A visit to Krishna temples Dwarka Gujarat
“This is Lord Krishna’s office, across the sea is his home, “ says my driver as we enter Dwarka in Gujarat. The salt of the sea tickles my nostrils. Somewhere below its surface lies submerged the land of Krishna, the original city of Dwarka which was believed to have been engulfed by the sea eons ago.
There is a small temple around the corner and it is thronged by the men in saffron who have come from all over India. Their robes glow fiercely in the evening sun. The sea breeze sets in and the sun is a crimson blob gracing the horizon with its soft rays.
I stop for a moment to see the sunset. There is absolute silence but for the distant chime of bells. The evening “aarthi” or the prayers at the ancient Dwarkadish temple beckon me.
To the locals here, Dwarka is not just a temple town . Neither is the Dwarkadish temple another shrine. The city is a kingdom symbolically represented as the universe and Krishna is not just a lord but a king, who ruled over that universe. The temples here are his palaces, where he lived with his queens. Hence the temple is referred to as Jagat Mandir.
Believed to have built by Krishna’s great grandson, Vajranabh, the temple mentioned in the Mahabharata is said to have been built over his palace. The present day five storied shrine supported by over 70 pillars built with limestone is said to be built in the Chalukyan style of architecture with a spire that is over 78 metres tall. As the bells chime and the rhythm of the drums reach a crescendo, I feel overwhelmed standing here. Walking out I can see the red flags depicting the sun and the moon fluttering in the twilight sky. The flags are changed five times a day and each flag is an offering by a devotee.
The temple has separate shrines for several deities, including the many queens of Krishna. Rukmani alone is missing here. A curse by a saint Durvasa is believed to have kept the couple apart and the queen has a separate temple built far away.” You will see it on the way to Bet Dwarka, “ says one of the priests as I watch the sun’s last rays light up the towers.
The seer, Adi Sankaracharya came here over 1000 years ago and established his mutt in Dwarka. The destination is now included as one of the Chardhams as well.There are two gates to the temple. While one leads to the river, the other is a bustling market . Every form of Krishna is sold here – from small idols to paintings . He even adorns designs on clothes for children.
Walking around, I realize that stories of Krishna pour forth from every corner of Dwarka and the towns around it. And every tale is enshrined in a small temple. Travelling through the entire area, it feels like I am following Krishna’s footsteps. For now I am wandering around Dwarka, away from the melee. I head to the Gita mandir dedicated to Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita. The sea is quiet and a beam of light lights up the coastline as the silhouette of a lighthouse stands on the shore.
The following day starts early as I head to the jetty to catch a boat to Bet Dwarka to see Krishna’s home. Located at the mouth of the Gulf of Kutch off the coast of Okha is this tiny inhabited island called Shankodhar or Bet Dwarka which actually thrives today on fishing.
I am for a moment engulfed by seagulls calling out to us. Boats of various hues sail on the shores. The ocean spreads out in front of me, layered in shades of turquoise. A motley crowd of pilgrims, tourists, fishermen, saffron clad men throng the boat. It is just a matter of minutes and we are in the island, walking past stalls of bhajjis and pakoras making our way to the temple.
Built in pink limestone and filled with carvings, the temple is like a palace. There are small shrines built for every queen of Krishna. Rukmani who is believed to have carved the idol here is absent although Satyabhama is very prominent here. Legends fill the air.
One of them is the story of Krishna meeting his childhood friend Sudama who brought him a humble sack of puffed rice when he came to greet him. Every devotee here is given some rice while you can donate as well.
Back on the mainland, a flock of ibis stop me on my journey as I am heading towards the town. A tall temple stands in the middle of nowhere, stately but lonely. “ A curse has separated Rukmani from Krishna, hence this temple dedicated to Mata stands alone here.” The story goes that when Krishna and Rukmani went to invite Durvasa, the saint for dinner, he insisted that the couple draw his chariot instead of horses. While the divine couple agreed, Rukmani was very thirsty enroute. Krishna immediately drew water for her from the earth to quench her thirst. However the saint was annoyed that he was not offered first and he cursed the couple that they will live separately. The temple although beautiful with richly carved sculptures has a melancholic air around it. The town may be just a couple of minutes away but one can just feel the silence here.
Gopi Talao and Gopi Chandan, small lakes refer to Krishna’s tryst with the Gopis and people believe that the sandalwood paste available on the lake bed has medicinal properties. Pottering around, I can see paintings and murals in some of the smaller shrines here, which seem a bit lost to the tourists. My favourite is the Radha Krishna temple, a little temple housed in a room with colourful walls. There are just a couple of people along with me here. A flock of cormorants in the waters interrupt my reverie as I leave the town.
It is not just Dwarka that tells you stories of Krishna. Porbandar, located 100 kms away is the home not just to Gandhiji but Sudama, Krishna’s friend. And an old temple with pillars stand in the middle of the town to commemorate the friendship. However I am fascinated by the murals on the walls that tell their story. The sound of silence is soothing. I sit here for a while before heading over to Somnath.
Although Somnath, the magnificent edifice is one of the Jyotirlingas and the abode of Shiva, there are several monuments here. There are caves where Adi Sankaracharya meditated and the Pandavas stayed when they were apparently in exile. A majestic Surya temple lies in ruins here. I stop by at Triveni Sangam but my driver tells me that I must visit the three holy sites – Banganga, Bhalka Teerth and Dehotsarg Teerth . All these three sites have just one common thread that connects them – the demise of Krishna.
A small temple on the sea shore, Banganga is in a solemn mood when I visit it. There are two Shivalingas on the sea shore and as the tide is low, I walk up towards it. A few devotees are worshipping the deity.
It is believed that while Krishna was lying under a tree, a hunter mistook his foot for a prey and shot an arrow from this very spot on the seashore where the temple now stands. The place where Krishna was asleep is called Bhalka teerth. A temple is being built there now, around the tree.
The story goes that Krishna realizing that he has to leave his mortal body paid his respects to Shiva at Somnath and left for heaven along with his brother Balaram through the River Hiranya. On the banks of the river is Dehotsarg Teerth where Krishna is believed to have left his footprints behind before leaving.
One of the priests in the temples here added that Arjuna performed the last rites here as well. I walk up towards the banks of the river where a giant sculpture of Krishna float in the waters. I head towards the temples where I can see the footprints.
I sit there and take in the silence. And that is when I realize that my trail has ended and I have indeed followed Krishna’s footsteps in this mythical land.