Gokarna is a small temple town on the western coast of India in the Kumta taluk of Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka. It is known as one of the seven important Hindu pilgrimage centers. The temple of Mahabaleshwara is the main tourist attraction for pilgrims coming to Gokarna. Its significance is so high because of the legend associated with it. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and has what is called an atmalingam which is believed to be one of the most powerful lingams.

The name Gokarna is made of two words, gau meaning cow and karna meaning ear, translating to cow’s ear. The reason for such a name is associated with its roots in mythology and also its geography. According to one story, the reason for naming this place Gokarna is because it is at the confluence of two rivers Gangavati and Aghanashini and this looks like a cow’s ear. The other, more interesting legend takes us back to mythology. According to this one, Shiva was sent to Patal Lok (under the earth) by Brahma. He later emerged from the earth out a cow’s ear and that is why the name. Being a temple town, Gokarna has many mythological tales associated with it. It is also holds mention in the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana. Hindu mythology says that when Lord Parashurama, the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu created Kerala, it was from Gokarna to Kanyakumari.

Mahabaleshwara Temple

As per legend, Ravana was given Atmalinga by Lord Shiva and instructed that it would stay permanently where it is first placed on the land. But Lord Ganesha came in the form of a boy and planted it in Gokarna while Ravana was performing rituals. Once placed Ravana could not remove it from ground, but he removed some pieces of the Linga and threw them in different directions. It resulted in his throwing the coverings of the Linga to Dhareshwara, Gunavanteshwara, Murudeshwara and Shejjeshwar temples. Ravana was unable to lift the linga from the ground again and called the shiva linga as Mahabala, one with great strength, and ever since, the linga is illustrious as Mahabaleshwara.

Shiva learnt all these from Vayu Deva, the god of wind, and came on to Earth with Goddess Parvathi devi and his train of Gods, he visited these five places and worshipped the linga which had now taken five forms. He acknowledged that these five places would be his Pancha Kshetras (Five Holy Places).

Gokarna is an important centre of Sanskrit learning and houses Bhandikeri Math and Toggu Math. It is a place where Sanskrit knowledge is passed down from generations in Brahmin families. Many Hindus perform the last rites here.

The Maha Ganapathi Temple is built in honour of the boy Ganapathi, who deceived the demon Ravana by keeping Atmalinga on ground before Ravana returned from sandhyavandana. The deity here is two-armed, standing and is at least 1500 years old.

Shree Venkataramana Temple 

All the temples in Gokarna revolve around the same legend and the people who were part of it. The Shree Venkataramana Temple is no different. It is believed that the very reason Ravana wanted to pray after reaching Gokarna is because Vishnu used his powers to cast a shadow on the sun that make it look like it’s evening. This prompted Ravana to offer his evening prayers even though it was still noon. Therefore, the Shree Venkataramana Temple is dedicated to Vishnu for all his help to make Ravana not have the atmalingam forever. It is said that the temple is at a spot from where Vishnu can see the other temples associated with this legend and also protect the lingam. He watches over these temples to keep them safe just like he played an important part in the story.

Kotitheertha is a man-made tank that is used for immersion of idols and ritual bathing. It is surrounded by temples.

Shivaratri festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The temple has two chariots — named locally as ‘Dodda Ratha’ (Dodda for big in Kannada) and ‘Sanna Ratha’ (Sanna for small in Kannada). While Sanna Ratha is out in the open during winter and summer, the Dodda Ratha is brought out and made ready only during Maha Shivaratri.

On the last day of the Shivaratri festival the Lord Mahabaleshwara idol is carried in Dodda Ratha in a procession through the town’s big Car Street, while priests and pilgrims chant hymns in praise of Shiva. More than 100 people are needed to pull the chariots with thick ropes while priests conduct religious ceremonies inside. During the nine-day festival, the small town of Gokarna is visited by thousands of pilgrims.













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