The city of Dwarka and the Dwarkadish Temple are among the holiest sites in India and enjoy two very important distinctions: It was one of the seven sacred pilgrimage cities. It is also the westernmost of the four Char Dham, or Sacred Abodes, among the holiest places in Hinduism. It was established as such in the 9th century by the Hindu saint Shankara. It is the only city and temple in India to be part of both lists, making it a doubly important Hindu pilgrimage destination. Because of its incredibly out of the way location, it is also one of India’s least touristed and most immersive spiritual journeys.
The city of Dwarka, located at the westernmost tip of a peninsula off of India’s westernmost state, was probably among the very earliest human settlements in the Subcontinent. According to Hindu legend, Dwarka is believed to be one and the same with the legendary city of Dvaraka, the capital of an ancient kingdom that existed in the dim mists of antiquity.
Archaeological records trace the city at least as far back as the 3rd century BC, though it is probably far older. As the story goes, at some point in the primordial past, the Lord Vishnu descended to Dwarka in order to battle demons. His victory over the demon lord Shankasura is one of Hinduism’s earliest legends.
After this, the early kingdom of Dvaraka was founded by the Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu. He lived here after being driven out of the city of Mathura. Tradition has it that his descendents continued to rule Dvaraka for generations afer. An early temple commemorating Krishna’s rule stood here at least as far back as the 200 BC. It is believed that this temple was founded by Vajranabha, Krishna’s grandson.
In later centuries, Dwarka was designated as both one of the four Char Dham pilgrimage sites as well as one of the seven Sapta Puri pilgrimage sites. However, because of its remoteness, it is one of the most difficult places for many Hindu pilgrims and other visitors to reach, making it one of India’s best ‘undiscovered’ jewels.
For the most part, the Dwarkadhish Temple as it stands today dates from massive expansions and renovations from the 15th to 17th centuries. One of the best known and most recognized temples in Gujurat, it stands upon a low hilltop which enhances the imposing height of its massive, white steeple tower, which reaches up more than 250 feet. It is covered from top to bottom with figures from Hindu mythology.
The interior of the temple is a sea of carved stone pillars. The focal point is on a magnificent silver shrine with a carved black marble figure of Krishna. Traces of the original temple are believed to exist as part of the current structure.
The Dwarkadhish Temple is located in the center of old Dwarka not too far from where the Gomti River empties into the Arabian Sea, approximately 250 miles northwest of Mumbai. It is one of only a few of the major shrines that non-Hindus are allowed to enter. It is open daily from 7:00am-9:30pm (closed 1:00pm-5:00pm). There is no cost of admission. Web: www.dwarkadhish.org (official website).
Dwarka is home to many other great temples, notably the Rukmini Devi Temple, dedicated to the wife of Krishna. There is also the Nageshvara Temple, believed by some to be one of the Jyotirlingas of Shiva. Just off shore from Dwarka is the isle of Bet-Dwarka, where Vishnu is said to have slain the demon Shankasura. The Shri Keshavraiji Temple commemorates this event.