Note: Your health and safety come first. Please avoid travel for now. However, we can still indulge in some arm-chair travel and soak in the history! Hope you enjoy this piece.
It took us about nine hours to traverse the 485 kilometres to reach Gokarna from Bangalore. Yet there was no fatigue, as the journey through well-laid road on the plains and then the picturesque drive on the Western Ghats was simply rejuvenating.
Considering it was early December and the weather was gorgeous added to the zing. We were enroute to Goa and took the opportunity to spend half a day and stay overnight before continuing the journey. It certainly was not enough time, but we made the best use of it. Gokarna is a small temple town on the western coast of India, in the Kumta Taluk of Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka.
Hotel Ashokavana, (approved by Government of Karnataka) may not have been best choice to stay in Gokarna, but was adequate and inexpensive for the overnight halt and also considering the fact that we would be mostly outdoors during our stay here. But if you are looking for a luxurious stay, I hear that Kahani Paradise House is a good place to stay. The beaches as many travel blogs will tell you are extremely scenic and they are right!
The four beaches in Gokarna, Kudle, Paradise, Half Moon and Om Beach, are a favourite with trekkers, back-packers and other visitors. As you can see in the map below, the Om Beach gets its name as it is shaped in the shape of Om- as written in Sanskrit. The Half Moon Beach has the Namaste Cafe, that is a go-to cafe for many tourists.
The view from atop the hill of these beaches are magnificent. But it is the sunsets that are the most glorious. On the beach we see some cows and calves that are quite different from breeds I had seen anywhere else.
Gokarna is a temple town too and is an important pilgrimage for many devotees to the Mahabaleshwar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The history of this temple dates back to 4th Century AD, when it was built by the King Mayurasharma of the Kadamba Dynasty, but the legends take back the history further to Threta Yuga. When the Shree Ramachandrapura Math or Shreemath was established by Adi Shankara, he assigned the temple duties and worshiping of the Atmalinga of Lord Mahabaleshwara to them.
There is a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha too, as he is closely associated with the legend of Gokarna. The Kotitheertha is a lake close to the Mahabaleshwara temple and as the name suggests it means ‘the source of a thousand springs’. Every year thousands of pilgrims come here during Shivaratri to take a dip in its waters. It is also believed that Gokarna was the birthplace of Lord Hanuman.
The legend of Gokarna: The story goes back to time of the mighty asura king Ravana. Pulasthya was one of the ten Prajapatis (mind-born sons of Brahma) and one of the Saptarishis too. He had two sons Sage Vishrawa and Sage Agastya.
Vishrava, in turn had two wives: one was Kaikesi who gave birth to Ravana, Shurpanaka, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana; and the other wife was Ilavida who had a son named Kubera (whom we know as the god of wealth). Kaikasi was a great devotee of Lord Shiva, who would worship a new, original Shiva Linga everyday and would break her fast only after that. If she couldn’t find one, she would mold one of clay (called Mrithika linga) and then fast for the day. On one such day when she could not find an original Siva linga, she started to prepare the Mrithika lingam. Her son Ravana – the mighty rakshasa with 10 heads, saw it as an affront that the mother of a mighty person like him had to make a linga out of clay. He thundered that he would bring the entire Mount Kailasha where Lord Shiva resided to his mother so that she could worship him. Proclaiming thus, he set out to get Mt. Kailasha.
Upon reaching Kailasha, mustering all his might and strength, Ravana tried to uproot the mighty mountain. The mountain shook and along with it the devas, ganas and even Goddess Parvati got tossed here and there. Parvati frantically approached Shiva and asked him what was happening to which Shiva said that Ravana was taking Mount Kailash (Kailash Parbat) to his mother for worship. Since Ravana was his great devotee, he refrained from doing anything that would upset him. However, Parvati pleaded that Shiva do something about it, as it was not in the scheme of nature that Mt Kailasha should be transported elsewhere. Conceding to Parvati’s request, Lord Shiva merely pressed a toe of his right foot, which nearly crushed Ravana under the mountain.
It was then that Ravana realised the folly of his actions and started praying to earn Shiva’s grace. An extremely talented musician, he created a new instrument called the Yantra Kaikamalika – or Rudra Veena made out of his head, nerves and veins and started playing and singing in his rich, musical voice to placate Lord Shiva. When he saw that Shiva did not appear before him, he undertook the penance of cutting off his heads one by one to demonstrate his devotion. Lord Shiva was moved by his devotion and appeared before him and asked him for a boon. Ravana asked him for Mt. Kailasa yet again to which Shiva declined. However, he said that he would give Ravana the Atma Linga which would contain the core and essence of Lord Shiva himself, on the condition that it should not be placed on the ground till he reached Lanka. Ravana was elated and assured him that he wouldn’t. However, this act of Shiva posed a fresh problem to the devas, as the Atma Linga would confer Ravana immense strength that would make him unconquerable to the gods. He has already enslaved the 9 celestial bodies and had brought them under his control. The Devas then frantically approached Lord Vishnu to find a solution to this problem that would put the world out of harmony. Lord Vishnu called for Ganesha and Sage Narada and together they planned to save the Universe from impending doom.
So Ravana was on his way and somewhere midway, Lord Vishnu used his Sudarshana Chakra to block the sun-rays and it seemed as it was dusk already. Since Ravana meticulously observed his daily prayer rituals, he wanted to stop to do his Sandhya Vandana or evening prayers. He was in a dilemma as to how he would do it without putting the Atma Linga on the ground. It was then Lord Ganesha appeared as a little shepherd-boy and Ravana requested him to hold the Atma Linga till he finished his prayers. Ganesha agreed on the condition that he had to hurry, or else he would have to put it on the ground. However, he would give out a shout three times before he did it. Ravana agreed and hurried to perform the Sandhya Vanadana. On the way Sage Narada accosted him and started a conversation congratulating him on getting the Atma Linga in a deliberate plan to delay Ravana.
Nevertheless, Ravana finally started his prayers and in the midst heard the boy calling out. However, he managed to finish quickly and rushed back towards the boy only to find that the Atma Linga had been placed on the ground. Ravana was furious but the boy pleaded that he did call out thrice before placing on the ground. Ravana tried lifting the linga with all his might, but the Linga was firmly grounded. But, the pulling of the linga resulted in a distortion that resembled a cow’s ear. Hence, the lingam came to be known as the one that withstood the mighty strength of Ravana or ‘Gokarna Mahabaleshwar’ (Go– Cow and Karna – ear).
Gokarna is hence deemed to be as one of the holiest places as the installation was done by Lord Ganesha – the remover of obstacles himself at the instance of Lord Vishnu- the Lord of the Universe.
Mythology, Spirituality, Nature, Fun and a lot of Relaxation- only few places offer such a repertoire and Gokarna is indeed one such place.