India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi experiences underwater deep-sea diving, in Dwarka Image Credit: ANI

Is there a submerged city on the ocean coast near Beyt or Island Dwarka? India’s ancient epic, the Mahabharata (c. 300 BCE), certainly says so. Arjuna, one of its great heroes, offers an eyewitness account in Mausala Parva, the 18th chapter of the epic.

“The sea, which had been beating against the shores, suddenly broke the boundary that was imposed on it by nature. It rushed into the city, coursed through its beautiful streets. Soon, it covered up everything in the city. I saw the beautiful buildings becoming submerged one by one. In a matter of a few moments it was all over. The sea had now become as placid as a lake. There was no trace of the city. Dwaraka was just a name; just a memory.”

But the lost city persisted in cultural memory for thousands of years. To commemorate it, a temple was built on the island dedicated to Dwarkadhish, the king or lord of the city, Shri Krishna.

That island and its temple is itself sinking. I visited it several years ago to find structures which were meant to recreate what was lost and submerged in times before recorded history. Dwarka Peeth, one of the major centres of pilgrimage, is actually on the mainland, with sea flowing inland into the dried riverbed.

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Underwater archaeology was practically unknown in India till Dr S.R. Rao led a team of offshore excavations in 1983. What he discovered was truly astonishing. A fortified settlement that was submerged some 3500 years ago. Could it be the ancient and legendary city of Dwarka so graphically described in the Mahabharata?

Rao certainly thought so. He published his findings, with photographs and scientific data, in Lost City of Dwarka (1999). Cultural historians were thrilled. Could it be that Sri Krishna was a real, historical figure, although lost in the mists of time and enwrapped in thousands of years of myth and religious lore?

Let us leave that question unanswered for the time being. One thing is certain, though. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi certainly believes so. Another first, among many other firsts, he became the first and only Indian head of government to scuba dive to the submerged remains of ancient Dwarka.

Escorted by a posse of Indian Navy divers, he chose to wear traditional saffron kurta-pyjama set, with a diving helmet to breathe underwater. At the floor of the Arabian Sea, he touched the remains of the lost city, prayed and meditated, before coming back up to his boat.

An unprecedented adventure

On emerging, the visibly moved and inspired prime minister said, “This was more a matter of faith than courage for me.” True. But he displayed both in ample measure. He immersed himself not only into the ocean depths but also in the “divine experience” of touching a part of the lost history of India and of human civilisation itself.  

He called it his connection with “an ancient era of spiritual grandeur and timeless devotion.” In his customary style, he used social media to share his experience. “May Bhagwan Shri Krishna bless us all,” he tweeted on “X.” 

Never one to lose political advantage from such an unprecedented adventure, he addressed a rally in the city. “Today, I experienced those moments which will stay with me forever,” he said in his speech. “I went deep in the sea and did ‘Darshan’ of the ancient Dwarka city.

Archeologists have written a lot about the Dwarka city hidden underwater. In our scriptures also, it is said about Dwarka that it was a city with beautiful gates and tall buildings, as tall as the top of the world. Lord Krishna himself constructed this city.” 

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Modi’s political genius

“When I went deep in the sea, I experienced divinity,” Modi told an appreciative audience. “I bowed down in front of Dwarkadhish. I took a peacock feather with me and placed it at Lord Krishna’s feet. I had always been curious to go there and touch the remains of the ancient Dwarka city. I am full of emotions today …. A decades-old dream was completed today.”

His words brought a thrill to the heart not only of Krishna devotees around the world but to most Indians.

Modi’s boldness and astuteness have no match. For it was not just the sop of faith that he offered his fans. On Sunday, he opened India’s longest cable bridge at 2.32 kms, the Sudarshan Setu, connecting the Gujarat mainland at Okha to the Dwarka Island. He also laid the foundation stones for projects totalling over Rs4000 crores for the city’s development.

The Gujarat government had earlier publicised its forthcoming submarine service to the submerged city. All these schemes are sure to attract millions of pilgrims and tourists to this Western city of India, on the eastern tip of the Arabian Gulf. With coffers filling up, so will the ballot boxes.

Who can counter let alone countermand Modi’s political genius? None seems to come even close right now. Every passing day brings India closer to his third term in office as India’s most respected and beloved prime minister.