The lovely little town of Gokarna in the Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka is famous for its pristine beaches and classical temples. The Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna is one of the most visited temples in the town. This shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
This ancient temple in the state holds a revered space among pilgrims, especially for the mythological legends and history associated with it. The temple is also finds mention in the Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
The fact that the temple is deemed to be as pious as the pilgrimage town of Kashi in northern India has bestowed upon it the name of Dakshin Kashi (Kashi of the South).
Quick Facts about Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna
- Main Deity: Lord Mahabaleshwar (Lord Shiva)
- Best Time to Visit: October to March
- Temple Timings: 6 am to 12 pm. 5 pm to 8 pm
- Festivals: Maha Shivratri
- Address: Koti Teertha Road, Kotiteertha, Gokarna, Uttara Kannada, Pin Code-581326
Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna – An Overview
The Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna plays a fundamental role in bequeathing beach town Gokarna the reputation of a pilgrimage centre. The temple is dedicated to Lord Mahabaleshwar, an incarnation of Lord Shiva.
The name of the temple goes after the popular name of the staggering 6 ft. tall Atma Linga installed within the shrine on a square-shaped black stone dais (Shaligrama Peetha) with a hole at the centre. The devotees can only get a glimpse of the top of the linga until the day of Ashta Bandana Kumbhahishekam in every 40 years when it’s seen in its entirety.
The main deity at the temple is an antique stone sculpture of Lord Shiva, as old as to trace back 1500 years in time.
Interestingly, the location of the temple is considered more auspicious being facing the west, flanked by the Karwar beach on the Arabian Sea. By custom, the devotees must take a bath at the beach, then pay obeisance at the adjacent Maha Ganapati Temple before stepping into the Mahabaleshwar Temple.
The temple is significantly considered as one of the seven holy Mukti Sthala temples (place of salvation) in Karnataka. The other six Mukti Sthalas are at Udupi, Subrahmanya, Kollur, Kumbasi Sankaranarayana and Koteshvara. It’s a common practice among the Hindu devotees to perform the last rites of their deceased relatives at the Mahabaleshwar Temple.
The temple especially buzzes with thousands of devotees during the Maha Shivratri.
Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna – Sculptures and Architecture
With the granite architecture flaunting the classical Dravidian style of construction and design, be warned that the Gokarna Mahabaleshwar Temple can lead a history and archaeology enthusiast into a time-travelling experience back to the 4th century CE during the reign of King Mayurasharma of the Kadamba Dynasty when the temple was built.
Apart from the stone sculpture of Lord Shiva and the whopping Atma Lingam enclosed within the Shaligrama Peetha, the Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna is surrounded by shrines of Maha Ganapati, Thamira Gowri (Goddess Parvati), Chandikeswara, Aadi Gokarneswara, Gokarnanayagi and Dattatreya.
Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna – The Legend
If legends could be true, the Mahabaleshwar Temple in Gokarna is the misplaced home to the original Atma Linga of Lord Shiva from its first abode at Mount Kailash in the Himalayas.
The story goes that the demon king of Lanka, Ravana, performed a long penance to please Lord Shiva after the king’s mother had expressed a profound yearning to worship the original Atma Linga of Lord Shiva. Pleased with Ravana’s sincere efforts at penance, Lord Shiva granted his devotee the two wishes he’d made.
First, as per the wish, the Lord handed Ravana his Atma Linga, but on the condition that he should not put it down on the ground. Else it would get permanently embedded on that very ground where it is dropped. And granting the king’s second wish of a spouse as pretty as the Lord’s wife Uma, Lord Shiva decided to let his wife go with Ravana, for there was none equivalent to Uma than she herself.
Lord Vishnu and Ganapati Salvaging Uma
At the earnest call from Uma, Lord Vishnu decided to salvage the situation. He was also sceptical that possessing the Atma Linga would make the demon king Ravana an invincible power who could potentially destroy the world. Hence, he showed up as a haggard Brahmin while Ravana had reached Gokarna on his way back to Lanka.
Lord Vishnu tricked the demon king into exchanging Uma for Mandodari, the daughter of Mayasura. He also called upon Lord Ganapati (Ganesha) to trick Ravana into putting down the Linga.
At that very same spot, Ganapati appeared before Ravana disguised as a cowherd. Realizing that it was time for his evening prayers (Sandhyavandana), Ravana asked Ganapati to hold the Linga for some time until he came back from his prayers. Defying the order of the king, Lord Ganapati put down the Linga on the ground.
No sooner, the Atma Linga get firmly implanted into the earth. Despite the forceful attempts by Ravana, the Linga remained entrenched into the ground. Unable to uproot the Linga from the ground, Ravana called it Mahabala (the strongest). Since then the Linga came to be known as Mahabaleshwar.
Places around Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna
If the Mahabaleshwar Temple is the glittering crown of Gokarna, there are many notable places worth being called the gems of the town. This rustic and laidback town is home to a number of exquisite beaches and monumental temples.
Maha Ganapati Temple
It’s a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha due to the smart role he played in dismantling Ravana’s intention of carrying the Atma Linga to his kingdom in Lanka. The temple boasts of a 5 ft. tall structure of Ganesha folding his two hands.
Tamra Gowri Temple
This temple is dedicated to Goddess Parvati, and is a must-visit site in Gokarna. The entrance to the temple is flanked by ornate adornments. The two-armed idol of Devi Parvati holds a balance that is believed to suggest the goddess assessing the excellence of Gokarna against Kashi.
Dedicated to Venkatramana, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, this temple is known for its sacred man-made pond called Koti Teertha wherein the idols are immersed, as well as the devotees take a dip as part of the ritual bathing.
The Bhadrakali Temple dedicated to Goddess Uma is among the most important religious sites in Gokarna. The legend goes that after Lord Vishnu tricked Ravana into swapping Uma for Mandodari as his wife, the Lord had asked the goddess to stay at that very place. Subsequently, she came to be worshipped as Bhadrakali.
This beach gets its name from its shape of “Om” when viewed aerially.
Visiting this beach is like discovering a lost paradise, away from the cacophony of the modern world.
This beach is the closest to the town and is a place for hippie gatherings with incessant happy sounds of drums, hammocks and guitars pervading the breezy atmosphere.
Half Moon Beach
This crescent-shaped reclusive beach cradles amid greenery and isolation. One must cover a short trek up the hill to reach this beach majorly devoid of human settlements.
This small, secluded beach perfectly lives up to its name. One has to either take a ferry or trek to the beach for a laidback private beach experience.
How to Reach Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna
The Mahabaleshwar Temple in Gokarna has access points from different parts of Karnataka.
Mangalore is the nearest airport (192). From Mangalore, one must board a bus or hire a taxi to Gokarna.
Ankola is the nearest railway station (20 km). Buses and cabs are available from Ankola to Gokarna.
Buses are available to Gokarna from Bangalore, Mangalore and other major towns and cities in Karnataka.