Friday, June 26, 2009

Gokarna, abode of Atmalinga

Gokarna is one of the seven Muktistals ( soul freeing place as per Hindu tradition ) in India. Hindus believe that one has to perform the last rites ceremony in Gokarna and their dear one’s will attain Moksha ( salvation ). The logic behind is the confluence of river, sea and land amidst the hillock serves as a idyllic setting for deliverance of spirit. I remember distinctly that we had performed the ceremony at Gokarna on the 15th day of my fathers demise in Oct 1996. By bathing in the morning chilly sea waters. First time in my life on empty stomach till lunch time, I being the eldest went through all the ceremonies. The priest chanted the mantra and took us around the temple of Mahalingeswara and Kotiteerta to spill the ashes. Next he chanted the garuda purana in an epic manner amidsts the homa. The fumes filled my burning guts and thus killing the pangs of hunger. After the ceremony was over we had one of the heartiest lunch served at the bhatji’s residence. I am sure my dad in heaven would have been pleased to the core that his family undertook all the pains to ensure he attains salvation.

Talagunda incriptions provides some clue that the Gokarna temple was most probably expanded from a small and unknown place into Mahabaleswara temple. The kadamba dynasty founder Mayursharma ( 345-365 AD ) proceeded to Kanchipuram to gain knowledge of the vedic rites and Ashwameda yagna. Mayursharma was insulted by a guard. Insulted Mayursharma swore vengeance and promised to defeat the Pallavas, which he did ultimately at Srisailam, with a small group of supporters in a guerilla warfare in the forest infested terrain. The Pallavas accepted his domination of the Malaprabha region. Mayursharma seemed to have invited priests from banks of Godavari, from Triambakeswar to perform the yagna at Gokarna to establish his suzerainty over the region. He ordered the construction of a temple in honour lord Shiva after getting to know the myth of Gokarna.

Gokarna Mythology :

Ravana wanted to appease Lord Shiva with his prayers after obtaining atma linga and therefore requested Lord Ganesh to safeguard the Atma Linga. Atma Linga, had immense power over the universe and Ravana became invincible due to its possession. It had its checks and balance system, Ravana is supposed to have received the atmalinga with a condition that it should not be kept down on the ground by anybody, and it should be installed in the place where he resides. Ravana wanted to carry the atma linga to Lanka, but fate had it otherwise. Enroute he encountered a boy Ganesh who was sent to trick Ravana. An eclipse was created by the Lord, Ravana as usual wanted to perform Sandhyakala pooja with reciting Gayathri Mantra. He handed over the atmalinga to Ganesh, who promised to hold on to the Linga, but if he felt fatigue he would beckon Ravana thrice and if he did not turn up he would place the Atma Linga down. Ganesh after holding the Linga for sometime, called out thrice to Ravana, but before he could respond he placed the Linga down smartly. Thus the power of Atma Linga was retained at Gokarna. Ravana in disgust hit Ganesh and tried to uproot the linga but was unable to do so. But however he managed to splinter the atma linga and its pieces were thrown in different directions. One portion fell in karwar known as Sajjesvaralinga, next portion is revered as Gunveswar linga, another cloth covering fell in Murdeswar, other portion feel in Dhareswar, near Kumta, and the remaining embedded portion at Gokarna was known as Mahabaleswar Linga. All these formed the Pancha Linga and now it is Pancha Kshetra associated with Atma Linga.

Another legendary story reveals that Lord Shiva emerged from Cow’s ear. That is how Gokarna got it s fabled name born out of Cow’s ears. ( Go Karna ).

The legend of Godavari too has similar lineage. Sage Gautama who lived on Bramhagiri hills along with his wife, found one day a cow entered into his granary and was polishing off all his stored rice. In rage he went chasing the cow, which fell dead out of shock. This was considered a major blasphemy of Gohatya, ( killing of a cow ), and the sage wanted to redeem his sin. He prayed to Lord shiva to cleanse his sin and his hermitage by bringing ganges river. Lord pleased with the sincerity of the sage blessed and appeared before him as rishi Triambaka. He appeared with the river and it was named as Godavari in appeasement of Sage Gautama penance. Go lineage is associated with both places.


The mention of the myth of Gokarna is found in Kalidasa’ epic poem Raghuvamsha which is a treatise on Ramayan rulers. Kalidasa lineage ( 370-450 AD) matches with the timeline in history under the Chandragupta Vikramaditya reign.

Dasaratha saw many beasts as he was hunting.
Although, he saw a peacock fly very close to his chariot, he did not shoot his arrow.
For, as the peacock spread its tail feathers before him, it reminded him of his wife's
hair adorned with flowers of different kinds and how it would become
disarranged during their lovemaking.

Translation Raghuvanmsha souce wiki

Kavi kalidasa bestows lavish praise of Gokarna while describing the lineage of the Kings. He describes the blashemy of Lord Shiva’s prasadam falling from the hands of the emperor Aja, which might bring forth bad luck to his progeny. On hindsight the story of Lord Rama’s tryst with destiny.

Harsha Vardhan ( 590 – 647 ) who himself was a budhhist was tolerant towards hinduism and Jainism. He had a truce with Chalukyas and visited the holy place of Gokarna as per reliable reports to pen his novel Nagananda. This is fine blend of Buddhist and Hindu theme which displays his religious blend with politics. The land of mysticism in Siddha is cleverly plotted as backgroud with fairy tale romance and conspiracy. The fourth act of the play gives a clue to the serpant worship culture practised in parts of North Kanara. It is weaved into the play and ultimate triumph bodhhisattva, by goddess Gauri which brings back to life the hero of the play.

Source :

The major portion of the temple were built during the Vijaynagar period from Bukkaraja to Krishnadevaraya ( 1509 – 1529 ) and under the feudatory queen Chennamma Bhairavidevi ( 1552 – 1604 ) of Salva dynasty. The assoication of Vijaynagar emperors is obvious due to the fact the symbol of Ugranarshima which is family goddess of the vijaynagar emperors is embedded in the pillars of Mahabaleswar temple. Further the trading connection of the Vijaynagar emperors through the coastal belt is well known in the annals of history.

Visvesvaraya of Halasunadu-Kundapura built the Chandrasala and Nandi pavilions when Queen Chennammaji and her son Somasekharanayaka were ruling Keladi (1653-1671). In 1665, Shivaji came here to worship the deity. He donated some wealth and land for the maintainence and upkeep of the temple.

The well-known British traveller, Fryer, who visited Gokarna in 1676, wrote: “This place is of such repute for its sanctity and meritoriousness that, for a pilgrimage hither, all sorts from the remotest parts of India come in shoals.” The golden beaches that adorn this place are an added attraction for pilgrims. There is also a strong belief that unflinching faith and sincere devotion to Lord Shiva at Gokarna elevates the moral plane of the worshipper.
Source : Outlook Traveller.

The evidence of Gokarna temple being rebuilt due to the structure collapse is evident if one has a look at the temple façade. Majority of the hindu temples during the vijaynagar era had figurines or god and goddesses on the temple façade. This is missing. In all probability when the Portuguese destroyed some temples in around Gokarna in 1714 before retracing their steps towards Goa. Sadishavghad seemed to have become the boundary, which was well fortified and guarded by the British.

The wiki source provides a comprehensive evidence of the Portuguese invasion of Gokarna

A sect of Brahmins fled from the Gomantak to escape forcible conversions by the Portuguese and British and settled in and around Gokarna in the 15th century. It was part of the Sodhe and Vijayanagar kingdoms. Later, when the Konkan region - including Goa - was occupied by the Portuguese, it became part of their rule. A few temples were destroyed by the Portuguese in 1714 and then rebuilt later in the 18th century and also under the supervision of Guru H. H. Shrimat Anandashram Swamiji in 1928.

Currently Gokarna temple is handed over to a Ramachandrapura Mutt trust, Hosanagar. We are beginning to see some development in terms of pavement and other infrastructure. The legacy of the temple needs to be preserved to project the bygone era. The trust plans to have a huge stable for breeding cows.

World of Beaches of Gokarna : These are few of the exclusive beach terrains in India . Foreigners prefer these beach shacks which provide them serenity far away from the maddening crowd and beaches of Goa. Gokarna beach expands upto Dhareswar, Honey Beach is visible from the hillock by the side of the Ganapathi temple. One can get to Gokarna beach from the back exit of the Mahabaleswar temple. The best beach is the OM beach which can be approached by road on own vehicle or by autos. Otherwise adventure seekers have to cross over a hillock approx two kms to reach Kudle beach and 1 km beach stretch one can cross over another hillock to reach Om beach. Beyond Om beach there are other beaches in the form of half moon beach and paradise beach. Om beach is famous due to it shape. It is shaped in the form of OM religious mantra uttered by the Hindus.

We decided to experience the trek as youngsters would. The signs of inclement weather was ominous. We had to trek nearly 6 kms to reach the OM beach. A prepared mind is better than unprepared. I spotted a plastic haversack, which are used in the fields by farmers to protect themselves against monsoon while sowing. Even though we had one umbrella, we decided to buy one more protection as standby, and to our intuition it was a wise decision. On the hillock while we traveling it was just drizzling and the noon time was almost looking dark. We followed some school children and walked amidst the rocky laterite ridden surface. With rubber slippers it was more risky or sorts with us twisting our ankles now and then. We are determined to reach the beach. The climb was steep & tiring but with photo clicks I did not feel the pain of a long trudge to the Kudle Beach. The downhill walk after 1 and half km was refreshing. We found some shacks and guest houses in between which serves as guest houses for visitors. I was tempted to the core to stay put in one of those guest houses. But we had already taken up lodging near Gokarna Bus stand. We did not feel the humid weather at all and we reached Kudle beach at 5.15 pm, and the dark clouds were gathering quickly. The beach was inviting but it was muddy and the waves were ferocious. The rocks on the sea was fully drenched and slippery. There was absolutely no souls, on the beach, other than father and daughter playing on the waves for sometime. We found boys too had wound up playing cricket on beach fearing heavy rainfall. I found a dog and clicked a photo, it got scared with a flash and moved away. After sometime it realized we were only friendly tourist. It came and sat besides us. It was signal that we part with some eatables, which we never carried. Luckily my wife had some chocolates in her purse. We took a chance and gave it to the dog, and he lapped it up gleefully.

Oh enroute on the edge of the beach there was a small restaurant, which we decided to skip since rain clouds were getting thick. Suddenly I spotted a fisherman had come to the shack to sell his catch. He held out two live fishes. One live fish deal he brokered with the shack owner for 70 bucks and the other fish he pocketed into his gloved bag. I just took a video of the flipping fish out of water. The buyer was happy with the fresh catch, which he could cook for his families night dinner. In coastal areas a lunch or dinner is never considered complete without a fish curry or fry. We began our trudge back after aborting the plan to cross over to Om beach. Enroute we we were trapped with hurricane type of rainfall, the first signs of monsoon beginning. My wife safely put on the plastic haversack and myself struggled with the umbrella against lashing rain. We quickly spotted a guest house and took shelter in the verandah for 15 minutes. It was a great relief, and we saw the heavy rainfall tapered down to a drizzle and we decided to take a chance to get back to our lodging, since it was getting dark, with no lights enroute we would found it difficult. However this route is filled with residents walking to and fro, we safely reached our den enjoying the nature’s fury.


Uday Hegde said...

Hey bro..

edit your blog address in

Link to your blog will not work.

Uday Hegde

P.N. Subramanian said...

Enjoyed reading this post about Gokarna. Many thanks for citing historical connections.