Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna

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Mahabaleshwar Temple
Mahabaleshwar Temple at Gokarna
Mahabaleshwar Temple at Gokarna
Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna is located in Karnataka
Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna
Location within Karnataka
Proper name Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna
Coordinates 14°32′36″N 74°18′59″E / 14.54333°N 74.31639°E / 14.54333; 74.31639Coordinates: 14°32′36″N 74°18′59″E / 14.54333°N 74.31639°E / 14.54333; 74.31639
Country India
State Karnataka
District Uttara Kannada District
Locale Gokarna
Primary deity Lord Shiva
Important festivals Shivaratri Rathyatra
Architectural styles Dravidian architecture
History and governance
Date built 345 - 365 CE
Creator Mayuravarma of Kadamba

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 site of religious pilgrimage. The temple faces the Karwar city beach on the Arabian Sea in which Hindu pilgrims cleanse before visiting the temple for worship. The temple is considered as holy as the Shiva temple at Varanasi or Kāśi (Kashi) in North India on the banks of the Ganges River. Hence, the Mahabaleshwar temple, Gokarna is known as the Dakshin Kasi ("Kasi of the south").[1][2] The temple deifies the Pranalinga ("the reality of God which can be captured by the mind") also called Atmalinga or Shiva Linga[3] In legend, it is said that the deity of the temple will bestow immense blessings to devotees, even to those who only glimpse it.[1][2]


The temple is one of the seven sacred Muktikshetras or Muktistala ("places of salvation") in Karnataka. It is a place where many Hindus of Karnataka perform obsequies (death rites) for their departed. The six other Muktikshetras in Karnataka are at Udupi, Kollur, Subrahmanya, Kumbasi, Koteshvara and Sankaranarayana.[4][5]

According to legend, the Atmalinga was perforce placed at Gokarna, in the temple precincts where it is now deified. It was Ravana, the demon King of Lanka, known from the epic, Ramayana had carried it there from Mount Kailash in the Himalayas.[1][2][6]

The temple's first construction was by the king Mayurasharma of the Kadamba dynasty (reign 345 CE – 365 CE). Again, legend holds that Mayurasharma wished to learn of the Vedic rites and the Ashwamedha Yagna (ritual of horse sacrifice). He travelled to Kanchipuram, a major religious learning centre, but there, he was insulted by a horseman guard. He was angered and swore to defeat the ruling Pallava dynasty. Following his defeat of the Pallavas, the king asked some priests to perform a daily yajna to maintain his suzerainty over the region. Mayurasharma's son, King Kangavarma brought Brahmin families from different lineages to maintain administration at the temple.

The classical Sanskrit writer, Kalidasa mentions the "Lord of Gokarna" in his 4th century work, Raghuvamsha. The Gokarnam temple is recorded as one of the Paadal Petra Sthalams in the 7th century Tevaram canon of devotional poetry.

The temple is a large complex of shrines and much of it belongs to the later Vijayanagara period (1336 CE - 1646 CE). A Vijayanagara emperor once visited the temple and weighed himself 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) worshipped at the Mahabaleshwar temple after disbanding his army in Gonarka.

In 1676, Fryer, an United Kingdom|English traveller, visited Gokarna during the Maha Shivaratri festival and wrote in detail about it at the temple.[7]


The temple is located on the shores of Arabian Sea on the west coast of India, near the city of Karwar. It is set in a lush, green environment in the holy town of Gokarna (also spelt "Gokarn") in Uttara Kannada (or North Kannada district).

Gokarna lies between the Gangavalli and Aganashini rivers.[2][8]

National Highway 17 (NH17), a coastal highway on the Western Ghats (from Mangalore to Mumbai), passes close to Gokarna. The town is 56 kilometres (35 mi) from Karwar, 252 kilometres (157 mi) from Mangalore, 145 kilometres (90 mi) from Hubli, and 450 kilometres (280 mi) from Bangalore. The nearest airport is at Panaji, Goa, 155 kilometres (96 mi) away.[2][8]


Temple seen from inside the complex.

The hoary legend of the temple as narrated, links Ravana of the Ramayana, the demon king of Lanka, not only to the Shiva Linga deified in the Mahabaleshwar Temple but also to Gokarna's Bhadra Kali temple. The legend also provides etymology of the place name, "Gokarna".[6]

Ravana's mother, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva, was worshipping 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 away into the Sea. The distraught mother of Ravana went on a hunger strike as her devotional worship of Shiva was disrupted.

Ravana then promised his mother that he would go to Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and bring the main Atmalinga itself for her worship. Ravana then performed severe penance at Mount Kailash to please Lord Shiva and also sang, in his melodious voice, praises of Shiva (Shiva Tandava Stotram). He even chopped his own head, and made a harp with threads drawn from his skin and intestine.

Shiva, pleased with all this devotional worship, agreed to bestow boons to Ravana. Ravana, pleased with the promise of Shiva, asked for the Atmalinga and also a wife for himself, as pretty as Uma (mother of creation), Shiva's wife. Shiva then took out the Atma Linga, brightly shining like the Sun, from his own heart and gave it to Ravana with strict instructions that it should not be placed on ground till it was deified at a final destination.

As regards the second request for a beautiful wife, Shiva offered his own wife to Ravana, as in his view there was no other woman more beautiful than Uma, his wife. Uma, who was ordered by Shiva to go with Ravana, then appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. Vishnu agreed and he met Ravana at Gokarna, disguised as an aged, frail looking Brahmin. The Brahmin asked Ravana as to how such a lovely woman was following him. Ravana, in his enthusiasm, explained that Shiva of Kailash himself had given her to him. Pleased with the Brahmin's words of praise, this was his undoing as at that moment, Vishnu played a trick and exchanged Uma with Mandodari, daughter of Mayasura.

Ravana returned carrying the Atmalinga. On the way, he met Ganesha in the garb of a cowherd (by the request of Lord Indra) at the same location where he had deserted Uma. At that moment, Ravana wanted urgently to attend the call of nature and he, therefore, requested Ganesha to hold the Atmalinga in his hand till he returned after ablutions.[9]

There is another version to the legend at this point. It is said that Ravana, being a Brahmin wanted to offer his evening religious prayers, Sandhyavandanam, and he, therefore, requested Ganesha, who appeared before him as a Brahmin boy, to hold on to the Atmalinga till he returned; with strict instructions to Ganesha not to place it on the ground under any circumstance.[5]

However, Ravana could not come within the specified time. Ganesha called out thrice rapidly for Ravana. Even before Ravana could return, Ganesha placed the Atmalinga on the ground, tricked Ravana and vanished from the scene with his cows. Ravana then chased the only cow, which was going underground. However, he managed to get hold of the cow's ear, as the rest of cow's body had disappeared below ground. It is this ear now seen in a petrified form, which has given the name "Gokarna" to the place. The word "Gokarna" means "cow's ear" where in Sanskrit gow means "cow" and karna means "ear".[5][10][9]

Then, Ravana tried hard to lift the Shiv Linga but failed as it was firmly fixed. Ravana had even fainted; thereafter he gave the name "Mahabaleshwar" (meaning all-powerful) to the Atmalinga.[10] Thus, according to the legend narrated, the place now boasts of three divine entities namely: Gokarna, the cow's ear; the Atmalinga or Shiva Linga that is deified in the Mahabaleshwar Temple; and the Goddess Bhadrakali, which are all now divine places of worship integral to Gokarna.[11]

Temple structure[edit]

Left: Dravidian style Gopura of Mahabaleshwar temple at Gokarna. Right: Pradakshinapath (circumambulatory path) of Mahabaleshwar temple at Gokarna.

The temple is built of granite in the Dravidian architectural style. The Atmalinga is enshrined in the temple on a square Saligrama Peetha (pedestal). The pedestal has a small hole at its centre from where devotees can see the top of the Atmalinga. The deity, a carved stone image of Lord Shiva, is seen in a standing position with two arms. The stone image is said to be 1500 years old.[5][8][10]

Religious practices[edit]

Rathayatra held during Shivaratri festival celebrations

The religious practices observed by most devotees, who are accompanied by their priests, consist of shaving their head, fasting and then taking a bath in the Arabian Sea, opposite the temple. They then pay obeisance to Lord Ganesha (the elephant headed god) deified in the Shri Maha Ganapathi temple, which is a few yards away from the Mahabaleshwar temple. After observing these religious procedures, devotees visit the main shrine of Mahabaleshwar for the Darśana (the auspicious sight of a deity). The formal viewing of the God and fervent prayer rids the devotee of sin and ushers prosperity into their lives.[12]


The Shivaratri festival, the observance of the union of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati is celebrated in Gonarka in February, when a very large number of pilgrims visit the shrine. During the festival, a Rath Yatra (a procession in a large wooden chariot) is held. Images of Shiva and other deities are installed in a chariot which is ceremoniously pulled through the town by the devotees, accompanied by drum bands. The Ratha Yatra starts from the Shri Maha Ganapati temple at the terminus of the main market street, also known as "Car Street".[4][8][12]

Other attractions[edit]

Kotitheertha or Pushkarani – a holy pond close to the Mahabaleshawar temple

In Gokarna, there are a number of attractions of religious significance which are linked to the local legend of the Mahabaleshawar temple.[5]

Sri Maha Ganapathi temple

In legend, the Sri Maha Ganapathi temple was built in honour of the boy Ganesha. Ganesha deceived the demon Ravana and saved the Atmalinga that is now installed in the Mahabaleshwar temple. Within the temple is a granite image of Ganesha. The image is 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and two-handed; at the top of its head there is hole that is said to be a mark of a violent blow inflicted by Ravana. The temple has its own identity and is also known as "Sidda Ganapati".[13][14]


In legend, the Atmalinga that vanished in the form of gov (cow) made a cave in a nearby hill. It is called "Gogarbha" meaning "the woumb of cow". The cave is visited by sadhus and used as a resting place. Folklore suggests that sadhus enter Gogarbha and reach the holy city of Kashi (Old Varanasi), a final visiting place for pilgrims.

The Temple of Bharat

The ruins of this temple remain on a hillock near the Mahabaleshwar temple. Its deity was stolen. It is notable because it is situated well above the temple of Rama with a ramateertha.[clarification needed]


Kotitheertha is a man-made pond, which is used for the immersion of idols and ritual bathing. It is surrounded by temples and has a small platform in the centre.[15] Devotees usually take bath in the pond before they visit the Mahabaleshwar Temple for worship.[16]


  1. ^ a b c Abram D. Rough Guide to Goa Rough Guides 2003 p. 234 - 237. ISBN 1-84353-081-3 Accessed 27 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e Tourist Guide to Karnataka Sura Books p. 61 - 62 ISBN 81-7478-062-9 Accessed 27 May 2010.
  3. ^ Subramuniyaswami S. S. Dancing with Siva: Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism Himalayan Academy Publications 2003 p. 847 ISBN 0-945497-96-2 Accessed 28 October 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Gokarna: a Profile" Sri Gokarna website. Accessed 27 May 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Gokarna Temple" Karnataka Vision website. Accessed 27 May 2010.
  6. ^ a b Gupta B. A. Hindu holidays and ceremonials: with dissertations on origin folklore and symbols Asian Educational Services 1994. p 13 - 16 ISBN 81-206-0953-0 Accessed 27 May 2010.
  7. ^ "Mahabaleshvar temple, Gokarna" in Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency Government Central Press 1883 15:2 p. 299. Accessed 28 May 2010.
  8. ^ a b c d How to reach Gokarna Sri Gokarna website. Accessed 27 May 2010.
  9. ^ a b Gupte, p.15
  10. ^ a b c Padmanabha P. District Census Handbook, Series 14, Mysore: North Kanara Office of the Director of Census Operations. Government of India Press 1973 p. 142 Accessed 28 May 2010.
  11. ^ Gupte, p.16
  12. ^ a b Abram, p.260
  13. ^ Famos Ganesha temples Dhristi Creations website Accessed 28 May 2010.
  14. ^ Bezbaruah M. P. and Gopa K. Fairs and Festivals of India: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka Gyan 2003.
  15. ^ The Bhandikeri Math at Gokarna Shri Chitrapur Math website. Accessed 28 May 2010.
  16. ^ Karwar Taluk National Informatics Centre. Accessed 28 May 2010.