Monday, August 22, 2011

Krishna History or Myth?

Dwarka remains may soon be protected as underwater world cultural heritage site

New Delhi, July 13: Old shipwrecks -- like that of the Titanic -- which have been lying buried under the sea with their precious treasure along with the submerged city of Dwaraka off the Gujarat coast, for centuries, could soon vie for the status of an underwater world cultural heritage site.

Over 200 experts from 84 countries, who gathered under the aegis of UNESCO in Paris recently to examine a draft convention on the issue, unanimously agreed that underwater cultural heritage was in urgent need of protection from destruction and pillaging.

Currently, structures or properties lying under water can not claim the status of cultural heritage. The absence of any protective mechanism has left them open to pillaging and destruction by treasure hunters and curious deep-sea divers. The experts agreed that the definition of cultural heritage needed to be expanded in order to protect underwater heritage as well.

The submerged city of Dwarka is believed to be an important site having both historical and cultural value for India. Legend has it that the remains -- the wall of a city is clearly visible while the rest is yet to be discovered -- are in fact, that of the ancient city of Dwarka mentioned in stories of Lord Krishna.

The Gujarat government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are currently toying with the idea of creating a museum and an underwater viewing gallery once the structures have been protected. After that, Dwarka could also stake the claim for the coveted underwater world heritage status, UNESCO's South-East Asia office here said.

Experts agreed that salvaging operations did tend to be a free for all. Robert Grenier, director of the International Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage of the International Council On Monuments and Sites, said that while salvage action gave people freedom to look for things, it disregarded the aspect of preserving cultural heritage.

Several British and French ships laden with precious treasure that had sunk on their way across the Atlantic ocean during their voyages in the 18th century have been plundered by the sea pirates for valuables. In fact, some of the ships that were believed to be of immense historical and cultural value for future generations have been completely stripped off all their components by pirates for their antique value. ``With rapid advancement in technology, deep-sea diving and gaining access to heavy articles buried with the shipwrecks has become easy and affordable for pirates. In the absence of any effective protection, these properties of immense historical and cultural value are being looted and vandalised,'' an expert from Canada said.

The wrecks at Louisberg Park in Nova Scotia off the Canadian coast are held up as a fine example of how the under water cultural treasures can also be protected with help of legislation and political will, much like other structures of the same importance. The French Ministry of culture too has come out with a comprehensive background material on the underwater cultural heritage that needs protection. The document also cites relevant laws under which they can be protected and how.

Representatives of the United Nations Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, the International Maritime Organisation, the International Seabed Authority and the World Underwater Federation, along with UNESCO, participated in the meeting.  

Dwarika - The Eternal City 

Dwarka has always been the most important pilgrimage centre on the western coast of India. Situated in Saurashtra, at a point where the Gomti river meets and Arabian sea, it has acquired multifarious names down the ages: Dwarka- the gateway to eternal happiness; Dwaravati, Swarnapuri - the city of gold, and Swarnadwarika, the golden gateway. The last three names derive from the fact that Dwarka, being the western gateway of India through which trade entered the country, was always prosperous and wealthy.

Ancient economics apart, Dwarka was and still remains a place of tremendous religious importance to Hindus. Legend associates it with Lord Krishna, who spent his early childhood and youth in Mathura, but then he slew the mighty Kamsa. For this, he and his tribe of followers, the Yadavas, were attacked repeatedly by Kamsa’s father-in-law Jarasandh. Tired of these repeated wars, Krishna migrated with his entire clan of Yadavas to Dwarka which was a much safer place.

In Dwarka, Krishna is supposed to have built a mighty kingdom on a site selected for him by Vishnu’s learned ‘vahan’, Garud. The city he built is supposed to have extended over 104 kms. It was well fortified and surrounded by a moat, spanned by bridges, which were removed in the event of attack by an enemy. According to legend, the gods assisted Krishna in the construction of this magnificent city.

Archaeological excavations have unearthed artifacts that prove that modern Dwarka is the sixth settlement of the name on this site. The earlier cities have been, at various times, swallowed by the sea. The waves of the sea still lap the shores of this famous town, lending scenic beauty to this important pilgrimage destination.

The Dwarkadhish temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna, is the focal point of all pilgrimages. Parts of it date from the 12th-13th century and others from the 16th, but the Jag Mandir, its sanctum sanctorum, is supposed to be 2,500 years old. The hall in front is richly carved and supported by 60 massive pillars, each one hewn out of a single stone slab. Many of the sculptures date from the Maurya, Gupta and Chalukya periods. Some of the subjects are of Jaina and Buddhist origin. The temple is 157 feet high.

 Another important pilgrimage site in the ancient city of Dwarka is Gomti ghat. The myth attached to the original temple says that it was built overnight at the instructions of Vajranabh, the great-grandson of Sri Krishna, by the divine craftsman Vishvakarma. Archaeologists are undecided about the date of construction of the temple that exists now, but it is generally believed that it was rebuilt in the 10th or 11th century A.D after the original temple was destroyed, probably during the Muslim invasions.

Most of the temples and pilgrimage spots around Dwarka are associated with Sri Krihsna and the Vaishnavite tradition. However, the temple of Somnath, which is not very far from this place, is dedicated to Siva as Nagnath or Nageshwar Mahadev, and enshrines one of the twelve ‘Jyotirlingas’ which according to the Puranas manifested themselves as columns of light in different parts of the country. The magnificent temple that stands there now is a replica of the original temple.

The 13th century Arab source refers to the glories of the temple thus: "Somnath - a celebrated city of India situated on the shore of the sea is washed by its waves. Among the wonders of that place was the temple in which was placed the idol called Somnat. This idol was in the middle of the temple, without anything to support it from below or to suspend it from above. It was held in the highest honour among the Hindus, and whoever beheld it floating in the air was struck with amazement..."

Dwarka also has the distinction of being one of the four seats or matts established by the Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th - 9th century A.D, The other three are Jyotirmath, Jagannath Puri and Sringeri. The matt in Dwarka, known as Sharda Peeth, carries out extensive research work in Sanskrit and is home to many renowned scholars.

This then is Dwarka, centre of religion, mythology, history and scholasticism, its shores everlastingly cleansed by the eternal seas.  

(source: May 2001). (Artwork courtesy of The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.

Dwarka site pre-dates civilization

An archaeological site, dating back to 7500 BC and older than hitherto oldest known human civilisations including those found in the Valley of Sumer, Harappa and Egypt, was discovered by a team of Indian marine archaeologists in the Gulf of Cambay off Gujarat coast.

"For India, it was the first time that such an important discovery was reported from near Dwaraka site, the off-shore region where underwater archeological exploration was in progress," Union Minister for Science and Technology Murli Manohar Joshi said at a crowded Press conference here on Wednesday. 

The early civilisations known to mankind hitherto were in the Valley of Sumer around 3,500 BC, Egyptian Civilisation (3,000 BC) and Harappan (2,500 BC), explained Dr Joshi, adding that all the findings have been alongside a palaeolithic age river course traced upto nine km south of the Saurashtra coastline.

Krishna dancing on the Kaliya nag (serpent) and asked it to leave the river forever.


The antiquity of some of the artefacts, discovered by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) which carried out a series of surveys in the area, from the site such as the wood log reflects a very ancient culture in the present Gulf of Cambay, which may have got submerged subsequently, Dr Joshi said.

Carbondating on the log, carried out by the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany (BSIP) and the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), suggested that it could belong to 7,500 BC and these settlements were probably the oldest neolithic sites discovered in the country, he said.

He said a multi-disciplinary team comprising of NIOT, National Institute of Oceanography, Archeological Survey of India, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, BSIP, NGRI and specialists from universities were constituted to conduct further studies. The team would be provided with most modern equipment and infrastructure to carry out the studies, he said.

"Further investigation of this area was important as it might throw some light on the development of human civilisation, besides having a bearing on the Indian history," said Dr Joshi.

The recovery of remnants of wood logs by the NIOT was an indication of existence of a very ancient culture in the area which got subsequently submerged. The surveys had also revealed significant seismic activities and more studies were needed, Dr Joshi said.

Following the last year's discovery of indications of possible settlements, the NIOT scientists undertook a confirmatory survey in November using advanced marine underwater survey technologies with side scan sonar and sub-bottom profiler.

The materials collected at the site included artefacts, possible construction elements with holes and studs, pot shreds, beads, bones with significant signs of human activity in the area.

A detailed examination had revealed riverine conglomerates at a water depth of 30 to 40 m between 20 km west of Hazira near Surat.

Prof S N Rajguru, former Head of Department of Archaeology, Deccan College, Pune, who was also present, said the discovery could have been a coastline settlement when the sea level was low.


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