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Dwarka: A Walk through the Lost City

Sitting on a ferry ride, breathing in the sea winds, Tejas thinks of what this ‘Bet Dwarka’ everyone is talking about looks like. As one reaches the shore and makes their 700 m walk through the narrow streets of Bet Dwarka filled with shops selling shells, conches and pooja materials, he is still wondering what is this hype all about. Moving through the small island, he hears many mythological stories about how this place that was once gifted to Krishna by his friend Sudama became the Swarnanagari, the home of Krishna & his 16,108 wives; how the mythical city rose from the sea & was lost under the waves. Tejas stands in the middle of this island lost in his imagination of how the ‘Dvarika nagari’ would have looked in its glorious times.

Sitting in a boat ride taken by the Yadavas, Tejas reaches the Antradvipa – Dwarka, the famous city of gates. As the boat reaches the checkpoint at one of the gates of the city, a guard comes and checks everyone & their belongings in the boats. He then asks for their seals to enter the city. Listening to this, the man in front of Tejas fumbles a little. When asked, he says he doesn’t have the seal.

Upon this, the guard says, “I am afraid sir, without the seal you cannot enter the city. Please return.”

“But I am here for some trade. I have heard that Dwarka, the sacred city has a lot of options for trade. People from far lands come here with their goods and the markets here are filled with some of the exquisite materials. Even I would like to sell some of my antiques here.” said the man.

Listening to this, the guard replies, “Sir, the entry in the city is restricted to very few people. Only those having the seal with them will be allowed in the city. It does not matter what you want to buy or sell. Please take the next boat from the gate and return to the mainland.”

On hearing this, the man reluctantly moves in the direction of return boats. With that Tejas moves forward and shows the seal with an image of Vishnu carved on it to the guard. The guard looks at it and opens the gates of the city. As Tejas enters the city, there are many thoughts in his mind. Are only the privileged allowed to enter the city? What is the point of keeping the seal as a necessary thing to enter the city? Does it restrict migration & overpopulation in the city? If so, what about the opportunities, are those also restricted for the privileged?

Putting the thought aside, Tejas starts walking on one of the boulevards linking all twelve blocks of the city and starts exploring the city. The boulevard is wide enough to let two carriages pass at the same time and has many people walking through the edges of it. It is also lined with sitting arrangements in between the trees and shrubs. The boulevard leads to a chourah. There is a central fountain at the chourah made out of stone and has floral decorative elements carved in it.

At one of the corners of the chourah is a temple in white marble and gold. The shikhara of the temple is clad in gold and inlaid with precious stones. People are seen in the temple in two long orderly ques – one for men and one for women for making an offering. There are some shops outside the temple selling these offering thalis. Tejas is astonished that he cannot find a single beggar outside the temple. The area inside and outside the temple is unusually clean and maintained.

Moving forward in the road connected to the temple, Tejas sees an assembly of houses and other public buildings made from stone and rubble. The houses are simple but well planned. Every house has a patio and a courtyard to look into. At the end of the road is a pleasure garden for the entertainment of the residents. The pleasure garden boasts a lake, water features and many open areas for children to play in.

The next street that Tejas looks into is a marketplace. As mentioned by the man earlier, the marketplace exhibits many exquisite materials and spices. But to Tejas’s surprise, there is no chaos in the marketplace. It has well-lined big shops into which people go and buy whatever they need. The marketplace that Tejas had imagined was where vendors shout for customers, customers bargaining for items, tourists moving through the crowd exploring things and people being free and unknown. But this was the contrast of it. Crowds are maintained in order; people are attracted through hoardings & advertisements and the only way to explore things is by seeing them through windows.

This makes Tejas question the idea of utopia that Dvarika is. It is a perfect city but are the people living inside the city happy? How could people have the freedom of moving anywhere in the city if everything is so ordered? Does this not bring multiple restrictions on the citizens? Can the city really be alive if there is no chaos in it? Isn’t too much maintenance required for this utopia to last?

After looking through most of the city, the last thing that Tejas decides to see is Krishna and his wives’ residence. After all, the city does boast 90,000 royal palaces. Tejas had heard from a stranger in the city that the royal palaces are placed at the most auspicious place in the city according to Vastu. Excited to see it, Tejas heads in the direction of royal palaces. When Tejas sees the sight, he is awed by the amount of land these palaces have used. They are so widely spread that it makes him question if one person can access them all even in one week!

The palaces are constructed in crystal, gold, silver and are decorated with many precious gems. Looking into Krishna’s residential areas, he notices the luxury & extravagance of it. The interiors and furnishings are made of gold & precious metal. The rooms are adorned with pillars of coral forms which are inlaid with precious stones. Huge windows that open in the direction of the city and the sea are seen.

From one of the windows, Tejas sees the double terraced stone wall that protects the city from all sides. The sandstone walls are thick, long and impenetrable. But they make Tejas feel enclosed rather than protected. It also makes him think, what is the point of living near the sea if people can’t access it. Tejas also notices that there is a striking difference in the way that the houses and the royal palaces are built. He can’t help but imagine the resources spent behind building the palaces & how many people might be needed to construct this symbolism of power.

Tejas is bought back to reality when a priest questions him where he is from. He absorbs the surroundings of this small island of Bet Dwarka that is now called Krishna’s lost kingdom. It is now that he starts questioning what might have gone in building this glorious utopia.