Gokarna (Kannada: ಗೋಕರ್ಣ) is a small temple town located on the western coast of India in the Uttara Kannada district of the Indian state of Karnataka. Main temple and deity is Lord Shiva, who is also known as Mahabhaleshwara. This temple houses what is believed to be original image of Lord Shiva’s lingam (Atmalinga). There are many other temples all over this small town. Ankola and Kumta on Highway 17 are the main towns near Gokarna.
Gokarna is historically known as one of the seven important Hindu pilgrimage centers and is located on what was once unspoiled beach near the estuary of river Aghanashini with its palm trees, other colorful tropical fruit and flower trees. Of late due to the numbers of tourists the character of this town has changed. This town is no longer just a center of pilgrimage though massive numbers of devotees still visit the town for the purposes of offering prayers and worship to Lord Shiva.
Due to its laid back unspoiled and rustic nature, many younger western tourists started visiting Gokarna about a decade ago. The beaches around Gokarna were hardly used by the locals until these mainly Western tourists started coming to undeveloped beaches around Gokarna. Many enterprising locals started stores restaurants and now fully fledged resorts cater even to the well heeled tourists.
Gokarna means Cow’s Ear. It is believed that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow (Prithvi, the Mother Earth) here. It is also located at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers Gangavali and Aghanashini.
Gokarna is mentioned in the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana as being the home of the two brothers Gokarna and Dhundhakari and the Bhagawat also gives details of the differences in their temperament, nature and exploits.
The sthalapuranam of gokarna then available in Tamil as it was a part of Tamil Kingdoms during sangam times, has the following account. Inorder that Brahma who out arrogance arising out of his power to create the universe, sat penancing to redeem himself from curse of shivan, lord shiva appeared in front of him from the ears of a cow. So the place came to be known as gokarnam or ear of the cow. The sangam period writings refer to a class of chieftains going by names kocar and kilans, in charge of the region between gokarnam and present day Mumbai. Even though the Tamil saints have revered this temple, their composed hymns on the same are not available to us as of today.
The earliest history of the city is not known. Tamil saints like the Nayanmars Appar and Sambanthar from the 6th century CE praised the deity of Tulu Nadu in their hymn canon Tevaram. It is an established fact that Mayurvarma of the Kadamba kings brought Brahmins from Ahicchatra. 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.
Gokarna is a town of contrasts, as it is a temple town and also a holiday destination. Gokarna is full of coconut, banana and other trees, blue seas and relatively clean sands. It is a laid back town with two main streets lined with shops and traditional tile-roofed brick houses. The beaches near Gokarna have shacks (huts) for rent. Kannada is the main language spoken here, however Konkani as well as Indian version of English are spoken here.
Gokarna is also an important centre of Sanskrit learning and houses Bhandikeri Math and Toggu Math. It is a place where Sanskrit knowledge is passed down from generations in Brahmin families. Many Hindus also perform the last rites of a person here.
– Mahabaleshwar Temple (Maha: great, bal: strength) is a famous Shiva Temple and it houses the ‘Atmalinga’. Named so after Ravana referred to the linga’s great strength.
It is situated at the western end of the main street. In the sanctuary is ‘Athmalinga’ in between the Saligrama Peethaa. The idol of Lord Mahabaleshwara is called Nagabharana. It is so named because of the Lord rests under the head of Naga (serpent). The floor of the hall in front has an intricate engraving of a giant tortoise.
– Maha Ganapathi Temple built in honour of the boy Ganapathi, who deceived the demon Ravana by keeping Atmalinga on ground before ravana returns from sandyavandanam. The deity here is two-armed, standing and at least 1500 years old.
– Uma Maheshwara Temple
– Bhadrakali Temple
– Tamra Gauri Temple
– Venkataramana Temple
– Kotitheertha is a man-made tank that is used for immersion of idols and ritual bathing. It is surrounded by temples.
– Shivaratri festival is celebrated here with great enthusiasm. The temple has two chariots – named locally as ‘Dodda Ratha’ (Dodda for Big in Kannada) and ‘Sanna Ratha’ (sanna for small in Kannada). Dodda Ratha is quite huge. While ‘Sanna Ratha’ is out in the open during winter and summer, the ‘Dodda Ratha’ is brought out and made ready only during Maha Shivaratri. On the last day of Maha Shivaratri festival the Lord Mahabaleshwara idol is carried in ‘Dodda Ratha’ in a procession through the town’s big Car Street, while priests and pilgrims chant hymns in praise of Shiva. More than a hundred people are needed to pull the chariots with thick ropes while priests conduct religious ceremonies inside. During the nine-day Maha Shivaratri festival, the small town of Gokarna is visited by up to 20,000 pilgrims.
– Kartika mahotsava
– suggi habba is the main cultural festival of halakki vakkaligas
The drive up the winding path that leads to Gokarna is scenic, with the rocky mountains and Western Ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other.Gokarna is also known for the beaches. The main beaches in Gokarna are the Gokarna beach (also known as Indian Beach), Main Beach, Kuddle Beach, Om Beach, Half moon Beach, Paradise Beach (also known as Full moon)and Nirvana beach (3 km long with fine white sand). The Gokarna beach forms the coast of the town and is followed by Main beach in northern direction while the other four beaches lie to the south of Gokarna. Gokarna Beach is mainly used by Indian pilgrims. Main Beach is a long open beach, also known for surfing. Kuddle and Om are around 6 km from Gokarna town along a muddy hill; they are accessible by rickshaw or foot. Half moon and Paradise are beyond Om beach and are accessible only by foot or boat, Nirvana beach is accessible by boat and road from Kumta town. Om beach is named so because it is shaped like the auspicious ॐ [Om] symbol. Om beach is the only naturally Om shaped beach. Three other beaches – Paradise, Half Moon and Nirvana beach.
Gokarna is about 583 km from Bangalore, 238 km north of Mangalore and about 59 km from Karwar. It is between the Gangavali and Agnashini rivers and situated along the Karwar coast by the Arabian Sea. It is 200 km north from the college towns of Suratkal.
Gokarna can be reached by buses and maxicabs from Kumta (30 km), Ankola (26 km) and Karwar (59 km) on National Highway 17( NH-17 ). Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) also runs long-journey buses from many cities like Panaji, Bangalore and Mangalore. Private buses (Vijayanand Roadlines – VRL, Sugama, Sea Bird, etc.) operate night journeys from the capital city of Bangalore to Gokarna daily. It can be reached by train Konkan Railway on the Mumbai to Mangalore route. The railway station ( called Gokarna Road ) is 6 km away from the town. The station also has a retiring room at a nominal price. Many important trains like Matsyagandha Express have a halt here. The nearest airports are Dabolim at Goa and Mangalore International Airport at Bajpe.
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