Sree Smsthana Mahabaleshwara Dev Temple or, simply, Sree Mahabaleswar temple, is in Gokarna, in Karwar district. It is in the norhtwest of the state, bordering Goa, overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Gokarna is a temple town. It literally means Cow's ear. Lord Shiva is said to have emerged from the ear of a cow, that is, mother earth. The town is located in the ear-shaped confluence of the Gngavalli and Aghanashini. According to legend, the present West Coast was reclaimed from the sea, when the great warrior-sage, Parasurama, threw his axe into the ocean, creating land that stretched from Gokarna down to the southernmost tip of India. The Bhagawat Purana says that this ancient town was the home of two brothers, Gokarna and Dhundhakari.
Gokarna is now famous for its association with the Atma Linga episode of Ravana. According to the sthala purana, Ravana had obtained the Atma Lingam from Shiva for installation in Lanka. He was in the process of carrying the divine Lingam ot Lanka, when Sage Narada spotted him and realized that the king would become invincible, if he were to take it to Lanka. He therefore prayed to Lord Vishnu, who blotted out the sun. Ravana, the devout Shiva Bhakta, instantly stoped her for his evening prayers He was however unable to perform the rintuals with the Lingam in his hands. Besides, the boo came with the condition that if the Lingam was placed on the ground it would get stuck. Lord Ganesh now intervened at Vishnu's request. Vinayaka came down to earth as a small boy and told Ravana that he would hold the Lingam while he (Ravana) offered prayers. Ravana looked at the boy, found him to be pious and innocent, and gave him the Lingam, stipulating that on no account should it be placed on the ground. Ganesh aggreedm but insisted that he would place it on the ground if Ravana did not heed his call thrice. A few moments after Ravana began his prayers, Ganesh called out to him, then placed the Lingam on the ground, while Vishnu removed the illusion of nightfall. Ravana opened his eyes, found the Lingam on the ground, and realized he had been tricked. Furious, he thumped the boy on the head, and tried to extricate the Lingam, but it remained firmly embedded. He tried to remove the Lingam with such force that the cloth covering it fell on Kandukagiri hill, in Murudeshwara (54km), and is worshipped there as Aghora Lingam.
Great Shaivaite saints, like Sri Appar and Sambandar, have visited this distant place and sung its praise. Like in most temples on the West Coast, Sree Mahabaleshwara temple has tiled roofing, with wood being plentifully used in construction. The entrance to the sanctum is wood-panelled and pleasantly-decorated with flower motifs. The sanctum itself is very simple, with the Atma Lingam protruding only a few inches from the ground. It is said to be embedded deep underneath. Devotees are permitted to perform pooja and even touch the Lingam. Shiva is known here as Sri Mahabaleshwara (of great strength), as Ravana had referred to him so. It is a fairly big temple complex, with a long, open corridor round the sanctum. Across the corridor is Sree Tamra Gowri (Parvati) temple, the shrine of the divine consort.
Near the temple, on a corner plot is Sree Maha Ganapati Deva Temple. This shrine was built to honour Ganapati, who as the boy, deceived Ravana. The deity is two-armed, and is said to be thousands of years old. Sri Ganapati's head, flattened by Ravana's blow, also carries the scar, reportedly caused by the asura. The sanctum housed a Lingam encased in brass, on a coiled serpent. In front of the sanctum is an intricately-carved engraving of a giant tortoise.
The natives of the Konkan Coast fled to Gokarna to escape forcible conversion to Christianity during the 16th and 17th centuries, following the Portuguese occupation of Goa. Many temples were destroyed during the Portuguese rule. They were rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries.
How to get there:
Gokarna is 453 km from Bangalore, 240km grom Mangalore and 59km from Karwar. Those from the south should take the Bangalore-Hubli train and alight at Haveri. From there take the bus to Gokarna via Sirsi. Gokarna is on the Mumbai - Mangalore Konkan railway route. The station is six km from town. Daily bused connect Bangalore with Gokarna. Panjim, in Goa, is the nearest airport. Accommodation: Plenty Reservation is advisable during the tourist season: October to February.
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