaeologists.
Glorious visions of Dwaraka
The following description of Dvaraka during Krishna's presence there appears in the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad-Bhagavatam; 10.69.1-12) in connection with the sage Naradas visit.
The City was filled with the sounds of birds and bees flying about the parks and pleasure gardens, while its lakes, crowded with blooming Indivara, Ambhoja, Kahlara, Kumuda, and Utpala lotuses, resounded with the calls of swans and cranes.
Dvaraka boasted 900,000 royal palaces, all constructed with crystal and silver and splendorous and decorated with huge emeralds. Inside these palaces, the furnishings were bedecked with gold and jewels.
Traffic moved along a well-laid-out system of boulevards, roads, intersections, and marketplaces, and many assembly houses and temples of demigods graced the charming city. The roads, courtyards, commercial streets, and residential patios were all sprinkled with water and shaded from the sun's heat by banners waving from flagpoles.
The city of Dvaraka was a beautiful private quarter worshiped by the planetary rulers. This district, where the demigod Vishvakarma had shown all his divine skill, was the residential area of Lord Hari Krishna, and thus it was gorgeously decorated by the sixteen thousand palaces of Lord Krishna queens. Narada Muni entered one of these immense palaces.
According to Mahabharata, the city had to submerge because of Queen Gandhari's curse on Lord Krishna (her 99 sons died during the war and she blamed Krishna for not stopping the slaughter). Gandhari, in her desperation and rage, gave a notorious curse to Lord Krishna: To feel the pain she is facing of having her sons being killed, Krishna will see the entire of his Yadava clan, die in front of his eyes and his kingdom will burn to the ashes. He and his brother will be left with no lineage to rule. All of Krishna's sons will die in a massive fight that will happen in Dwaraka. Krishna on the other hand will have no power to stop this war and will flee to the forest without any weapons. There in the forest, unarmed, he will be killed by a hunter, and later, the entire city of Dwaraka will sink into the sea. The remaining Yadavas, who survive the war will be suffering a lot because of chaos and facing all the above misery. Lord Krishna, though he had the power to nullify the curse, wholeheartedly accepted the curse.
Scientific reason: It is possible that Dwaraka was submerged due to the rise in sea level. It is possible that in that period Dwarka would have been from some of the cities in the world that were on the shores of the sea.
For hundreds of years, there was no evidence suggesting that any of the legends may be true and that there was ever a beautiful city as described in the epic. But things started to change at the beginning of the 20th century.