Gokarna is a celebrated pilgrimage center on the coast of Karnataka, enshrining the Aatma
Lingam Mahabaleshwar. It is regarded as one of the 7 Mukti Stalas of Karnataka, and it has
been revered by the hymns of the Tamil Saints (Nayanmars) of the 1st millennium CE.
Gokarna is located at a distance of 170 km from Mangalore, the nearest airport. The seven muktistalas of Karnataka are Udupi, Kollur, Subramanya, Kumbasi, Kodeshwara,
Sankaranarayana and Gokarna. All these shrines are also known as Parasurama Kshetras,
created on the land reclaimed from the sea by Parasurama. This is the
only Tevara Stalam in Karnataka (Tulu Nadu) hailed by the Tamil songs
of the Bhakti movement.
Vinayakar (Dwibhuja Vinayakar shrine) is said to have tricked the demon Ravana into
leaving behind a Shivalingam here in a legend similar to that at Tiruchirappalli. In spite of the might exerted by Ravana
(Maha Bala), the Shivalingam stayed fixed, hence the name Mahabaleshwar. The pull exerted
by Ravana, is said to have caused the Shivalingam to resemble the shape of a cow's ear and
hence the name Gokarnam. A very similar legend holds at the Vaidyanath - Jyotirlingam
temple at Deogarh in Bihar.
The Temple: This west facing temple enshrines Mahabaleshwar, in a
square Saligrama Peetham. A golden rekha on the peetham, and a small hole in its middle
permits devotees to have a glimpse of the top of the Aatma Lingam. The six foot tall
Shivalingam is encolsed inside the peetham, and it can be seen only once in 40 years, when
the Ashta bandana Kumbhahishekam is performed. There are also shrines to Vinayaka,
Chandikeswara, Aadi Gokarneswara and Dattatreya. Gokarnanayaki is also known as
Taamragowri, and her shrine is behind the sanctum.
The sacred thirtham here is the Koti theertham. The image of Vinayaka bears a dent,
said to have been caused when Ravana, enraged at the loss of the Atma Lingam had hit him.
Festivals: It is customary here to have a dip in the sea and then
worship a Shivalingam made out of sand, before worshipping at the temple. Maha Sivaratri
is of great significance in this shrine located in idyllic surroundings. Also located
around Gokarna are Sejjeshwara, Gunavanteshwara, Murudeshwara and Dhareshwara. These four
temples along with Mahabaleshwara are known as the Pancha Maha Kshetras.