Atmalinga of Lord Shiva is worshiped in the Gokarna Temple. This temple is located in the coastal town of Gokarna in Karnataka. The region of Gokarna is located between an ear-shaped confluence of the Rivers of Gangavali and Agnashini. The sacredness of the Gokarna Temple is considered on par with the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi.
Hence, Gokarna is also known as Dakshina Kasi (Southern Kasi) and as the Bhookailasa. The region of Gokarna and its religious importance is mentioned in several Puranas like the Bhagavata Purana, Sthala Purana, Guru Charitra and the Skanda Purana. The legends related to the region and the existence of the Temples has been mentioned in the epic Ramayana.
Gokarna Temple architecture features resemble the Dravidian style of construction. The walls are made of granite. Inside the Sanctum, the main Atmalinga is enshrined in a square shaped Saligrama Peetha with a small hole on the top. One can view the top of the Linga from the hole. A carved image of Lord Shiva is kept near the Linga.
The image represents Lord Shiva in a standing position and is believed to be 1500 years old. The actual Atmalinga can be seen in whole only once in 40 years during the Ashtabandana Kumbhabhishekam. Gokarna Temple Complex also has shrines dedicated to Lord Ganapathi, Lord Dattatreya, and the Goddess Taamaragowri. The Kotitheertham or the Pushkarini is a small manmade tank present near the Gokarna Temple.
Gokarna Temple History and Legend
According to the archeological evidence, Gokarna Temple was constructed by Mayurasharma of the Kadamba dynasty during the period of 345 – 365 AD. Gokarna Temple has been visited by several prominent historical personalities. The Vijayanagara Kingdom Emperor Krishnadevaraya visited the shrine and weighed himself in Gold here. The great ruler Shivaji often prayed at the shrine.
The importance of Gokarna Temple has been mentioned by several imminent Saints and Maharishis. The famous Kalidasa mentions Lord Mahabaleshwar as Lord of Gokarna in his 4th-century work, Raghuvamsha. The Nayanars praised the deity of the Tulu Nadu, Mahabaleshwar in their work Tevaram between the 6th and 9th century.
As per one legend, when Lord Shiva cursed Lord Brahma that he will not be worshiped because of his lie about finding the end of the endless beam of light emanating from Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma cursed him back stating that Lord Shiva will go to hell. It is believed that after going to the underworld, Lord Shiva appeared out through a cow’s ear, a metaphor for emerging out of an ear-shaped place (Mother Earth) known as Gokarna.
As per the legends and mentions in the chapters of the epic Ramayana, Kaikesi who was the mother of Ravana worshiped Lord Shiva ardently. She used to make Lingas out of the beach sand and pray to them daily. However, every night the Linga used to get washed away by the sea. Seeing the distraught mother, Ravana promised to her that he will proceed to Mount Kailash and bring back Lord Shiva’s Atma Linga itself to her.
Ravana went to Mount Kailash and performed severe penance to impress Lord Shiva. He sang his praises in the acclaimed Shiva Tandava Stotram. He chopped one of his ten heads as a gift for Lord Shiva. Eventually, Lord Shiva granted him a wish. Ravana asked for the Atma Linga from Lord Shiva as well as a wife as beautiful as Goddess Parvati.
Lord Shiva then took out the Atma Linga from his heart and offered it to Ravana but placed a condition that the Linga should not be kept down until he reaches his destination. If the Linga is kept down, the Linga will become affixed and nothing can separate it. He also asked Goddess Parvati to accompany Ravana as he considered no one more beautiful than the Goddess herself.
Ravana agreed and started proceeding southwards towards his kingdom. All the other Lords were disturbed by the occurrence as they were sure that Ravana will misuse the Atma Linga to create havoc in the world.
Lord Vishnu interrupted Ravana’s journey after disguising himself as an old Brahmin. He enquired about the beautiful woman accompanying Ravana. When Ravana started boasting about how he received the Goddess as a boon from Lord Shiva, the Brahmin created an illusion in which the Goddess turned into an old and frail lady. Humiliated, Ravana left the Goddess and proceeded with the Atma Linga.
Narada approached Lord Ganesha to request help for interrupting Ravana’s journey. Lord Ganesha was aware of Ravana’s daily rituals especially about the evening bath Ravana would take. With the help of Lord Vishnu, who blotted out the Sun to give an appearance of dusk, Lord Ganesha turned himself into a small boy. Ravana wanted to take a bath but could not put down the idol.
Lord Ganesha disguised as a boy passed him. Ravana called him and passed on the idol to him giving instructions that the idol must not be placed on the ground. The boy placed the idol on the ground before Ravana returned from his bath. Lord Vishnu unblocked the sun and it was daylight again. The place where Lord Ganesha placed the idol is known as Gokarna.
Ravana became furious and tried to uproot the Linga but he could not accomplish it. He threw the case covering the Linga which fell to a place called Sajjeshwara. The lid of the case which held the Linga fell in a place called Gunavanthe and the string covering the Linga fell at Dhareshwara. The cloth covering the Linga fell in Murudeshwar.
When Lord Shiva learned of this, he visited these five places and worshiped the Lingas there. He declared that these places will be known as the Pancha Kshetras and anyone who worships here will be free from all their sins.
Significance of Gokarna Temple
The Atmalinga of Lord Shiva is worshiped here, making it a must visit pilgrimage spot among all Hindus. The Atmalinga is believed to be the Linga that forms an integral part of Lord Shiva himself and signifies “the reality of god which can be apprehended by the mind”. As per Hinduism, all the Gods attained mortality and invincibility by worshiping the Atma Linga of Lord Shiva. The Atma Linga originally resided in the heart of Lord Shiva but the Lord gave it to Ravana as a reward for his penance.
The Atmalinga of Lord Shiva at Gokarna Temple is considered as sacred as the Jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva in Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is believed that even a glimpse of the Linga will bestow blessings of Lord Shiva and will relieve one of all his or her sins.
Gokarna Temple is one of the seven Mukti Sthalas of Karnataka. The other six are Udupi, Subramanya, Kumbhashi, Kodeshwara, Sankaranarayanan, and Kollur. These places are together known as the Parashurama Kshetras. It is believed that these Temples were built on land which was claimed by Parashurama from the sea.
The Gokarna Temple is one of the five Temples known in Karnataka as the Pancha Kshetras of Lord Shiva. The other four Temples are in Nanjanagud, Dharmasthala, Dhareshwara and Murudeshwar. It is believed that Lord Shiva along with the Goddess Parvati visited these five places after Lord Ganesha conned Ravana and kept the Atmalinga down where it permanently resides till date.
The Gokarna Temple is also mentioned as one of the 276 Paadal Petra Sthalams in India. These are referred to the temples considered as the greatest Shiva Temples by the Saiva Nayanars in the 6th to 9th century CE. They are praised in Thevaram, divine songs sung in praise of Lord Shiva and composed by three Tamil poets named Thirugana Sambanthar, Thirunavakkarasar, and Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. In the present, these songs are sung daily in almost all major Shiva Temples in Tamilnadu.
The region of Gokarna is not only sacred to devotees of Lord Shiva but equally holy for the followers of Lord Dattatreya and the Adinath Sampradaya of the Nath tradition. It is believed that he resided here for 3 years and performed penance here. Lord Dattatreya is believed to be the Avatar or Incarnation of the Trimurti or the Holy Trinity of Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
He is worshiped in different ways. Some consider him as an avatar of Vishnu and his siblings Chandra and Durvasa as Brahma and Shiva respectively. Some consider him as an avatar of Lord Shiva and as an Adi-Guru. Some believe that he is the ultimate God as he represents the three Gods together.
As per the legend, after returning from the Underworld (Sapta Paathala), Lord Shiva collected the essence of all of Brahma’s creations and created a golden deer with three horns and three eyes. It is believed that the three horns were placed at Pushkar, Shaligram, and Gokarna. These three places are collectively called as the Siddhi Kshetras.
It is believed that the Atmalinga which was installed here in the Treta Yuga was initially red in color. It became yellow in the Dwapara Yuga and turned black in the Kaliyuga. It is a belief that the root of the Linga leads to the seven realms of the Paathala Loka (underworld regions inhabited by the Danavas, Daityas, Yakshas and Nagas.
The revered Hindu Saint Sri Adi Shankaracharya established the Shree Ramachandrapura Mutt in Gokarna who look after the administration of the Gokarna Temple. It is believed that performing the death rites of the departed individuals will grant them salvation or moksha on par with those performed at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Gokarna Temple Timings
- Gokarna temple opens at 6 am and closes at 8:30 pm.
- However, the gokarna temple is closed for afternoon break from 2 pm to 5 pm.
- The Mangal Aarti and the Udyana Bali takes place at 6 AM followed by the Sparsha Darshan.
- The Sparsha Darshan end at 12:30 PM and the rituals of Mahanaivedyam and Mahapooja begins. The Temple then closes at 2 PM till 5 PM.
- The Sparsha Darshan starts at 5 PM and continues till 8 PM.
- The Nityotsava starts at 8:30 PM after which the Gokarna Temple is closed.
- The Amrutanna Prasada Bhojana or the Annadanam is provided to the visiting devotees free of cost in the afternoon between 12 PM to 2 PM and then in the evening between 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM.
Gokarna Temple Dress Code
The devotees are requested to dress decently. Bermuda shorts, beach wear, miniskirts and other revealing wear are not allowed inside the gokarna temple premises.
Festivals celebrated at Gokarna Temple
- Mahashivaratri – The most sacred festival dedicated to Lord Shiva is celebrated in the month of February – March at Gokarna Temple. The festival is celebrated with great pomp and fare. The festival signifies the marriage of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati. Some also believe that this is the day when Lord Shiva absorbed the poison that turned him blue during the churning of Amrit episode in mythology. The occasion is celebrated for 9 days, the 6th day being the day of Shivaratri. The devotees are allowed to perform various special Poojas like Mahapooja, Rathotsava, Bhootabali, Tulabhara and other cultural programs like music and dance festival. A Ratha Yatra is carried out on the last day of the festival. The Lord idol of Lord Mahabaleshwar is carried in the Dodda Ratha, ceremoniously decorated in a procession around the town among the chants of prayers and hymns. More than 100 persons are required to pull the Ratha. Continous Annadanam is performed during these days when lakhs of pilgrims visit the Temple to receive Lord Shiva’s blessings.
- Ratha Saptami – The Car or the Ratha festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the bright half of the month of February at Gokarna Temple. It denotes the seventh day of the movement of Sun towards the northern direction of vernical equinox from Capricorn. It is also believed to represent the birth of Sun God Surya. Hence, in some places, it is also celebrated as the Surya Jayanti. The festival symbolizes the beginning of spring and the harvesting season. In Gokarna, a grand Ratha Yatra of the God is carried out around the town and special Prasadams are distributed to the devotees.
- Tripurakhya Deepotsava – The festival is celebrated on the day of the Karthik Poornima at Gokarna Temple. The festive day is celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Karthik (November – December). The Purnima is called Tripuri Purnima because of the legend of Lord Shiva destroying the three demon cities, collectively known as Tripura of the Tripurasura demon. Special Poojas like the Laksha Bilvarchana, Dhatri Homam, Vanabhojana, and Deepotsava are performed on the day.
- Vijayadashami – On the auspicious day, Goddess Bhadrakali is worshiped in the Gokarna Temple. The idol of Sri Mahabaleshwar is taken in a procession to the Bhadrakali Temple and brought back amidst great chantings of religious mantras and bhajans. Special Prasadam is distributed to the devotees visiting the shrine on the day.
- Kadiru Haranotsava – The first harvest of Paddy (Rice) is celebrated as the Kadiru Haranotsava. The festival and its rituals are performed in a nearby village named Bankikodia. The Utsava Moorthy (idol) of the Lord is taken to the field and worshiped. Following his blessings, the crop is harvested every year.
Besides these festivals, the Sharada Pooja, Ganesha Chaturthi, Ugadi, Krishna Janmashtami, Kaamadahana and Shiva-Ganga Vivahotsava are celebrated at the Gokarna Temple premises.
Gokarna Temple Poojas and Rituals
The devotees are allowed to perform the Poojas and Abhishekams by themselves to the holy Atmalinga. Below is the list of Poojas that one can perform at the Gokarna Temple:
- Sankalpa Pooja Mangal Aarti – The Mangal Aarti is performed for the day in the name of the devotee.
- Bilvarchana – The Archana is performed to the Lord with Bilva leaves on behalf of the devotee.
- Ashttotara Bilvarchana – The Archana with Bilva leaves is performed by reciting the 108 names of Lord Shiva on behalf of the devotee.
- Kumbhabhishek and Kshirabhishek Pooja – The Lord is bathed with cow’s milk and worshiped on behalf of the devotee.
- Panchamrutabhishek Pooja – The Lord is bathed with “Panch Amrits” that are milk, curd, ghee, honey and sugar among the recitals of several mantras and shlokas praising the greatness of Lord Shiva.
- Maha Panchamrutabhisheka Pooja including Rudrabhishekam – The Lord is bathed with “Panch Amrit” that are milk, curd, ghee, honey and sugar. The Rudrabhishekam is also performed after the bathing process is over. The Rudrabhishek Pooja wipes out all sins and purifies the atmosphere. It also removes all sorts of planetary related ill-occurrences.
- Navadhanya Abhishek Pooja – The deity is worshiped with Navadhanya meaning nine grains. Usually, these grains are Bengal Gram (Chana dal), Wheat, Horse Gram, Green Gram, Rice, White Beans, Sesame, Chick Peas, and Black Gram.
- Silver Nagabharana Special Pooja – The idol of a silver Nagabharana (image of a snake with five fangs protecting Lord Shiva) is worshiped on behalf of the devotee.
- Golden Nagabharana Special Pooja – The idol of a Golden Nagabharana is worshiped on behalf of the devotee.
All the Poojas mentioned above can be performed on behalf of the devotee once every year. These Sevas are called as the Shashwat Sevas and they can be booked from the Gokarna Temple Counter.
The Annadana Sevas can also be booked by the devotee. As per his or her wishes, on paying the requisite amount, the Annadanam can be provided to 10, 25, 50 and 100 people at once. The full day Annadanam can also be provided by contacting the Gokarna Temple administration.
How to reach Gokarna Temple
- By Air – The Dabolim International Airport in Panaji, Goa is the nearest airport to Gokarna. It lies 150 km from the town. The KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation) operated regular buses from Panaji to Gokarna.
- By Train – The nearest railway station is Gokarna Road, situated 6 km from the town. Regular trains are available connecting major towns of Karnataka. The Karwar express from Bengaluru connects Gokarna to other towns like Mysore, Hassan, Subrahmanya, Mangalore, Udupi, Mookambika, Murdeshwar and Karwar. Similarly, the Matsyagandha express beginning from Mumbai connects Gokarna to Thane, Ratnagiri, Madgaon, Honnavar, Bhatkal and Surathkal.
- By Road – The devotees can arrive in Gokarna by taking any of the KSRTC buses from Panaji, Bengaluru, and Mangalore. Alternatively, one can hire taxis from nearby towns like Murudeshwar, Ankola, and Karwar. Private buses also ply connecting Gokarna to Bengaluru and Mangalore.
Gokarna Temple Accommodation
A large number of Hotels and Lodges provide a comfortable stay at nominal rates. Since the town also boasts of a number of scenic beaches, a few beach resorts have also come up in the vicinity. Advanced booking is preferable as the town is usually packed with devotees during the festive and the holiday season.
Where to eat in Gokarna
The devotees to the Gokarna Temple are served Prasada Bhojana every day free of cost in the afternoon and the evening at 12:30 PM and 7:30 PM respectively.
A large number of small restaurants have come up at the Gokarna Temple and nearby areas. They mainly serve delicious South Indian cuisine, mainly vegetarian. Seafood is also available in certain places.
- Sri Maha Ganapathi Temple – The Temple is located only a few meters away from the Mahabaleshwar Temple. The Temple was built in honor of Lord Ganapathi, who took the form of a normal boy deceived Ravana and established the Atmalinga in Gokarna. The idol of the deity is 5 feet tall with a hole in the top of the head. The hole represents the spot where Ravana struck when he found out that the boy had kept the Linga down.
- Bhadrakali Temple – The Temple is located 4 km by road from the Mahabaleshwar Temple. As per the legend, the Goddess Bhadrakali, an Avatar of Parvati was freed from Ravana by Lord Vishnu’s illusion. Lord Vishnu requested her to stay there and hence the Temple was built for her.
- Bharat Temple – The Temple dedicated to Bharat, brother of Lord Rama is situated on a hillock near the Mahabaleshwar Temple. The Temple is located in the Temple dedicated to Lord Rama. A theertham called as Ramatheertham can also be visited here.
- The Pancha Kshetra pilgrimage – One can visit the Pancha Kshetras of Dhareshwar (40 km), Murudeshwar (55 km), Guneshwar (40 km), and Sajjeshwar (40 km towards Goa) from Gokarna. The group of five temples is considered as extremely holy and is a must for any Shaivite pilgrimage.