Temples of Karnataka - The Gokarna Temple

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Gokarna located at a distance of 170 km from Mangalore is a celebrated pilgrimage center on the coast of Karnataka, enshrining the Aatma Lingam Mahabaleshwar. It is referred as one of the 7 Mukti Stalas of Karnataka. The other six muktistalas of Karnataka are Udupi, Kollur, Subramanya, Kumbasi, Kodeshwara, and Sankaranarayana. They are also called as Parasurama Kshetras as they are created on the land claimed from the sea by Parashurama. The place of Gokarna is also referred as the Kashi of the South. This place is also popular for Hindus performing the death rites for the departed ancestors at this place.

When Lord Rudra was sent to Patalaloka by Brahma to perform penance, he eventually returns through the ear of the mother earth and blesses her with the name “Gokarna”. Also this place served as a womb for Rudra. It is called as Rudra Yoni and Adi Gokarna.

Another legend of Gokarna is that Ravana performed a severe penance to Lord Shiva to possess his powerful horn-linga which is also known as Prana linga or Atma linga. Pleased by his penance, Shiva gives him the Atma linga in a box at Mount Kailash. Ravana then returned to south with the linga. But there was a condition that wherever he places the Atma Linga, it would be permanently installed there. In order to avoid Ravana misusing the Atma Linga, on the demigods’ request, Lord Vishnu finds a way to trick Ravana through Lord Ganesh who was disguised as a brahmachari. Eventually, the Atma linga was installed at Gokarna. In spite of the might exerted by Ravana or Maha Bala, the Shivalingam stayed here fixed in the place. So the place is also referred as Mahabaleshwar. The great force exerted by mighty Ravana is said to resulted the Shivalingam to resemble the shape of a cow’s ear and so the name Gokarnam.

The temple here faces west and enshrines Mahabaleshwar in a square Saligrama Peetham. The six feet tall Shivalingam is enclosed inside the peetham. There is a golden rekha on the peetham. The small hole in the middle permits the devotees to have a glimpse of the top of the Atma Lingam. Only once in 40 years, the Lingam can be seen when the Ashta bandana Kumbhahishekam is performed.

The shrines of Vinayaka, Chandikeswara, Aadi Gokarneswara and Dattatreya are also present here. There is a shrine of Gokarnanayaki who is also known as Taamragowri is behind the sanctum. The Koti theertham is the most sacred theertham of the place. The image of Vinayaka has a dent denoting the pressure caused by Ravana who was enraged at the loss of the Atma Lingam. Maha shivaratri is the greatest festival of the temple.


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