Dwarka is one of the foremost Chardhams, 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 city’s Dwarkadhish Temple dedicated to Krishna was originally built around 2,500 years ago, but was destroyed by Mahmud Begada rulers and subsequently rebuilt in the 16th century. The temple is also the location of Dwaraka maţha, also called Sharada Matha/Peeth and “western peeth”,[note 1] one of the four peeths (Sanskrit: “religious center”) established by Adi Shankaracharya. As an important pilgrimage center for Hindus, Dwarka has several notable temples, including Rukmini Devi Temple, Gomti Ghat, and Bet Dwarka. There is also a lighthouse at the land end point of Dwarka.
Dwarka’s economy relies heavily on pilgrims and tourism but is supplemented by the production of millets, ghee (clarified butter), oilseeds, and salt, which are transported from its port. A long-term development plan was proposed in 2011 by the Government of Gujarat, with investment of ₹830 million to refurbish the city of Dwarka and build a bridge connecting the city with Okha and Bet Dwarka. Janmashtami is the main festival that is celebrated during August and September. Sharda Peeth Vidya Sabha is an educational society sponsored by the Sharda Peeth, Dwarka which runs an arts college in Dwarka. Dwarka was selected as a heritage city by the Indian government’s Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) initiative.
Dwarka is believed to have been the first capital of Gujarat. The city’s name literally means the “gateway to heaven” in Sanskrit, as Dwar means “gate” and ka references “Brahma”. Dwarka has also been referred to throughout its history as “Mokshapuri”, “Dwarkamati”, and “Dwarkavati”. It is mentioned in the ancient prehistoric epic period of the Mahabharata. According to legend, Krishna settled here after he defeated and killed his uncle Kansa at Mathura. This mythological account of Krishna’s migration to Dwarka from Mathura is closely associated with the culture of Gujarat. Krishna is also said to have reclaimed 12 yojanas or 96 square kilometres (37 sq mi) of land from the sea to create Dwarka.
It has been argued that Dwarka was established as the capital in Saurashtra by the Aryans during the Puranaic period. The Yadavas, who had migrated from Mathura, established their kingdom here when the city was known as “Kaushathali”. It was during this period that the city underwent rebuilding and was named Dwarka. A friendly population of Ahirs also prompted Krishna to settle at Dwarka when he decided, after fighting Jarasandha, the King of Magadh, to retreat from Mathura. The kingdom, also known as the Ahir or Yadav Empire, was established by Krishna, and flourished and extended its domain. It is said that Krishna conducted the administration of his kingdom from Dwarka while residing with his family in Bet Dwarka.
Archaeological investigations at Dwarka, both on shore and offshore in the Arabian Sea, have been performed by the Archaeological Survey of India. The first investigations carried out on land in 1963 revealed many artifacts. Excavations done at two sites on the seaward side of Dwarka brought to light submerged settlements, a large stone-built jetty, and triangular stone anchors with three holes. The settlements are in the form of exterior and interior walls, and fort bastions. From the typological classification of the anchors it is inferred that Dwarka had flourished as a port during the period of the Middle kingdoms of India. Coastal erosion was probably the cause of the destruction of what was an ancient port.
Dwarka is mentioned in the copper inscription dated 574 AD of Simhaditya, the Maitraka dynasty minister of Vallabhi. He was the son of Varahdas, the king of Dwarka. The nearby Bet Dwarka island is a religious pilgrimage site and an important archaeological site of the Late Harappan period, with one thermoluminescence date of 1570 BC.
Janmashtami is the main festival that is celebrated during August and September with great fervor and piety as it was in the prehistoric times the abode of Krishna. The festival is marked by several night long celebrations to mark the birth of Krishna. Bhajans and sermons are part of the festivities. At midnight there is reenactment of Krishna’s childhood in the form of Garba and Raas dances. On this occasion, the local boys create a pyramid and a young boy in the costume of Krishna climbs up this pyramid to strike a pot holding butter, an act which Krishna had mischievously performed with the gopis.