Dvaraka (meaning “the many-gated city”) is the capital of the Yadavas who ruled the Anarta Kingdom. The city was situated on the western point of Gujarat, and became submerged in the sea, as described in Volume 16 of the epic Mahabharata.

Dwaraka was founded by a clan of Yadava chiefs who fled from the Surasena Kingdom out of fear of King Jarasandha of Magadha. The territory of Dwaraka included the Dwaraka Island, many neighbouring islands like the Antar Dwipa, and the mainland area neighbouring the Anarta Kingdom.

Dwaraka was a federation of many republics rather than a kingdom under a single king, the title of king of the Dwaraka-confederation being only titular. Within the Federation of Dwaraka were included the states of Andhakas, Vrishnis and Bhojas. The Yadavas ruling Dwaraka were also known as Dasarhas and Madhus.

Prominent Yadava chiefs residing in Dwaraka included Vasudeva Krishna, Bala Rama, Satyaki, Kritavarma, Uddhava, Akrura and Ugrasena.

Dwaraka and Kusasthali

Kusasthali was the older city, upon which the city of Dwaraka was built during the time of Vasudeva Krishna. From fear of Jarasandha, Yadavas had to leave Mathura and flee west to the city of Dwaravati. (2,14). There was a delightful town towards the west called Kusasthali, adorned by the mountains of Raivata. In that city, they took up their abode. They rebuilt its fort and made it so strong that it became impregnable, and from within it, even the women might fight the foe.

At Kusasthali, there was held a conclave of the Devas. Kuvera went to that place surrounded by grim visaged Yakshas, numbering three hundred maha-padmas, and carrying various weapons. (3,160)

Arjuna’s Visit

Pandava Arjuna made a visit to Dwaraka at the end of his 12 year pilgrimage of holy places of ancient India (Bharata Varsha). From Indraprastha (Delhi), the Pandava capital, he went to the Himalayas, then to east and reached the eastern sea. Then he travelled along the coast to the south and then reached southern ocean. From there he went north along the western shore of India, to reach the area known as Prabhasa (the southern shore of Gujarat). From there Vasudeva Krishna, his friend, accompanied him and took him to the Raivataka mountains and to Dwaraka, which was not far away.

The Raivataka Mountain

Raivataka is apparently a hill resort in the mainland, close to the city of Dwaraka. Krishna and Arjuna having sported as they liked, for some time at Prabhasa, went to the Raivataka Mountain to pass some days there. Before they arrived at Raivataka, that mountain had, at the command of Krishna been well-adorned by many artificers. At Krishna’s command, much food had also been collected there. Enjoying everything that had been gathered there for him, Arjuna sat with Vasudeva to see the performances of the actors and the dancers. Then the high-souled Pandava, dismissing them all with proper respect, laid himself down on a well-adorned and excellent bed. He rose in the morning, awakened, by sweet songs and melodious notes of the Vina (guitar) and the panegyrics and benedictions of the bards. (1,220)

The Reception at Dwaraka

Riding upon a golden chariot, Arjuna then set out for Dwaraka, the capital of the Yadavas. For honouring him, the city of Dwaraka was well-adorned, including all the gardens and houses within it. The citizens of Dwaraka, desirous of beholding the son of Kunti, began to pour eagerly into the public thoroughfares by the hundreds of thousands. In the public squares and thoroughfares, throngs of women, mixing with the men, swelled the great crowd of the Bhojas, the Vrishnis, and the Andhakas, that had collected there.

Arjuna was welcomed with respect by all the sons of Bhojas, the Vrishnis, and the Andhakas. And he, in his turn, worshipped those that deserved his worship, receiving their blessings. The hero was welcomed with affectionate reception by all the young men of the Yadava tribe. He repeatedly embraced all that were equal to him in age. Wending then to the delightful mansion of Krishna that was filled with gems and every article of enjoyment, he took up his abode there with Krishna for many days. (1,220)

The Mountain-festival at Raivataka

Mountain worship was a common feature of the religion of Yadavas. When they were at Surasena Kingdom, they worshipped the Govardhana Mountain, which is detailed in the Bhagavata Purana

There commenced on the Raivataka Mountain a grand festival of the Vrishnis, the Bhojas, and the Andhakas. The region around that hill was adorned with many a mansion decked with gems and many an artificial tree of gaudy hue. The musicians struck up in concert and the dancers began to dance and the vocalists to sing. And the youth of the Vrishni race, endued with great energy, adorned with every ornament, and riding in their gold-decked chariots, looked extremely handsome. The citizens, some on foot and some in excellent chariots, with their wives and followers were there by hundreds and thousands. (1,221)

Another Occasion of Raivataka Festival

Adorned with many beautiful things and covered with diverse Koshas made of jewels and gems, the Raivataka hill shone with great splendour. With many golden poles on which were lighted lamps, shone in beauty through day and night. By the caves and fountains the light was so great that it seemed to be broad day. On all sides beautiful flags waved on the air with little bells that jingled continuously. The entire hill resounded with the melodious songs of men and women. It was adorned with many shops and stalls filled with diverse viands and enjoyable articles. There were heaps of cloths and garlands, and the music of Vinas and flutes and Mridangas was heard everywhere. Food mixed with wines of diverse kinds was stored here and there. Gifts were being ceaselessly made to those that were distressed, or blind, or helpless. There were many sacred abodes built on the breast of that mountain. (14,59)

Abduction of Subhadra by Arjuna

During Raivataka festival, Arjuna fell in love with Vasudeva Krishna’s sister, Subhadra. He took the maiden away with the secret consent of Krishna, but provoked the anger of other Yadava heroes. This passage described the preparedness of the citizens of Dwaraka for an emergency

The armed attendants of Subhadra, beholding her thus seized and taken away, all ran, crying towards the city of Dwaraka. Reaching all together the Yadava court called by the name of Sudharma, they represented everything about the prowess of Arjuna unto the chief officer of the court. The chief officer of the court blew his gold-decked trumpet calling all to arms. Stirred up by that sound, the Bhojas, the Vrishnis, and the Andhakas began to pour in from all sides. Those that were eating left their food, and those that were drinking left their drink. Those tigers among men, those great warriors of the Vrishni and the Andhaka tribes, took their seats upon their thousand thrones. The chief officer of the court, assisted by those that stood at his back, spoke of the conduct of Arjuna. The proud Vrishni heroes, of eyes red with wine rose up from their seats, unable to brook what Arjuna had done. Some amongst them said, ‘Yoke our chariots’, and some, ‘Bring our weapons’ and some said, ‘Bring our costly bows and strong coats of mail; and some loudly called upon their charioteers to harness their chariots, and some, from impatience, themselves yoked their horses decked with gold unto their chariots. (1,222)

Arjuna was later called back to Dwaraka, and Subhadra was married to him. He stayed there for one year. He spent the last year of his 12-year pilgrimage at Pushkara (Pushkar in Rajasthan) and then went back to Indraprastha.

Sisupala was the son of Srutasravas, a sister of Vasudeva Krishna’s father, similar to his relation to the Pandavas. But unlike the Pandavas, this king of Chedi was his enemy. Sisupala came and burned Dwaraka while Krishna and his army were at Pragjyotisha Kingdom. While king Bhoja was sporting on the Raivataka hill, he fell upon the attendants of that king and slew many, leading many of them away in chains to his own city. (2,44)

Salwa’s Attack on Dvaraka

The attack by Salwa on Dwaraka is a much-debated topic, since it undoubtedly has the signs of being an aerial warfare. Historians are of the opinion that it could be a naval attack, described in the fashion of an aerial attack. For example, the flying car or combat aircraft of Salwa, named Saubha, could actually be a navy ship. This explanation suits well, since Dwaraka was a city in a small island, surrounded by sea.

King Salwa came to Dwaraka, burning with fierce anger upon the death of Sisupala brought on by Vasudeva Krishna during the Rajasuya sacrifice of Yudhisthira at Indraprastha. Krishna was then at Indraprastha. He arrived there on a car made of precious metals and hence called the Souva (sometimes called Saubha, though a city also has that same name). He slew many young Vrishni heroes and destroyed many gardens of the city. He addressed all the Anarttas (clearly indicating that Anarta was the greater country, while Dwaraka was its capital), asking them to reveal where is Krishna. He rose into the sky on his car of precious metals, capable of going anywhere at will.

The Salwa King’s capital was mentioned here as Maticka. Salwa considered Sisupala as his brother. When Krishna came back to the city, He saw the destroyed Dwaraka and the slain heroes. Krishna went in search of Salwa and found him in an island, in the midst of the ocean. (3,14)

The Fortification of Dwaraka

Salwa, stationing his forces in array, besieged that city around and above. And stationing himself in the upper regions, the king began his fight with the city. And that encounter commenced with a thick shower of weapons from all sides. The city at that time was well-fortified on all sides, according to the science (of fortification), with pennons, and arches, and combatants, and walls and turrets, and engines, and miners, and streets barricaded with spiked wood-works and towers and edifices with gate-ways well-filled with provisions, and engines for hurling burning brands and fires, and vessels, of deer-skins (for carrying water), and trumpets, tabors, and drums, lances and forks, and Sataghnis, and plough-shares, rockets, balls of stone and battle-axes and other weapons and shields embossed with iron, and engines for hurling balls and bullets and hot liquids!

And the city was also well-defended by numerous cars. Yadava heroes (Gada, Samva, Uddhava) placing themselves on commanding posts, aided by cavalry and standard-bearers, began to defend the town. (3,15)

High alert proclaimed in the city

To prevent carelessness, Ugrasena, Uddhava and others proclaimed throughout the city that nobody should drink. All the Vrishnis and the Andhakas, well-knowing that they would be slain by Salwa if they behaved carelessly, remained sober and watchful. The police soon drove out of the city all mimes and dancers and singers of the Anartta country. And all the bridges over rivers were destroyed, and boats forbidden to ply, and the trenches (around the city) were spiked with poles at the bottom.

The land around the city for a full two miles was rendered uneven, and holes and pits were dug thereon, and combustibles were secreted below the surface. Dwaraka fort is naturally strong and always well-defended and filled with all kinds of weapons! And in consequence of the preparations made, the city was more prepared than ever to meet the foe. (3,15)

Identity Signs were Made Strict

At the time of Salwa’s approach, nobody could either enter or leave the town of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas without presenting the sign that had been agreed upon. And all the streets of the town and the open spaces were filled with numerous elephants and horses. The combatants were all especially gratified with allowances and wages, and rations, weapons, and dresses. And amongst the combatants there was none who was not paid in gold, and none who was not paid at all, and none who was not somehow obliged, and none who was not of tried valour! It was thus Dwaraka, abounding in well-ordered arrangements, was defended by Ahuka (Ugrasena). (3,15)

Camping of Salwa’s Army

Kings, Salwa, the lord of Saubha, came towards our city with an immense force consisting of infantry, cavalry and elephants! And the army headed by king Salwa, consisting of four kings of forces, occupied a level ground commanding a copious water-supply. And forsaking cemeteries and temples dedicated to the gods, and sacred trees, and grounds covered by anthills, that host occupied every other place. Divisions of the army blocked the roads (leading to the city), and the enemy’s camp also blocked all the secret entrances. Salwa’s host was equipped with all kinds of arms, skilled in all weapons, consisting of a dense display of cars and elephants and cavalry abounding in banners, and well-paid and well-fed foot-soldiers possessed of great strength and bearing every mark of heroism and furnished with wonderful chariots and bows. (3,16)

The Battle outside Dvaraka

Beholding the army of Salwa, the youthful princess of the Vrishni race resolved to encounter it sallying out of the city. Charudeshna, Samva, and Pradyumna sailed out, ascending on their chariots, and clad in mail, and decked with ornaments, with colours flying, resolved to encounter the mighty and countless host of Salwa. Samva caused Salwa’s general Kshemavriddhi to flee. He slew Vegavat. Charudeshna slew Vivindhya. Salwa defeated Pradyumna but Pradyumna’s driver bore him away. He came back after regaining strength and attacked Salwa and made him flee. When Vasudeva Krishna came back from Indraprastha there were no sounds of Vedic recitation or sacrificial offering, the excellent damsels were all destitute of ornaments, and the gardens were devoid of beauty. (3-16,17,181,191,20)

Accompanied by an army consisting of the four kinds of forces so persevering in battle, Krishna set out from Dwaraka. And crossing many countries, and mountains, crowned with trees, and pieces of water, and streams, he at last arrived at the country of Matrikavarta (alias Matika). There, Krishna got the intelligence that Salwa was coursing on his car of precious metals near the ocean. Krishna followed in his pursuit.

Having reached the main force, Salwa on his car of costly metals was in the midst of the deep heaving with billows! Salwa challenged Krishna repeatedly to fight. Many arrows discharged from Krishna’s bow didn’t reach his car. Salwa began to shoot thousand upon thousands of arrows in torrents! He rained shafts upon soldiers. But without thinking of the shafts, Krishna continued the conflict. As that car of costly metals was in the sky (or in ocean?), a full two miles off, it could not be seen by Krishna’s troops. They could therefore only remaining on the field of battle look on like spectators in a place of amusement.

Krishna shot arrows at the car, which penetrated into the bodies of the Danavas. Then there arose cries in the car of precious metals from those that were dying of wounds by those sharp arrows, falling into the waters of the mighty ocean. The Danavas deprived of their arms, necks, and wearing the form of Kavandhas, fell, sending up tremendous roars. And as they fell animals living in the waters of the ocean devoured them.

Seeing his soldiers fall, Salwa began to fight with the help of illusion. Then he began to ceaselessly hurl at Krishna, maces, and ploughshares, and winged darts and lances, and javelins, and battle-axes, and swords and arrows blazing like javelins and thunderbolts, and nooses, and broad swords, and bullets from barrels, and shafts, and axes, and rockets. He began the contest with mountain peaks (large boulders?). Then there was darkness and light alternately, and the day was now fair, and now gloomy, and now hot, and now cold. And there was a perfect shower of coals, and ashes, and weapons. Then the dome of heaven blazed as with a hundred suns, and with one hundred moons, and thousands and ten thousands of stars! And then none could ascertain whether it was day or night, or distinguish the points of the horizon. Becoming bewildered, Krishna fixed on my bowstring the weapon called Pragnastra. Having regained, light, Krishna again fought with the enemy! (3,20)

Salwa gives False Intelligence to Krishna

A certain person, having his home in Dwaraka, quickly coming to Krishna’s car, addressed him like a friend, delivering to Him a message from Ahuka. He seemed to be one of Ahuka’s followers. Sadly and in a voice choked in sorrow, he said words: “O warrior, Ahuka, the lord of Dwaraka, hath said these words unto thee! O Krishna, hear what thy father’s friend sayeth: in thy absence today Salwa, coming to Dwaraka, hath by main force killed Vasudeva, your father! Therefore, no need of battle any more. Cease, O Krishna! Do thou defend Dwaraka.” (3,21)

Disregarding this false information, though temporarily stunned by it, Krishna continued the fight.

Krishna Slays Salwa and Destroys Saubha City

This last part of the war seems to have been fought in an island in the midst of the ocean, Saubha apparently being a city in that island. Salwa’s troops made a shower of boulders at Krishna and His army. Krishna managed to destroy those boulders with a weapon resembling a thunderbolt. Salwa’s car was out of His visibility, but Krishna launched his Sudarsana chakra. That weapon cleft Salwa in twain, who in that fierce conflict was at the point of hurling a heavy mace. With its energy, it set the foe ablaze.

After that brave warrior was slain, the disheartened Danava women fled in all directions, exclaiming Oh! and Alas! Taking His chariot in front of the town of Saubha, Krishna cheerfully blew his conch and gladdened the hearts of His friends. Beholding their town, high as the peak of the Meru, with its palaces and gateways utterly destroyed and all ablaze, the Danavas fled in fear. Having thus destroyed the town of Saubha and slain Salwa, Krishna returned to the Anarttas and delighted all His friends. (3,22)

Many historians argue that this foe who fought with Krishna in the sky or ocean was not the Salwa of Mritikavarta. Mritikavara was a city, also known as Matika, Martika, Mritikavati, etc. It was the capital of Salwa Kingdom in Rajasthan, situated to the south-west of Madra Kingdom and to the west of Matsya Kingdom, ruled by King Virata. This Salwa came and attacked Dwaraka, to revenge the death of Sisupala and was vanquished by Pradyumna, the son of Vasudeva Krishna. The other enemy was probably an ally of this King Salwa. King Salwa could have prompted this foe to attack Dwaraka from the sea. Krishna might have got this intelligence when he reached Mritikavarta. Then Krishna urgently reached the ocean surrounding Dwaraka, where He fought this naval war. This enemy is certainly a sea-faring Danava and an Asura, probably belonging to another civilization. They might have launched this attack on Dwaraka, from their island close to the Arabian Peninsula. The name Salwa is linked with Arabia, as far as Kuwait.

Pandya’s Enmity towards Dvaraka

Sarangadhwaja was the king of the Pandyas. Vasudeva Krishna invaded his country. All his kinsmen fled and his father was slain by Vasudeva Krishna in battle. Obtaining weapons then from Bhishma and Drona, Bhargava Rama and Kripa, King Sarangadhwaja became, in weapons, the equal of Rukmi and Karna and Arjuna and Krishna. He then desired to destroy the city of Dwaraka and subjugate the whole world. Wise friends, however, from desire of doing him good, counseled him against that course. Giving up all thoughts of revenge, he is now ruling his own dominions. (7,23). He later made friendship with Krishna and allied with the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War.

Dvaraka Sinks into the Ocean

The account of Dvaraka’s sinking into the ocean is found in book 16 of the Mahabharata, the Mausala-parvan.

Day by day strong winds blew. Earthen pots showed cracks or broke from no apparent cause. Society became corrupt. The day of the new moon coincided with the thirteenth (and the fourteenth) lunation. The fourteenth lunation has been made the fifteenth by Rahu once more. Such a day had happened at the time of the great battle of Bharatas. (Kurukshetra War), it has once more appeared. After that war, 36 years had passed. The messengers proclaimed at the command of Vasudeva Krishna that the Vrishnis should make a journey to the seacoast for bathing in the sacred waters of the ocean. (16.2)

The Yadavas, then with their wives, proceeded to Prabhasa and took up residence there, each in the temporary habitation that was assigned to him, and all having an abundance of provisions consisting of edibles and drink. The Vrishnis, mixing with wine the food that had been cooked for high-souled brahmanas, gave it away unto monkeys and apes. Those heroes of fierce energy then began their high revels, of which drinking formed the chief feature at Prabhasa. Then a dispute arose between Satyaki and Kritavarman on the wrongs they did in the Kurukshetra War. This dispute turned into a great massacre, in which all the Yadava heroes were slain. (16.3)

Arjuna arrived at Dwaraka and addressed the chief officers, telling them to prepare to leave Dwaraka within 7 days, as Dwaraka was going to sink into the ocean. Krishna’s grandson Vajra was chosen as their King to rule at Indraprastha.

Arjuna then proceeded to the place where the Vrishnis were slaughtered. Searching out the bodies of Bala Rama and Vasudeva Krishna, Arjuna caused them to be burnt by persons skilled in that act. On the seventh day, Arjuna evacuated Dwaraka Island. After all the people had set out, the ocean flooded Dvaraka, which still teemed with wealth of every kind. Whatever portion of the ground was passed over, the ocean immediately flooded it over with his waters. Beholding this wonderful sight, the inhabitants of Dvaraka walked faster and faster. (16.7) The Pandavas, on their last journey before death, saw Dwaraka covered by ocean. (17.1)