Beyt Dwarka is the first place I visit on my trip to Dwarka. We drive from my hotel towards Beyt Dwarka which is good 36 km away. 30 km on land and 5 km on the sea is what you need to cover before you set foot on the island of Beyt Dwarka also called Bet Dwarka and Shankhodhar.
Dwarka to Beyt Dwarka
We pass through the city of Dwarka that is locally called Gomti Dwarka on our left, Rukmini Temple on our right followed by vast stretches of dry land all around. Then came the hillocks of unprocessed salt – in shades of grey. Tata Chemicals – the producer of popular salt brand Tata Salt has its manufacturing facility between Gomti Dwarka and Beyt Dwarka at Mithapur. Mithapur in Gujarati means the salt city. There are Navy offices on the left and then we see the jetty full of colorful boats on our right.
Boat Ride to Beyt Dwarka
We walk through the lines of shops selling corals, sea plants, wooden toys and the Puja material.
At the jetty, there are many boats lined up but only one boat is taking passengers. We board the boat that seems nearly full but it would not move unless it is filled to the brim. A young boatman would go around making space in between people and ensure the full productivity of the boat trip. Well, this is the public boat that costs you just Rs 20/- to cross over.
You can hire a private boat to go to Beyt Dwarka but that would cost you upwards of Rs 2000/-
The boat ride is about 10-15 mins. However, the seagulls that live between the two shores would never let you have a dull moment. If you buy the bird and fish feed that is sold on the shore, you can invite the birds closer to the boat. It is a delight to be surrounded by so many of these white seagulls. They seem to be used to entertaining the boat riders – of course, the fee is that you have to feed them.
The etymology of Beyt Dwarka
Beyt Dwarka is also known as Bet Dwarka or Bhent Dwarka and each of these names has a story associated with them.
Beyt or Bet in Gujarati means a space surrounded by water or an island. So the island that got cut off from Dwarka by water is called Beyt Dwarka.
Another legend associated with the name is that this is the place where Sudama – the poor friend of Sri Krishna came to meet him. Yes, the famous Krishna Sudama story took place here. You can hear the story inside the temple several times a day, every day. This story would make the name as Bhent Dwarka. Bhent means meeting, referring to the meeting of Krishna Sudama.
Beyt Dwarka is also called Beyt Shankhodhar. Read the legend below on how it gets this name.
Some people also say that it is a Shankh or Conch-shaped, but I would assume that the island would have changed shape over a period of time. On Google maps, it does look like an elongated Conch.
Other names of Beyt Dwarka include Ramandweep – the beautiful island, Krishna Vilas Nagari or the pleasure city of Krishna and Kalarkot.
Beyt Dwarka History & Legends
Dwarka, as we know, was the golden city of Sri Krishna, where he ruled as a king. He is known as Ranchor Rai and Dwarkadheesh here. Ranchor Rai literally means the one who ran away from the war – which is what Sri Krishna did when he left Mathura to re-establish his kingdom at Dwarka. Dwarkadheesh means the lord of the Dwarka. Jai Dwarkasheesh is how people greet each other in Dwarka.
Palaces of 16108 Queens
The popular belief is that Gomti Dwarka is where the Kingdom of Sri Krishna was and Beyt Dwarka is where he had his pleasure palaces. This is where he lived with his 16108 queens and each of them had a palace of her own. What you see today is a small part of original golden Dwarka that is left.
Sudama visits Sri Krishna at Beyt Dwarka
Sudama studied with Sri Krishna in Sandipini Ashram that as per my research should be in Ujjain or Avantika. Sudama came from Porbandar which is about 100 km away from Dwarka and is better known for being the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. While Sudama was poor, Sri Krishna was the king. When Sudama had nothing to eat, he came to meet Sri Krishna and carried a few grains of rice as a gift for his friend – for that is all he had. Sri Krishna welcomed him into his palace as a treasured guest and sent him back after accepting his gift. What Sudama did not know is that help had already reached his village before he could return.
This is a story that is always told to children to highlight the value of true friends in life. You can hear this story inside the Dwarkadheesh temple. You are also encouraged to donate some rice to the Brahmins who take care of the temple. The belief is you will be rewarded the same way as Sudama was.
Shankhasur and Shankhodhar Teertha
Legend is that an Asura named Shankhasur used to live at the place where Beyt Dwarka stands today. Sri Krishna slayed the asura at a place where Shankh Sarovar stands today. He did it in his Matsyavatar or fish form. The Shakha Sarovar can be still seen with many birds around it. A small but ancient Shiva temple stands on its banks.
Last Days of Mira Bai
We know that Mira Bai of Chittorgarh in Mewar was an ardent Krishna devotee. Mira Bai spent her last days at Beyt Dwarka. The story goes that she came here from Mewar and spent time singing the songs of Krishna. One day, she asked if she can offer the Bhog to Krishna. Priests knew she is a Raj Rani or a great queen and that she was one of the biggest devotees of Krishna, so they allowed her to offer Bhog.
As Mira Bai offered the bhog to Krishna, she merged with Krishna. It is said that only a small piece of her Sari survived and that was put on the idol of Krishna. It is up to you to believe it or not. I think the story is just a way to say that Mira Bai spent her last days in Beyt Dwarka.
Temples at Beyt Dwarka
We expect Beyt Dwarka to be full of temples. Its life revolves around the temple of Dwarkadhish primarily. Most other temples are hardly visited. I tried to visit a few temples and here is what I saw.
Dwarkadhish Temple – Beyt Dwarka
Sri Krishna temple is the most important temple at Beyt Dwarka. It is the reason that millions of pilgrims take boat rides from Okha. Now, this is not one temple but a group of many small temples.
The Murti of Sri Krishna at Beyt Dwarka Dwarkadhish temple is believed to be built by Rukmini 5244 years ago after Sri Krishna left his body. Rukmini is one of the chief queens of Sri Krishna, who incidentally has a no temple in this temple complex at Beyt Dwarka.
As part of daily rituals at this Dwarkadhish temple includes 13 times Bhog, 9 times Arti and 22 darshans of the deities.
Sri Krishna temple at Beyt Dwarka has no Shikhara just like Nathdwara. It has a normal flat roof like houses have. Well, it is not without reason. This is not the temple technically speaking but the house where Sri Krishna lives with his family.
Temples in Dwarkadhish Temple Complex, Beyt Dwarka
So, you see the temples dedicated to the following members of his family:
Radhika Rani Temple – Radha is known as Golok Maharani at Dwarka. There is a beautiful temple with wooden door frames and carved wooden brackets dedicated to her. For where there is Krishna, Radha cannot be far. However, her temple is not attached to the main temple of Sr Krishna. She is there but she stays outside the complex that houses Sri Krishna, his brother, his sons and his wives.
Radha’s Murti is Achal or Utsav Murti i.e. it is not a fixed Murti but it goes out and comes back. It comes out on Sharad Purnima and for one month during the month of Saavan, it is out of the temple.
Dwarkadhish Temple – Heart of Dwarkadhish temple is the Murti of Sri Krishna that is believed to have been built by Rukmini herself. You can see him in different Shringar throughout the day, On special days like Janamashtmi, there is even more elaborate shringar that is done. The silver door of Krishna’s temple has sun, moon, Shankha or conch shell, Chakra or wheel, Gada or mace and Padam or lotus flower carved on it. On the bottom panels is Sri Krishna as the cowherd playing his flute next to his cow.
Balram – Krishna’s elder brother is here as Trivikram – it is an old murti in black stone with four arms.
Krishna Rukmini’s son Pradyuman is present as Kalyan Rai.
Purushottam Rai – the deity of Adhik Maas or Mal Maas, the additional month that comes every 3-4 years in lunar calendar followed in India is present in the brownstone with a cot by his side.
Devaki, the mother of Sri Krishna is also in the brownstone in a small murti in the same courtyard as Krishna. At Dwarka, there is no mention of Yashoda, it is always the Devaki who is there at the temples dedicated to her son.
When you take Parikrama of the central courtyard you come across other temples in this sequence:
Mahalaxmi Temple – Mahalaxmi is identified as his Patrani or chief queen. Rukmini is also considered the avatar of Mahalakshmi. There is a black stone idol and has a temple of her own.
Madhav Rai ji who I was told was the Kaka or uncle of Krishna is present as presiding deity of Kumbh Mela that happens in Prayag.
There is a temple dedicated to Amba ji – the Kul Devi of Sri Krishna.
Here at one of the courtyards, a priest tells the story of Beyt Dwarka in 3 mins. People gather and sit down to listen to Katha or the story. The priest tells the story of Shankhasur, of Krishna and Sudama and the importance of visiting Dwaraka & in the end advises people to donate rice.
There are temples dedicated to Govardhan and Sheshavatar with a Sheshnag Chhatri.
There is a temple dedicated to Satyanarayan – the deity of the Kaliyug. The murti of Satyanarayan is in white marble.
Sakshi Gopal is a Utsav murti that travels on behalf of the Achal Murti of Dwarkasheesh at Beyt Dwarka. This is supposed to be the deity of your pilgrimage to Dwarka Dham. It is a witness to the Dwarka yatra or pilgrimage you do. This is the first time I saw deities who stand witness to your Dwarka visit as if keep count of your travels.
Laxmi Narayan is how the Vishnu and his Shakti are present as a couple in black stone at Dwarkadheesh Temple at Beyt Dwarka.
There is a temple dedicated to his son and grandson – Pradyuman and Aniruddh and another one to his Kul Guru – Rishi Durvasa.
Jamvanti – Second queen of Sri Krishna and daughter of bear king Jambavan.
Satyabhama – Third queen of Sri Krishna and daughter of the treasurer of Dwarka – Satrajit.
Garuda also gets a place in the temple. As the vaahan or vehicle of Vishnu, people believed he took Sri Krishna every morning to Gomti Dwarka where his capital was and every evening brought him back to his palace at Beyt Dwarka.
It is interesting how the Pandas of Dwarka describe each deity with reference to Sri Krishna. When they talk about a deity in the temple, they tell you how he or she is related to Krishna, what they are responsible for and who else they are related to.
On the walls of Sri Krishna temple at Beyt Dwarka is relatively new and has scenes of Krishna Leela carved on them. I could see Krishna as Makhan Chor stealing butter from Handi, Krishna playing bansuri or flute in Kadamba Van, Krishna holding the Govardhan Parvat on his little finger as Govardhandhari. Some interesting panels include Krishna holding an elephant with its tail. I must add there are limited scenes and most other carvings are geometric designs and floral patterns.
Outside the walls of queen’s temples, I saw the red hand marks. I was curious and the priest could only tell me that these are made during festivals like Diwali and Holi.
The first temple you see as you enter the temple premises is Ganesha Temple that has a standing idol of Ganesha.
Dandi Hanuman Temple
We took an auto outside the Dwarkadheesh temple to go to Dandi Hanuman temple that is good 5 km away. Road, if it can be called so, goes through the narrowest part of the island of Beyt Dwarka. We go along the seashore and auto stops in front of a small non-descript temple. There are a couple of small shops outside the temple.
Temple inside is a very small one – almost a cave temple. It has two murtis – one of Hanuman that looks like it is sinking into the floor. The other one belongs to his son Makardhwaj. So, this is a temple dedicated to father and son.
A story from Ramayana when Sri Ram and Lakshmana were abducted by Ahiravan and Mahiravan – the kings of Patal happened at this place. Makardhwaj was the guardian of their palace. The Ramayana link makes the island of Beyt Dwarka even were ancient than Sri Krishna’s time.
When I reached this temple, Hanuman Chalisa was being chanted. I joined in chanting and waited for the temple door to open. It is a people’s temple without any royal patronage and continues to be so. Although a Dharamshala has turned up around it.
It is believed that if you offer a Supari to Hanuman here, you wish will be fulfilled.
Mira Bai Temple
In the lanes of Beyt Dwarka is a small temple dedicated to Mira Bai.
Talaav or Lakes at Beyt Dwarka
There are two main Talaavs that I could see at Beyt Dwarka. I am sure there must have been more when the island had no undersea pipeline bringing drinking water to them. Since they have easy access to water, the ponds have lost their practical value and they lie in neglect. Never mind the ancient stories associated with them.
This is a fairly large lake for the size of the island with stepped ghats all around it. When I visited in March, there was hardly any water. Birds still hovered around the lake. A small temple of Neelkanth stands at the entrance of the Sarovar. There is a ruined temple and another a practicing one.
This is the place where Sakshi Gopal Murti comes in for Parikrama when it comes out of Dwarkadheesh temple.
This is also where the procession comes for Krishna – Rukmini wedding that takes places two days after Ram Navami.
It is also a reasonably sized pond with carved entrance path. It was built by the Gaikwads of Baroda who ruled this region for some time.
People of Beyt Dwarka
My guide and driver Jayesh at Dwarka is a native of Beyt Dwarka. When he saw me asking too many questions, he took me to his grandfather Sh Varsingh Mala Rabari, who is 92 years old and worked at the library of Beyt Dwarka. Unfortunately, the library was lost in the earthquake of 2007. I am fortunate that I could meet Varsingh ji and listen to his stories of Dwarka and Beyt Dwarka.
He told me about Bhai Mohkam Singh – one of the Panch Pyare of Guru Gobind Singh was from Beyt Dwarka. In fact, there is a Gurudwara next to Shankh Sarovar on the island. 5 Pyares were considered the first 5 Sikhs, so that makes Beyt Dwarka important for followers of Sikh Dharma too.
Beyt Dwarka has a population of roughly 10,000 people. Of this 8000 are Muslims who are mostly engaged in fishing. The 2000 Hindus’ primarily live on the Dwarkadheesh Temple economy. In a way, Krishna is still a source of their survival.
Rabaris – the pastoral community that traces its lineage to lives on the island of Beyt Dwarka.
Travel Tips for Beyt Dwarka
- Ferry boats from Okha are the only way to reach the island of Beyt Dwarka. A bridge connecting the island to the mainland is in the plans, but it would be few years before it comes up.
- Boats operate from 6:00 AM – 7:00 PM or so. Most boats operate during the first half of the day when pilgrims visit the temple or in the evening when the temple opens again. All temples close around 12 noon and re-open in the evening around 5 PM.
- No photography is allowed inside any temple.
- There are not many eating places in Beyt Dwarka, so it is best to have a heavy breakfast and go and come back by lunchtime.
- Water bottles are available but I suggest you carry your own.
- To travel within the island, you can use auto rickshaws. If you have time and if the sun is bearable, you can easily walk around the island.
- There are no good hotels in Bet Dwarka, most people stay at Hotels in Dwarka.
- There are many organized tours from Dwarka to Beyt Dwarka.