Gokarna is a Hindu pilgrim center of South India. It is one of the most worshiped and celebrated pilgrimage in the coast of Karnataka. The Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna is one of the famous places of Gokarna visited by a large number of devotees every year.
The Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna of Karnataka is regarded as one of the seven Muktisthala temples of Karnataka. This temple is resided by a huge Shivlinga which is called the Atmalinga. According to the Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha brought this linga here and it got rooted when he kept it on the ground. This linga was supposed to be given to Ravana by Lord Shiva which would make him very powerful. The other Gods were horrified thinking the result of it. Thus they begged before Lord Ganesha to help them. Then Ganesha took away the linga from the reach of Ravana and then fixed it on the ground so that nobody can pull it out.
One can have a glimpse of this 6 feet tall linga of the Mahabaleshwar Temple of Gokarna during the occasion Ashtabandhana Kumbhabhishekam that too once in 40 years. As the Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna holds the legacy and heroic deed of Lord Ganesha so there is a Ganesha temple located nearby the main shrine. Other than these two Gods, the Mahabaleshwar Temple in Gokarna is also a shrine for Gods like Chandikeswara, Aadi Gokarneswara, Gokarnanayagi and Dattatreya.
The devotees always bath in the sea before entering into the temple, as according to the Hindu mythology it is said that one should purify his body and mind before making any prayer to God. There is also a shivlinga made of sand which the devotees worship.
The Mahashivratri is the most significant occasion of the Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna.
Left: Dravidian style Gopura of Mahabaleshwar temple at Gokarna. Right: Pradakshinapath (circumambulatory path) of Mahabaleshwar temple at Gokarna.
The temple built in Dravidian architectural style, with granite stones, has the Atmalinga enshrined in it on a "square Saligrama Peetha" (pedestal). It 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 also deified here in a standing position and has two arms, and is said to be 1500 years old
Shivaratri festival, observance of the birthday of Lord Shiva, is celebrated in the temple town in February, when a very large number of pilgrims visit the shrine. During this festival, Rathyatra (Rath is a large wooden chariot) is also held when images of Shiva and other deities are installed in the chariot and it is then ceremonially pulled through the town by devotees, accompanied by the drum bands. The Rathayatra starts from the Shri Maha Ganapati Temple at the terminus of the main market street, also known as the 'Car Street'.
Apart from the Mahabaleshwar Temple there are several other attractions of religious significance in Gokarna that are linked to the local legend of the temple. These are
Sri Maha Ganapathi temple
According to the legend Sri Maha Ganapathi Temple was built in honour of the boy Ganapathi, who deceived the demon Ravana and saved the Atmalinga that is now installed in the Mahabaleshwar Temple. The temple has a granite image of Ganesha deified in it which is 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and two-handed; at the top of its head there is hole that is stated to be a mark of a violent blow conjectured to have been inflicted by Ravana. The temple has its own identity and is also known as Sidda Ganapati
According to legends, the Atmalinga that vanished in the form of gov or cow made a lasting cave in the nearby hill called as "Gogarbha" meaning 'the woumb of cow'. The cave is still visited by sadhus and used as a resting place. The folklore said sadhus went into 'Gogarbha' and reached 'Kashi', the holy city of hinduism and final pilgrim place to visit.
The Temple of Bharat
Although one of a kind temple still exists on the hillock near the mahabaleshwar temple, its deity has been stolen by miscreants. Its uniqueness is that it is situated well above the temple of Rama with a ramateertha
Kotitheertha is a man-made pond, which is used for immersion of idols and ritual bathing. It is surrounded by temples and has a small platform in the centre. Devotees usually take bath in the pond before they visit the Mahabaleshwar Temple for worship. The pond was cleaned recently.