Gokarna is one of the most important Hindu pilgrim centres of Southern India. Mythological legends suggest that Rudra (Shiva) arrived here shortly after the creation of earth, squeezing through the ear of the earth and named it as ‘Gokarna’ or the ‘ear of the cow’. Gokarna is also an important beach resort and has several secluded beaches nearby.
One of the most sacred sites Gokarna (literally meaning Cow's Ear) is formed by the ear shaped confluence of the two rivers. With its narrow streets, traditional wooden houses and temples, Gokarna is the favorite haunt of pilgrims, Sanskrit scholars and beach buffs. The famous Mahabaleshwar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva situated at the banks of the Arabian Sea is the most sacred place of pilgrimage second only to the Vishwanatha Temple Varanasi.
The other temples worth a visit at Gokarna include the temples of Ganapati, Bhadrakali, Gokarnanayaki and the Bharateshwar Temple where Rama and Bharata are said to have performed penance.
Other than the favorite Gokarna Beach, there are four more acclaimed beaches of Om, Kudle, Paradise and Half Moon. Kudle snuggled amidst hillocks and paddy fields is a 20 minutes' walk to the south from Gokarna Village. At the southern end of Kudle a track of about a 25 minutes' walk brings you to Om Beach, named so for its Om shaped spurs. There is also a road connecting it to Gokarna. Walk down south for another 30 minutes to reach the Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach. Boats from Gokarna take you across to these beaches. Gokarna is 193km from Udupi, 60km from Karwar, and Goa is 135km.
One of the most sacred destinations, the ancient shore side temple town attracts pilgrims, Sanskrit scholars and beach lovers. Gokarna is more famous for its Mahabaleshwara Temple with its atmalinga a revered lingam.
The magnificent shrine is considered next in sanctity to Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi. It is perched beautifully on a hillock near the beach and is famous for the Atmalinga. A mythological legend suggests, that the demon king Ravana appeased Lord Shiva through penance and obtained a Shivalinga with special powers from the Lord. Ganapathi and other gods were worried by the growing power of Ravana and dedicated to take away the Shivalinga from him. Ravana was on his way to Lanka and Gnapathi tricked him into putting the linga down on the ground at Gokarna for performing puja. Ravana was unable to lift the linga up again and hence the linga is known as ‘Mahabal’, around which the mahabaleshwar temple is built. Ravana was infuriate d and tried to pull thelinga out of the earth, but it broke into pieces and scattered in the nearby areas. These pieces are believed to be venerated at the temples of Dhareshwar, Gunavanthe and Murudeshwar.
The 1.8m tall lingam is enshrined in a pieta and only the tip of it can be viewed through a small opening. Public can view the atmalinga only during the festival of Astabandha, held once in every 12 years. The tradition has it that pilgrims must bathe in the sea and pay obeisance to a sand lingam before performing puja at the Mahabaleshwara Temple.
Near Mahabaleshwara Temple are two enormous chariots that are dragged along the main street in a grand procession during the festival of Shivaratri in February/March. Thousands of pilgrims throng the place and join the procession starting from the Mahaganpati Temple to the temple of Mahabaleshwar. At eastern end of the main car street are the Vekataraman Temple and the nearby Koti teertha, a large temple tank where pilgrims perform their ablutions. Gokarna is 60km south of Karwar.
The lovely beach lies on the southern outskirts of Gokarna.
It resembles the auspicious Hindu symbol of ‘Om’ and is located further south of Kudle beach. The secluded beach is worth visiting for its beauty.
The pilgrim centre is famous for the hilltop temple of Lord Shiva. View of the sea from the hill is breath taking. A charming and clean beach is located nearby.
The twin peaks of Bhairaveshwara Shikara and Mohini Shikara, surrounded by thick forests are venerated by the locals. A small shrine of Lord Shiva has a Shivalinga which is continuously bathed by a perennial stream. Beyond Kumta is Mirjan and a turn from here takes you to the trekking pradise of Yana, 50km away. It is a famous pilgrim centre and better known for its 61jagged rock formations and gurgling streams.
The gigantic peaks of Bhairaveshwara (120km) and Mohini (90m) with solid composition of black crystalline limestones are associated with Hindu mythology. Legend has it that pleased with the penance of demon Bhasmasura, the Lord Shiva granted him the power of reducing anyone to ashes by simpley touching one's head withhis hand. Armed with such a boon, the demon thought of using this against the Lord. It is said that the Shiva took refuge in the caves of yana to escape Bhasmasura. The Lord Vishnu in order to save Shiva assumed the form of Mohini (Enchantress) and challenged the demon to a competition of dance during which she made Bhasmasura to touch his own head and reduce himself to ashes. Many still believe that the white ash like substance scattered all around Yana are the remains of Bhasmasura.
At the foot of the two peaks is a Cave Temple with a 2m high lingam called Bhairaveshwara. Water continues to drip from the projecting rock over the lingam which the devotees call as Gongodhbhava. The adjacent cave has a bronze icon of Chandika, an incarnation of Goddess Durga. Closely-knit combs of wild bees in the caves are believed to be the guardian of this holy place.
The annual jatra every year during the festival of Shivratri in February for a period of 10days is a big draw. The devotees carry the holy water from Yana to Gokarna where it is used to perform Mahamastbhishekha (holy anointing ceremony) of the idol of Mahabaleshwar. In addition, worth is a visit to the Banvasi (63km) for the cultural festival of Kadambotsava in the month of December.
This excellent beach resort and port town at the mouth of Kali River is the district headquarters of Uttara Kannada. The town is also an angler’s paradise and is dotted with many picnic spots. The main attractions are Sadashivgad Hill Fort, known for the dargah (tomb) of Peer Shah Shamsuddin Kharobat and the Naganath temple; Baithkola Beach; karwar Harbour; Muslin Factory and Dev Bagh Beach Resort.
The NH 17 continues from Murudeshwar in the north to Honnavar and to Kumta, a small coastal town, 50km south of Gokarna. It is famous for the traditional sandalwood handicrafts made by the Gudigars. 2km to its west is the virgin Kumta Beach. One can see crab hunters probing into cracks and crevices. The temples of Shanteri Kamakshi and Mahalsa in Kumta are worth a visit.