Gokarna, a small town in the western Karnataka is a known destination for travelers and pilgrims. The town attracts a lot of visitors year-round and is famous for its pristine beaches. The town is also known for the Mahabaleshwar temple built in the classical Dravidian architectural style and is of mythological significance. This temple is associated with the story of Ravana and Atmalinga which finds its place in the Vedas and Puranas.
Enter Gokarna and you will find yourself in a town of contrasts — an amalgamation of all that is old and modern. While you see priests chanting slokas in praise of Shiva, the presiding deity, and the faithful devotees in attendance, you also spot tourists, both local and foreign, some tattooed and chilling out.
This combination of the old and modern, beachside fun and the mythology, and ease of access (approx. 480 km from Bengaluru and just 230 kms from Mangalore) attracted me to visit the town during the last monsoon.
As per the legend, once Ravana’s mother, who was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva was praying to him for the well being and prosperity of her son. Seeing her devotion towards Lord Shiva, Indra Dev got jealous and stole the shivling to which she was praying and threw it in the sea. Ravana’s mother was so upset about this interruption in her worship that she refused to take food and water.
Ravana then promised her mother that he would bring the most precious blessing of lord Shiva - the Atmalinga - and left for Kailash. After reaching there Ravana mediated with full devotion and performed the most severe austerities. Lord Shiva was pleased with the devotion and worship of Ravana and appeared before him. Ravana then asked Lord Shiva to give him Atmalinga. Shiva took out the Atmalinga from his heart, which was shinier than the Sun, and gave it to Ravana. He also told Ravana that he must handle Atmalinga with utmost care and precaution and should not put it on the ground under any circumstances as it cannot be lifted once it is put down. It should only be put down at a place where he wishes to locate it forever.
While Ravana got his wish granted, the Devas were worried about these turn of events. Ravana was already a mighty ruler, and they were worried that the presence of AtmaLinga in Lanka would add to his power and he would create havoc on the earth. They prayed to Lord Ganesha for help.
Lord Ganesha knew that Ravana was a very devoted person who used to offer prayers (sandhya vandana) in the evening every day without fail. Lord Vishnu and Lord Ganesha decided to use this fact against him.
While Ravana was on his way back carrying the Atmalinga, Lord Vishnu blotted out the sun to give the appearance of dusk. Ravana now had to perform his evening rituals but was worried because, with the AtmaLinga in his hands, he would not be able to do his rituals. Lord Ganesha appeared before him disguised as a young cowherd. Ravana requested Ganesha to hold Atmaling and wait until he returns. He also told Ganesha not to put the Atmalinga down under any circumstances.
Ganesh replied that he was in a hurry and won’t be able to hold it long. Ganesha said that when he is about to leave he would call him thrice, if there is no response from Ravana he would leave.Before Ravana could complete his rituals, Ganesha called him thrice rapidly. When Ravana didn’t come even after the third call, he immediately put down the Atmalinga and rushed with his cows to Patal Lok.
Ravana chased them, but all the cows and Ganesha vanished, and Ravana could get hold of only the last cow’s ears. It is this cow ear that is said to be still present at that location in petrified form and this is how the town was named Gokarna, which means ‘cow’s ear’ in the Sanskrit language.
Ravana tried to lift the Atmaling from the place where Ganesha had kept but he failed miserably even after his repeated efforts. Therefore, the name Mahabaleshwar (meaning most powerful) was given to the shivling where it is still located. The temple is one of the seven sacred Muktikshetras or Muktistala ("places of salvation") in Karnataka.
Once the pandemic is over and you have a long weekend do plan a trip to this place and you will find yourself reconnected with nature and the divine.
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