The journey is from one sea shore to another. From South to North west. Cutting across some internal borders and involving several hours of travel. Yet, can it be a cakewalk to visit so sanctified a spot, exalted as a Mokshadayika (bestower of liberation)? Somehow, in spite of the travails I faced, feel blessed to be here, since I had been dreaming about visiting Dwarka for more than 6 years. The hallowed centre of Dwar (door) ka (Brahma) is considered as the doorway to Heaven. Dwarka literally feels like the end of the earth. This remote pilgrimage town at the extreme western tip of the Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat is one of the four most holy Hindu sites in India. Krishna is said to have set up his capital here after fleeing from Mathura.
Dwarka is a well–organised town, busy with pilgrims and farmers. Men wear white clothes and red turbans, and both men and women are weighed down with gold nugget–like jewellery. It gets packed with pilgrims at festival times. Archaeological excavations have revealed five earlier cities lying just off the coast – submerged as the sea encroached. The town swells to breaking point for Janmastami in August/September in celebration of Krishna’s birthday. This venerated spot, as per ancient Vedic scriptures, always remained the realm of Lord Krishna, who settled here with his Yadava clan to save them from the wrath of Jarasandha. Jarasandha, as the legend goes, was the father–in–law of Kansa, the despot ruler of Mathura, who was killed by Krishna. In retaliation, Jarasandha invaded Mathura 16 times.
Since Bheema was ordained to slay Jarasandh, n order protect his kin, Krishna had to leave Mathura and establish a fortified city. Hence, as suggested by Garuda, he reclaimed 12 yojanas of land from the sea and with the help of Viswakarma, the divine architect, erected a dazzling Golden City and christened it as Kushasthali or Dwaravati. It later became Dwarka. After the demise of the Yadavas and Krishna, Dwarka was submerged in the sea, as was destined, leaving behind only the palace of Sri Krishna. Years later, Vajranabhi, the grandson of Krishna, built a temple (more than 2500 years ago), over the Hari Griha (Krishna’s palace). The present day Dwarka sits quietly on the cusp of river Gomti and the Arabian Sea and is counted as one of the most celebrated religious spots in the country, drawing thousands of pilgrims. Once a thriving trade centre enjoying great pomp and glory, Dwarka is now a small town tucked away in the northwest corner of the country. (Various marine excavations around Beyt Dwarka have indeed revealed a well–planned city). It has a Ghat like in Varanasi and it swarms with tourists in and around the temple. But it is not so dusty and also lacks the foul smell of Kasi. It is also devoid of the labyrinth lanes and bylanes which are the landmarks of Varanasi.
We proceed straightaway to the temple after a dip at Gomti Ghat. It has two entrances. We gain access through Moksha Dwar, which leads to the market. It has a magnificent five–storey spire supported by 60 columns. The steeple towers over other buildings in the town are visible from a distance. The Sharada Peetam established by Adi Shankara administers the temple and is within the precincts of the temple. A huge multi–coloured flag 52 yards wide flutters from its top and can be seen even from a distance of 10 km. The temple is built of soft limestone and consists of a sanctum, vestibule and a rectangular hall, with porches on three sides. To enter, non–Hindus must make a declaration of respect for the religion. We enter inside the temple and stand in the middle of the campus, watching a group singing bhajans and saffron coloured dhoti clad boys chanting hymns. (The Peetam runs a Vedic pathshala here). We are dwarfed by the temple spire and the tall main shrine. The temple has two shikhars. Our whole group is dumbstruck by the ornate structure of the sky high spire. Here, the design and architecture of the temple vie with the divinity at the altar. The sanctum known as Jagat Mandir (aka Nija Mandir)is a five storey structure built on 72 pillars.It comprises a soaring tower (78.3m high)and a hall of audience with exquisite sculptural work. The temple dates from the 16th century. he exquisite carvings on its exterior display daring eroticism, a multi–layered mythic intensity and extraordinary continuity of design. In contrast, the interior of the temple is striking in its simplicity, with the only exception being the elaborate ornamentation around the shrine to the idol of Dwarkadhesh.
Our guide leads us into the sanctum sanctorum. There is a big queue since it is arathi time. He somehow manages to get us to the altar by squeezing us in through the surging crowd. What a sight it is! Devotees chant dwarakadeesh ki jai! Lord Krishna’s idol, with his own paraphernalia (Shankha, chakra, gada and padma) and kingly attire with a turban in his head, mesmerizes us all! Aptly, he is also called as Trilok Sundar in Dwarka. I require more than 1000 eyes to behold this bewitching sight! Devotees sing his praise and chant his name with unalloyed devotion. The idol of ‘Chaturbuj’ is made up of a lustrous black stone measuring 2.25ft. This idol was supposed to have been brought from ‘Rukmini Temple’ and kept confined here under cover for years in order to secure it from vandalism.
A separate receptacle for Devaki directly faces the sanctum. There is also a small Krishna, Santana Krishna, at Devaki’s abode. He is decorated with flowers and fruits and dressed in fabulous costumes. We gaze with awe the cherubic countenance which has lured countless gopikas in a bygone era and the divine contours which enthralls trillions and trillions of hearts in this era (Kaliyug). It is said that Meerabai, the ardent devotee of Krishna, shed her mortal remains and attained heavenly abode at this place. We lost count of how much time we spent here deeply engrossed in this blissful sight.
We also visited Pradyumnas and Aniruddha (son and grandson of Lord Krishna) and other abodes within the main Dwaraka temple. All in all, there are 16 smaller altars for the other deities, which includes 8 patranis (queens of Krishna) e.g. Radha, Jambavati, Satyabama and others. There is also a cell for Balarama, Krishna’s brother. The temple complex also houses a large hall, done up almost entirely in richly carved wood, the seat of Dwarka peetham Sankaracharya in the temple. Traditionally, the descendants of the Gugali family are priests at the temple. The saptrangi or dhwaja (flag)has a unique place in this temple. It is considered as seva to hoist the flag (3 times in a day). The dhwaja is usually made of silk, though there have been flags cast in gold as well. A nominal fee is collected from the sevartis and the flags stitched in the shops are placed at the lord’s feet before the raising. The flags are booked in advance.
We came out of the back entrance of the temple, christened as Swarga Dwar. There is a flight of 56 steps (chappan sidi)descending to Gomti river. Both sides of the stairs are lined with shops, temples and a mandap for tuladan. (thulabharam). At the end, the river is seen flowing gracefully through a canal which channels it into the sea. The water is briny but very clean. I wished to have a plunge in the water but due to paucity of time satisfy myself just with just a sprinkle of holy water. A walk along the ghat gives us the necessary calm and from a distance it appears as if the temple rises from the ocean itself. The Ghat has other beautiful temples also.
Rukmini temple (3 kms from the main temple) is perched by a breezy stretch of backwater and lies on the way to Okha port. Said to be a divine incarnation of Goddess Mahalkshmi, Rukmini, the foremost queen of Krishna, has a temple here. As legend goes, due to a curse by the Sage Durvasa, she got separated from her husband and opted to remain here and bless devotees. The temple is worth visiting as it is an architectural masterpiece.
There is one more Dwaraka, claimed to be the original place where Lord Krishna lived, along with his Yadav family. It is called Bet Dwaraka (30 kms), located in the middle of the sea. We have to travel to Okha port to reach the islet which is just 5 kms from the shore. It is a fun filled ride with a big launch ferrying the passengers across the sea. The saline water has hordes of Australian sea gulls chasing the ferries traversing between the islands, as passengers feed the birds with snacks.
Bet Island is known for the highly revered temple of Lord Krishna and is also believed to be the very place where Lord Krishna met his childhood friend Sudama. Sudama was so altruistic and honest that Krishna granted him fabulous gifts for just a morsel of puffed rice. Here, there is an abode for Dwarakadish, who stands looking at the devotees with his sowlabya. The shrine is not so overcrowded like its elder cousin at Dwarka. Besides its religious importance, Bet Dwarka is also rich in archaeology and traces its origins back to the Harappan civilization. However, at present, Bet Islands seem more like a group of villages engaged in fishing, with some dilapidated buildings strewn around the island. There is another temple of importance here, the Dharukavana Nageshwar. A tall Shiva statue (125 ft) dominates the temple complex. This attracts many Shaivite pilgrims and visitors and many pigeons as well, who are fed grain. Developed by the Late Gulshan Kumar (music moghul), this temple site is considered one of the 12 jyotirlingas and an important pilgrimage for Shaivites.