Why did Krishna build Dwaraka?

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Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.

Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.

He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.

In this post, we will answer the question: Why did Krishna build Dwaraka?

As a teenager, Krishna kills Kamsa and liberates Mathura. This enrages Jarasandha, the king of Magadha, who launches a series of strikes on Mathura with the intention of taking it back. After initially resisting, Krishna decides it is better to leave Mathura and migrate westward toward the ocean. On the seashore he builds the city of Dwaraka.

Read on to discover more about why Krishna built Dwaraka.

(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

Fighting for Mathura

In his storied career, Krishna performs several momentous deeds, but none is as significant as the killing of Kamsa. Not only does it establish him as a future personality of note, but this act has much more of a say in Krishna’s future than any other.

At the time of Krishna’s arrival in Mathura, the city has been contested property between two parties: on the west we have Shurasena and Kunti, who have an alliance with Mathura through the marriage of Vasudeva and Devaki.

On the east we have Magadha and its king Jarasandha, who has ambitions of extending his empire into Mathura. Why he desires Mathura is not known; the official narrative is that he is a bloodthirsty tyrant. But it is possible that Mathura contains specific strategic or economic advantages that Magadha wants.

In this tug of war, King Ugrasena pulls to the west and sides with Shurasena. But his son, Kamsa – for reasons we do not know – chooses to become Jarasandha’s ally.

Killing of Kamsa

When Krishna kills Kamsa and causes a regime change in the kingdom, Mathura has been under Kamsa’s rule for at least fifteen years. During this time, Kamsa has married two of Jarasandha’s daughters, and their alliance is as strong as ever.

With King Ugrasena back at the helm, Mathura will now again begin swinging toward the western kingdoms in terms of policy and trade. This is understandably irksome for Jarasandha, and he views this deed by Krishna as an act of war.

We must also note that Jarasandha manages to influence King Damaghosha of Chedi as well to partner with him. Damaghosha is the husband of Srutashrava, another of Shurasena’s daughters.

Jarasandha does this without military help, which makes it likely that he might have promised Kamsa and Damaghosha rewards in the future if they defected from their old allies.

(Suggested: Was Krishna Cruel?)

Taking back Mathura

Whether or not Jarasandha tries to build a trade relationship with Krishna and Balarama, we do not know. There is no record of it.

What we do know for sure is that ever since Krishna reinstates Ugrasena as king of Mathura, Jarasandha is single-mindedly focused on taking it back.

Though Ugrasena is the official ruler, it is Krishna and Balarama that take care of all the practical administration of the kingdom. Jarasandha peppers them with invasion after invasion, and leaves them so bruised that Mathura’s economy is severely battered.

The fact that Jarasandha is able to keep up this sustained pressure on Mathura at this point in the story speaks to his superior military might relative to what Shurasena, Kunti and Mathura can muster.

After trying over a few iterations to defend themselves against these attacks, Krishna and Balarama decide that it is prudent to leave Mathura to Jarasandha, give him the victory in this battle, and find a better geographical area in which to build a new city.

(Suggested: Was Krishna ever defeated?)

A New City

This is by all means a setback for Shurasena, but it is not especially crippling because Mathura has been under Jarasandha’s control for a long time now. Shurasena’s bid to reclaim Mathura has failed, but it is not the end of the world for them.

With Krishna and Balarama cutting their losses and leaving Mathura for Jarasandha to rule, Shurasena can now deploy some of its resources to help the two brothers erect a new kingdom.

The question is: where?

Krishna decides that the new city should be built as close to the shore of the western sea as possible. This has some advantages:

  • The surrounding area is hotly contested by some small Yadava factions, but it is not claimed by one ruler. The time is ripe for it to be united under one banner. With some careful investments of Shurasena’s wealth, it can be done.
  • The new city will be far removed from Jarasandha, and it may discourage the Magadhan king from invading it.
  • The city will be enclosed by the sea on one or two of its sides, which means that defending it from any foreign invasion will be an easier proposition. On the other hand, the closer one got to the sea, the less fertile the land is.
  • The city will be more accessible and closer from Shurasena for joint commercial and military activities. By contrast, Mathura is on the other side of the river, which made logistics cumbersome.

A New Kingdom

The first step that Krishna and Balarama take on arriving on the western shore is to erect a small city called Dwaraka.

Where did they get the resources to build this? One assumes that when they left Mathura, they would have left its treasury largely intact, save for what they can carry on their persons.

Then, too, where did they get the manpower to build a whole city out of thin air? Even if we concede that they began with a small settlement of sorts, it would have needed both labour and capital to do it.

While we’re not told explicitly of the financial details of the project, we can safely assume that the treasury of Shurasena gave them support.

Even during the building of the city, the surrounding Vrishni tribes would have taken note. Shurasena would have had to deploy some of its sentries and guards – maybe even soldiers – to deter any violent thoughts from taking root.

Then, Krishna and Balarama diplomatically unify all the Vrishni tribes into one kingdom. To this they give the name Anarta. The capital of this new kingdom becomes Dwaraka.

With the founding of Anarta, we have a roughly equal balance of power between the middle kingdoms. On the west of the Yamuna we have Shurasena, Kunti and Anarta. On the east, there are Mathura, Chedi and Magadha.

(Suggested: Why did Krishna not stop the Mahabharata?)

Rise of Anarta

The experience with Jarasandha teaches Krishna a few lessons, chiefly concerning the deep economic toll of war. From here on, he eschews violence and pursues friendly policies with other kingdoms.

In order to insure Anarta – and by extension Shurasena – against future violence on Magadha’s part, he seeks and procures the friendship of Kuru and Panchala, the two main kingdoms of the north.

A close alliance with Kuru is so important to Anarta’s foreign policy that Krishna balances his support very carefully between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The two brothers leave no stone unturned in showing the world that they do not support either side unequivocally.

They’re always saying, ‘Both the Pandavas and the Kauravas are dear to us.’ That is because Kuru’s support is critical to ensure Anarta’s welfare.

With the death of Jarasandha – which Krishna accomplishes with the help of Bhima, again without formal war or violence – Anarta becomes the power center among the middle kingdoms while Kuru becomes the most powerful kingdom in the north.

Throughout his life, Krishna ensures that this state continues. By the time of his death, it is indeed remarkable that Dwaraka is so impregnable that it can only fall to infighting and civil war.

Further Reading

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