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Did You Know These Legends About Gokarna's History?

Did You Know These Legends About Gokarna's History?

By Ninad

30 Jul, 2023

Have you ever heard of the enchanting coastal town of Gokarna in the southern Indian state of Karnataka? Or the legends and story of Gokarna? It's a hidden gem with a fascinating mix of spirituality, history, and stunning natural beauty that has captivated travellers from all around.

The legends and story of Gokarna have transcended time, continuing to fascinate and inspire everyone even today. Join us as we embark on a journey through time and explore these captivating legends and stories.

Here are some of the legends of Gokarna and interesting stories that make it so captivating.

How Did Gokarna Get its Name?

Gokarna's prominence in Hindu mythology can be traced back to the age of ancient epics. Legend has it that Lord Shiva, one of the principal deities in Hinduism, emerged from the ear of a cow (Go) in this very town, hence earning the name "Gokarna," which translates to "Cow's Ear." This mythological tale is also linked to the fascinating legend of Gokarna and the Atmalinga.

Cows in Gokarna

Picture - iStock

Legends And Stories of Gokarna

The Legend of Lord Shiva and the Atmalinga of Gokarna

World's second tallest Shiva staue at Murudeshwar temple

World's second tallest Shiva staue at Murudeshwar temple (Picture - Atma Nirvana)

The most celebrated legend of Gokarna revolves around the Atmalinga, a sacred idol of Lord Shiva. According to Hindu mythology, Ravana, the mighty demon king of Lanka, was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. In his quest for immortality and divine powers, Ravana embarked on a rigorous penance at Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva.

Pleased with Ravana's devotion and tenacity, Lord Shiva appeared before him and offered to grant any wish. Ravana, driven by his ambition, requested the Atmalinga, a divine and invincible representation of Lord Shiva's essence which could make him invincible, to be taken back to Lanka. Despite warnings from sages and gods about the consequences of possessing such power, Ravana remained steadfast in his determination.

Lord Shiva agreed to grant Ravana's wish, but under one condition: the Atmalinga should not be placed on the ground during the journey back to Lanka. If it touched the land, it would become immovable and stay at that place forever.

Carrying the Atmalinga in his hands, Ravana began his journey towards Lanka. The gods were concerned that Ravana's possession of the Atmalinga could lead to chaos and destruction. Seeking to protect the world, they sought the assistance of Lord Vishnu.
Lord Vishnu devised a plan and he realised that Ganapati was alone capable of doing it, he along with all the gods pleaded Ganapati to execute the plan. Ganapati accepted and reached Gokarna disguised as a Brahmin boy.

As Ravana was nearing Gokarna, Lord Vishnu was well aware that Ravana was disciplined while performing his periodical prayers, hiding sun with his Sudarshana Chakra— Ravana ended up thinking that it was time to perform his evening rites, Ravana finds the Brahmin boy (Ganesha) and asks him to hold the Atmalinga until he came back from his prayers. Ganapati agreed to hold the linga on one condition that he would do so until he would be able to take the weight of linga and that once he won’t be able to, he would call Ravana three times and if failed to come to him, he would place the linga on the land.

Ganapati calls Ravana three times when he is performing his prayers and places the linga on the land and he vanishes as he doesn’t return while he was in the middle of his rites. The Atmalinga at once got firmly entrenched in the earth. Upset, king Ravana was deeply agitated and tried to pull up the linga, but the linga did not even move. It resulted in him throwing the coverings of the Linga to Dhareshwara, Gunavanteshwara, Murudeshwara and Shejjeshwar (now these are sacred temples). Ravana failed to lift the linga from the ground again and named the Shiva linga as Mahabala, one with great strength, and ever since, the linga is popularly called as Mahabaleshwara. The Atmalinga remained in Gokarna, becoming a symbol of Lord Shiva's divine presence and a sacred pilgrimage site for devotees. It is believed that the lingam in the Mahabaleshwar Temple, the principal temple of Gokarna, is the very Atmalinga that Ravana tried to carry to Lanka. Visiting the temple brings this story of Gokarna to life!

The Legends of Sanctums of Gokarna

The Gokarna Mahabaleshwar Temple, built in the 4th century

The Gokarna Mahabaleshwar Temple, built in the 4th century (Picture - Trawell.in)

Gokarna's spiritual aura is palpable and draws devotees and pilgrims from all corners of the country. The Mahabaleshwar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, stands as a testament to the town's spiritual legacy. Built in the Dravidian architectural style, the temple features intricate carvings and sculptures that depict various mythological legends (of Gokarna included). The main idol, the Atmalinga, is enshrined in the sanctum and is open to worship by devotees.

The temple is often filled with devotees during major festivals like Maha Shivaratri, when they throng to seek Lord Shiva's blessings and partake in the grand celebrations. The air is filled with the fragrance of incense, the sound of bells, and the chants of "Om Namah Shivaya," creating an atmosphere of devotion and piety.

Adjacent to the Mahabaleshwar Temple is the Maha Ganapati Temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. It is customary for pilgrims to visit this temple before proceeding to the Mahabaleshwar Temple, seeking Lord Ganesha's blessings for a smooth and successful spiritual journey.

The Legends of Miraculous Cave Temples of Gokarna

Kothi Tirtha's serene sanctum, at Gokarna

Koti Tirtha's serene sanctum, at Gokarna (Picture - Gokarna Tourism)

Gokarna is not only renowned for its grand temples but also for its unique cave temples, which add to the town's mystical appeal with their legends of Gokarna. One such remarkable site is the Koti Tirtha, a sacred tank that is said to wash all your sins away. Legend has it that the mystic bird Garuda once scooped up Saptashrungi mountain (lord Brahma’s home) and flew away with it, according to legends. When Lord Brahma saw it, he was furious and commanded Garuda to place it on the ground. Garuda dropped it partly on land and partly in the sea. Half of the tirthas on it were immersed in water during this incident, and the leftover one crore were said to have been set on the ground in Gokarna. The literal meaning of the words koti is crore, and tirtha means sacred streams, forming the Koti Tirtha. The annual Koti Linga pilgrimage, held during Karthika Masa (falls between October and November), witnesses thousands of pilgrims visiting Gokarna to bathe in the holy waters of Koti Tirtha and seek divine benediction.

Another notable cave temple is the Shree Bhadrakali Temple, dedicated to the fierce form of Goddess Parvati, known as Bhadrakali. Nestled amidst lush greenery, this temple holds a unique aura that reflects the balance between the gentle and ferocious aspects of the divine feminine. These places give a deep dive into the rich and interesting legends of Gokarna while additionally, letting you experience the culture of the town.

Festivals and Celebrations of Gokarna

Gokarna's colourful and bright Mahashivratri festival

Gokarna's colourful and bright Mahashivratri festival (Picture - The New Indian Express)

Gokarna's cultural vibrancy is at its peak during festivals and celebrations. Maha Shivaratri, celebrated with great enthusiasm, witnesses the town adorned with lights and decorations. The streets come alive with processions, music, and dance as devotees celebrate the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati (It’s as if all the legends of Gokarna come to life during this time). The Karthika Masa, which falls between November and December, invites the Koti Linga pilgrimage and attracts many devotees from all over the country, who embark on a spiritual journey by visiting various temples and holy sites. The atmosphere is filled with devotion, and the entire town is engulfed in the aroma of incense and flowers.

Parting thoughts:

Gokarna, a town of legends, spirituality, and natural beauty, is a tapestry woven with threads of myth and history. The captivating tales of Lord Shiva and the Atmalinga have immortalised this coastal gem, drawing travellers from far and wide. While it remains a sacred pilgrimage site, Gokarna's fame has transcended spiritual boundaries, becoming a haven for seekers of both serenity and adventure.

Whether one seeks solace in the ancient temples or basks in the sun-kissed beaches, Gokarna promises an enchanting and unforgettable experience, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of all who visit.

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