The Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna is a 4th century CE Hindu temple located in Gokarna, Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka state, India, which is built in the classical Dravidian architectural style. It is a place of religious pilgrimage. The temple faces the Gokarna beach on the Arabian Sea where Hindu pilgrims cleanse themselves before visiting the temple to worship. The temple deifies the Pranalinga (“the reality of God that can be grasped by the mind”) also called Atmalinga or Shiva Linga In legend, it is said that the temple deity will bestow immense blessings on the devotees, even those who only glimpse it. Currently, the temple’s administrative charge is held by an Oversight Committee under the chairmanship of Justice BN Srikrishna, a retired judge of the Honorable Supreme Court of India.
The temple is one of the seven sacred Muktikshetras or Muktistala (“places of salvation”) in Karnataka. It is a place where many Karnataka Hindus perform funeral rites (rites of death) for their deceased. The other six Muktikshetras in Karnataka are in Udupi, Kollur, Subrahmanya, Kumbasi, Koteshvara, and Sankaranarayana.
According to legend, the Atmalinga was forcibly placed in Gokarna, in the temple compound where it is now deified. He was Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, known from the epic, Ravana had brought him there from Mount Kailash in the Himalayas.
The first construction of the temple was carried out by King Mayurasharma of the Kadamba dynasty (reign 345 CE – 365 CE). Again, legend holds that Mayurasharma wished to learn about the Vedic rites and the Ashwamedha Yagna (ritual of horse sacrifice). He traveled to Kanchipuram, an important center of religious learning, but there he was insulted by a horse guard. He was angry and vowed to defeat the ruling Pallava dynasty. After defeating the Pallavas, the king asked some priests to perform a daily yajna to maintain their sovereignty over the region. Mayurasharma’s son, King Kangavarma, brought Brahmin families of different lineages to maintain the administration in the temple.
The classical Sanskrit writer, Kalidasa, mentions the “Lord of Gokarna” in his 4th century work, Raghuvamsha. The Gokarna temple is recorded as one of the Paadal Petra Sthalams in the 7th century Tevaram by Appar and Sambandar wrote a canon of devotional poetry.
The temple is a large complex of shrines and much of it belongs to the later Vijayanagara period (1336-1646 CE). A Vijayanagara emperor once visited the temple and was weighed in gold.
During the 17th century reign of Queen Chennammaji and her son Soma Sekharanayaka of Keladi, Visvesvaraya of Halasunadu-Kundapura built the Chandrasala and Nandi pavilions. In 1665, the warrior king, Shivaji (1630 CE-1680 CE) worshiped at the Mahabaleshwar temple after dissolving his army at Gokarna.
In 1676, Fryer, an English traveler, visited Gokarna during the Maha Shivaratri festival and wrote in detail about it in the temple.
The temple is located on the shores of the Arabian Sea on the west coast of India, near the city of Karwar. It is located in lush green surroundings in the holy city of Gokarna (also spelled “Gokarn”) in Uttara Kannada (or northern Kannada district).
Gokarna is located between the Gangavalli and Aganashini rivers.
National Highway 66 (NH66), a coastal highway in the Western Ghats (from Kanyakumari to Mumbai), passes near Gokarna. The city is 56 kilometers (35 miles) from Karwar, 252 kilometers (157 miles) from Mangalore, 145 kilometers (90 miles) from Hubli and 450 kilometers (280 miles) from Bangalore. The nearest airport is in Panaji, Goa, 155 kilometers (96 miles) away.
The temple is built of granite in the Dravidian architectural style. The Atmalinga is enshrined in the temple on a square Peetha Saligram (pedestal). The pedestal has a small hole in its center from where the devotees can see the upper part of the Atmalinga.
Foreigners, including practicing Hindus of non-Indian (Western) origin, cannot enter the sanctum-sanctorum and see the Shivalinga.
Ancient temple legend as narrated links Ravana of the Ramayana, the demon king of Lanka, not only to the deified Shiva Linga at the Mahabaleshwar Temple, but also to the Bhadra Kali temple in Gokarna. The legend also provides the etymology of the name of the place, “Gokarna”.
Ravana’s mother, a faithful devotee of Lord Shiva, was worshiping a Shiva Linga to bring prosperity to her son. Indra, the Lord of Heaven, who was jealous of this worship, stole the Shiva Linga and threw it into the sea. Ravana’s distraught mother went on a hunger strike when she interrupted her devotional worship of Shiva.
Then Ravana promised his mother that he would go to Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and bring the main Atmalinga for her worship. Then Ravana performed severe penance on Mount Kailash to please Lord Shiva and also sang, with his melodious voice, praises to Shiva (Shiva Tandava Stotram). He even cut off his own head and made a harp from strings taken from his skin and intestine. Lord Shiva was pleased, appeared before him and asked what he wanted. Ravana requests the Atma-Linga as his blessing. Lord Shiva agrees to give him the blessing on the condition that he never places himself on the ground. If the Atma-Linga were ever to be placed on the ground, he would remain rooted in that place. Having obtained his blessing, Ravana set out on his journey back to Lanka.
When Ravana approached Gokarna, Lord Vishnu hid the sun to give the appearance of a twilight. Ravana now had to perform the evening rituals for him but he was worried that with the Atma-Linga in his hands, he could not do it. At that moment, Lord Ganesha disguised as a brahmin boy approached him. Ravana asked him to hold the Atma-Linga until he performed his rituals and asked him not to place it on the ground. Ganesh made an agreement with him saying that he would call Ravana three times, and if Ravana did not return within that time, he would place the Atma-Linga on the ground.
Ganesha called three times quickly, but Ravana was unable to arrive in the specified time. Even before Ravana could return, Lord Ganesha placed the Atmalinga on the ground, tricked Ravana, and disappeared from the scene with his cows. Ravana then chased after the only cow, which was going into hiding. However, he managed to grab the cow’s ear, as the rest of the cow’s body had disappeared underground. It is this ear that is now seen in a petrified form, which has given the name of “Gokarna” to the place. The word “Gokarna” means “cow’s ear”, where in Sanskrit gow means “cow” and karna means “ear”.
Then Ravana endeavored to lift the Shiv Linga but failed because he was firmly attached. Ravana had even fainted; thereafter he gave the name “Mahabaleshwar” (meaning almighty) to Atmalinga. Thus, according to the narrated legend, the place now boasts of three divine entities namely: Gokarna, the cow’s ear; the Atmalinga or Shiva Linga which is deified in the Mahabaleshwar Temple; and Goddess Bhadrakali, who are now all divine places of worship integral to Gokarna