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CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 86, NO. 9, 10 MAY 2004 1256
An ancient harbour at Dwarka: Study based on
the recent underwater explorations
A. S. Gaur*, Sundaresh and Sila Tripati
National Institute of Oceanography, Done Paula Goa 403 004, India
Dwarka, an ancient harbour and an important reli-
gious centre of the Hindus, has played an important
role in the history of maritime activities of Okham-
nadal region since the early historical period. Gomati
creek, located at the eastern side of Dwarka, served as
a safe harbour till the 19th century AD. Offshore ex-
plorations have brought to light a large number of
stone structures which appear to be the remains of an
ancient jetty. This hypothesis is supported also by the
discovery of a large number of stone anchors of vari-
ous types in Dwarka waters. The typology of anchors
has indicated that Dwarka was an important port
since historical period. Maritime activities increased
many folds during the medieval period. This flourish-
ing port and religious capital is believed to have sub-
merged under the sea after the death of Lord Krishna.
This paper highlights the results of the offshore explo-
rations carried out during the last two decades in the
THE ancient city of Dwarka, situated on the extreme West
Coast of Indian territory, occupies an important place in
the cultural and religious history of India. The fabulous
architectural planning of the Dwarka temple has attracted
tourists from all over the world. The town has association
with Lord Krishna, who is believed to have founded this
town by reclaiming 12 yojana land from the Sea. During
its glorious past, Dwarka was a city of beautiful gardens,
deep moats, several ponds and palaces1, but it is believed
to have submerged just after the death of Lord Krishna2.
Due to its historical importance and association with the
great Indian epic Mahabharata, Dwarka continues to
attract archaeologists and historians besides scientists.
Ancient Sanskrit words like pattana and Dronimukha
have been generally used to describe coastal port cities
where national and international ships and boats were
harbor3. The oldest reference to the Agade harbour comes
from the Mesopotamian text which mentions that boats
from Meluhha used to be anchored in Agade harbour, dat-
able to the mid-3rd millennium BC4. Archaeological exca-
vations brought to light a jetty at Kuntasi in Gujarat dating
back to Harappan period5. Similarly, excavations have re-
vealed a dockyard and a few stone anchors at Lothal,
another Harappan site6. There are several literary refe-
rences mentioning ports at many coastal sites during the
early historical period (2500 to 1500 yrs BP), but
archaeological remains of these ports are scanty. Most of
the settlements were situated either on the river banks or
on the banks of backwaters, which would have served as
an excellent natural harbour. These locations being
highly vulnerable to floods and other natural disasters, it
is not surprising that only scanty evidence for their
existence remain. Excavations at Poompuhar brought to
light, a wharf7 situated on the bank of the old course of
the river Kaveri. Similarly, onshore excavation at Elephanta
Island yielded a wharf dating back to early centuries of the
Christian Era8. There is evidence to suggest that the pre-
sent Bet Dwarka jetty has been used as a harbour since
the early historic period9.
Historicity of Dwarka
The city of Dwarka has been under investigation by the
historians since the beginning of the 20th century. Al-
though a very famous religious and maritime centre, the
exact location of this port city was under debate since long.
Several literary references, especially from the Mahabha-
rata have been used to suggest its exact location. Pargiter10
was the first to suggest that Dwarka was located near the
Raivataka mountain; he also mentioned that it was con-
structed on the remains of Kusasthali11. Pusalkar12 sug-
gested that Dwarka of the modern times is the original
Dwarka mentioned in the Mahabharata. Sankalia13 has
also strongly argued that the modern-day Dwarka is in fact
the same as the one that existed during the Mahabharata
period. The earliest epigraphical reference to Dwarka comes
from the Palitana copper plate of Garulaka Simhaditya dated
to 574 AD. The unknown Greek writer of the Periplus of
Erythraean Sea makes a mention of Baraca, which has been
identified as modern Dwarka14. In Ptolemy’s Geography,
Barake is the name of an island in the Gulf of Kanthi15, and
the reference is most likely being made to Dwarka.
We report here the results of marine archaeological
explorations undertaken by the Marine Archaeology Centre
of the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa between
1997 and 2001. The primary objective of this study was
to appraise the earlier observations and to assess the nature
of structures. We also discuss various issues raised16 on
*For correspondence. (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 86, NO. 9, 10 MAY 2004 1257
the observations from our earlier exploration, particularly
on the interpretation of structures and their dates.
The primary data were collected by the underwater visual
survey mainly through SCUBA diving system. The arti-
facts like stone structures and anchors were located
and a marker buoy was tied to each finding for detailed
measurements and recording. Thereafter important struc-
tures were manually cleaned. At a few places airlift
operations were undertaken to expose the buried artifacts.
The objects were plotted underwater with the help of a
compass. Similarly, Global Positioning System of each
object was obtained from the surface. Findings were also
documented through underwater still and video camera
Explorations have been undertaken from onshore to a
water depth of 20 m about 1 km offshore (Figure 1) from
the Samudranarayana temple. In the north–south direction,
the exploration was extended between lighthouse and
opposite to the Panchtirtha temple. The findings are des-
Inter-tidal zone exploration
A large number of scattered blocks of a wall constructed
by the Gaikwad ruler (late 19th century AD) are noticed
south of the Gomati creek during low tide. Two huge cir-
cular structures (Figure 2) were noticed adjacent to the
Gomati channel, which have a diameter of 2 m and height
about 1 m. Besides these structures, eight stone anchors
of different types namely composite, grapnel and ring-
stone were noticed from inter-tidal zone area.
The underwater topography of shallow water consists of
beach rock formation, covered with dense vegetation. Thick
deposition of sand, in the small channels, is occasionally
noticed. Topography beyond 10 m water depth is sandy
and rock boulders without vegetation were rarely noticed.
A number of artifacts were discovered during offshore ex-
plorations between 3 and 16 m water depths. Broadly, these
artifacts can be divided into the following two categories.
(A) Structures: Underwater visual explorations at about
200 m westward from the Samudranarayana temple and
opposite to the Gomati creek yielded a large number of
stone structures. These structures are found at 3 to 6 m
water depth and mainly consist of semicircular structures
and fallen walls.
A few semicircular structures are partially intact and
some have jointed with hard binding material. Structures
with 2–3 courses have been noticed at least at 10 loca-
tions. The semicircular structures were constructed by
using L-shaped blocks (Figure 3) with provision for dowels.
The average size of a block of semicircular structure is
95 × 55 × 25 cm. The sizes and shapes of the blocks are
similar to those found during onshore explorations.
Besides semicircular blocks, a large number of rect-
angular blocks have been noticed in this area. They are
scattered over a vast area and do not follow any regular
plan (Figure 4). However, at a few places 2–3 courses of
blocks appear to be the remains of fallen structures. These
blocks are found close to the semicircular structures, which
indicate that these may have been part of some larger
structure. The rectangular blocks have various sizes and
important ones are 120 × 60 × 16 cm, 115 × 50 × 17 cm,
110 × 50 × 18 cm and 45 × 30 × 14 cm. Most of the
Figure 1. Map showing archaeological findings off Dwarka.
Figure 2. A circular stone structure exposed during low tide off Dwarka.
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CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 86, NO. 9, 10 MAY 2004 1258
structures are lying exposed on the rocky sea-bed, how-
ever, a few of them are partially buried in the sand. The
exposed portions of the structures are covered with thick
vegetation. A rectangular stone block bearing an inscrip-
tion in the Gujarati script is another important find worth
Anchors: More than 120 stone anchors of different vari-
eties were noticed in the Dwarka waters. These are lying
between inter-tidal zone to water depth of 16 m. Broadly,
these anchors can be divided into the following three groups.
(i) Composite type: Composite type anchors are often cut
from a thin limestone block and are of triangular shape.
One anchor cut out of laterite stone was also noticed. The
anchors often have three holes, a circular upper hole and
two lower ones which are either rectangular or square
shaped. Anchors with more than 3 holes were also noti-
ced in Dwarka. Similarly for some anchors all the holes
are circular. The upper circular hole was used for tying
rope and the two lower holes were used to have two
wooden flukes with pointed ends. Total of 34 anchors of
this group were found from Dwarka. The biggest anchor
of this variety has a length of 1.8 m and maximum width
86 cm and the estimated weight is 496 kg (Figure 5). The
smallest anchor is weighing 16 kg.
(ii) Grapnel type: Several grapnel-type of stone anchors
were also found in the Dwarka waters. During our explo-
ration we retrieved 63 of such anchors. Most of them are
made of locally available limestone and a few are made
of basalt rock. Often they have been cut from a long solid
prismatic block (Figure 6). The anchor has an upper hole
and two lower holes cut in square or rectangular shape.
Figure 3. Stone blocks with L-shape cut.
Figure 4. Scattered stone blocks.
Figure 5. One of the biggest composite stone anchors.
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CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 86, NO. 9, 10 MAY 2004 1259
These anchors have also been termed as Indo-Arabian
type as this type of anchor is believed to have been in-
troduced by the Arab navigators and used in the Indian
Ocean. The biggest anchor has a length of 2.37 m, width
of 40 cm and an estimated weight of 668 kg while the
smallest anchor with its shape fully preserved has an esti-
mated weight of 82 kg.
(iii) Ring-stone type: Ring-stone type anchors are also
found in the Dwarka waters. Twenty-five anchors of this
type were found and these lie scattered from inter-tidal
zone to 16 m water depth. An important characteristic of
the ring-stone anchor is its circular shape, with an axial
hole (Figure 7). Often, the base of ring-stone is flat and
top is semi-circular rising to a certain height. Most of the
ring-stone anchors remain exposed on the seabed; how-
ever, a few are partially buried in the sediments. Up to a
depth of 8 m, the exposed portion of the ring-stones is
covered with marine growth such as seaweeds. Beyond
this depth they are covered with a thin layer of greyish
marine growth. They are normally found lying in vertical
position, tilted and flat positions are not uncommon. A
few ring-stones also have the evidence of chisel marks on
their surface, around the hole and on the flat bottom side.
Sankalia13 had argued that the safe harbour in the back-
water of the Gomati Creek was one of the main attractions
for the early settlers in Dwarka. The offshore explorations
at Dwarka have brought to light many interesting find-
ings, that are suggestive of early settlements. Perhaps, the
Dwarka waters have the largest number of anchors in the
world and these come in a wide variety. However the pur-
pose for which each of these anchors was used and their
ages are debatable. The following different views have
been presented below.
Harbour or habitational site?
Underwater structures particularly semicircular ones have
been described as the remnant of bastions of the Fort
wall17 as in the case of Harappan, historical and media-
eval period. However, the absence of any other artifact,
like pottery, suggests that this may not be a habitational
site. Underwater explorations in Bet Dwarka9 and Poom-
puhar18 yielded a large number of pottery from 5 to 8 m
water depths, indicating that any submerged habitation
should have at least pottery, which is absent in Dwarka.
Therefore, it may be argued that the structures found off
Dwarka might not be the part of any habitation. Findings
of the large number of stone anchors along with these
structures suggest that the boats were anchored here.
The structures recorded onshore and offshore, parti-
cularly the circular (Figure 2) and semicircular structures,
are presumably the bases of pillars and perhaps represent
the remnant of a jetty which was running from shore and
continued till 300 m offshore. Sankalia13 has mentioned
that ‘Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda had built a dock along
the Gomati creek and a ghat (landing place) on the oppo-
site side, with huge stone pillars to facilitate tying the
ships’. It is quite likely that the remains lying on the
shore and offshore regions are remains of the same dock.
Presence of anchors which are lying along these struc-
tures also support this hypothesis. Similar types of struc-
tures are also noticed in the Rupen Bundar (2 km north of
Dwarka) during low tide. Information provided by local
fishermen suggests that this was a 150-year-old jetty, used
for loading of cement. However, the jetty was abandoned
about 80 years ago. Interestingly, stone anchors have not
been found from Rupen Bundar, which suggest that the
remains of Dwarka jetty are older than the Rupen Bandar.
Underwater stone structures of Dwarka have been sug-
gested to be part of a habitational site dating back to the
Figure 6. Grapnel or Indo-Arab type anchor.
Figure 7. Ringstone anchors.
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CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 86, NO. 9, 10 MAY 2004 1260
protohistoric19 and the historical periods20. Study of the
structures of protohistoric and historical period in the
nearby localities such as Okhamandal suggests that the
blocks used for the construction are different from those
found in Dwarka waters. Excavations at Nageswar, a pro-
tohistoric site, yielded several structures of small irregular
blocks21. Similarly excavations at Bet Dwarka revealed
that small irregular blocks dating back to the early his-
torical period were used for construction. Structures from
Dwarka waters are found to be uniformly dressed with
provision for dowels. Explorations brought to light a rect-
angular stone block bearing Gujarati script, which sug-
gest that these structures are of recent origin. The anchors
belong to a wide time range, between historical period to
15th century AD22,23. All of these evidence argue that the
harbour at Dwarka was in use since the historical period
and it must have been repaired and reused during the
Causes for the destruction of the harbour
Coastal erosion is the primary reason for the destruction
of underwater structures at Dwarka. A 19th century map
of the area indicates that shoreline has advanced land-
ward by 550 m during the last 130 years24 with an ave-
rage of 4 m/yr. The present offshore explorations have indi-
cated that most of the structures are now within 500 m
from shore, therefore, it is quite conceivable that the pre-
sent underwater structures were within the inter-tidal zone
during the 19th century. Geological studies suggest that
due to lack of sediment discharge into the Gulf of Kachchh,
the area is prone to severe erosion25. Besides these natu-
ral factors, the development of many other ports and
harbours along the Saurashtra coast must have also led to
the decline of Dwarka as a harbour. Subsequently, a natu-
ral safe harbour came into existence about 2 km north of
Dwarka at Rupen Bandar, where a jetty was built about 150
years earlier. Presently, local fishermen use Rupen Bandar
as a sheltered harbour.
The underwater structures lying off Dwarka are the re-
mains of a jetty. It is difficult to date these structures pre-
cisely, however the binding material suggests that it may
be of the late medieval period. Discovery of a large num-
ber of stone anchors suggests that Dwarka was an impor-
tant port since the historical period and continued till late
medieval period. Existence of a wide variety of anchors
may suggest that different types and sizes of boats from
different regions used to visit Dwarka harbour. The avail-
able evidence suggests that natural factors like coastal
erosion are primarily responsible for the destruction of
the port of ancient Dwarka. The development of Rupen
Bandar and later on, the Okha port may have also contri-
buted to challenge its prominence as a natural harbour.
However, the contribution of Dwarka to the maritime deve-
lopment is as important as its existence as a religious capi-
tal of ancient India.
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. We thank the Director, NIO for his keen
interest and encouragement. We also thank Shri K. H. Vora, SIC, MAC
for critical reviewing of the manuscript, Shri S. N. Bandodkar for
underwater photographs and Shri S. B. Chitari, line drawings. This is
NIO’s contribution no. 3883.