The Temples of Gokarna- Kashi of the South!
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
The American psychologist Maslow’s widely accepted hierarchy of needs, places self-actualisation or Man’s need for transcendence right at the acme. The need to satiate our spiritual hunger stands high above our basic physiological needs of food, rest and safety and the next level of psychological needs like love, esteem and recognition. When we conquer the base we begin the ascent to higher grounds. And finally, we shift our gaze to the pinnacle that can bring us the ultimate sense of fulfillment. On this spiritual sojourn, the majority of us take the path of religion and tradition that our forefathers have traversed before us. India especially has a rich religious and mythological heritage that is captured in its legends and more magnificently in its celebrated temple architecture. When we visit these centuries-old temples of India we are engulfed by a sense of awe and peace.
If you are a seeker of such spiritual rejuvenation, then you must head to Gokarna and soak up the mystical airs within its ancient temple walls. Rightfully called Dhakshin Kashi (Kashi of the South), this temple town is a land of legends. It finds mention in the epics Mahabharatha and Ramayana and in the 4th Century literary work Raghuvamsa By Kalidasa. Though the face of Gokarna has undergone a sea change from the 4th to the 21st century, its spirit remains intact. Perhaps the counsel to worship in this ‘reverenced’ place still holds good for the many who perform their ablutions faithfully hoping to experience the complete cleansing that the Mahabharatha talks about. There are many temples in and around Gokarna that you may visit if you are keen, but here are 5 that should definitely make it to your itinerary!
Proceeding next to Gokarna celebrated over the three worlds, and which is situated, O best of kings, in the midst of the deep, and is reverenced by all the worlds, and where the gods headed by Brahma, and Rishis endued with wealth of asceticism, and spirits and Yakshas and Pisachas…worship the lord of Uma, one should worship Isana, fasting there for three nights. By this, one acquireth the merit of the horsesacrifice, and the status of Ganapatya. By staying there for twelve nights, one’s soul is cleansed of all sins. – Mahabharatha
1. Mahabaleshwar Temple.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that this 4th century Temple is the landmark that is central to the name and fame of this temple town. The temple's first 1 Proceeding next to Gokarna celebrated over the three worlds, and which is situated, O best of kings, in the midst of the deep, and is reverenced by all the worlds, and where the gods headed by Brahma, and Rishis endued with wealth of asceticism, and spirits and Yakshas and Pisachas…worship the lord of Uma, one should worship Isana, fasting there for three nights. By this, one acquireth the merit of the horse sacrifice, and the status of Ganapatya.
By staying there for twelve nights, one’s soul is cleansed of all sins. - Mahabharatha construction was by the king Mayursharma of the Kadamba Dynasty (reign 345 CE – 365 CE).The temple boasts of holding the Soul of Lord Shiva or the Atmalingam that makes it supremely special for Shiva devotees across the globe. It is built in the Dravidian style and has the Atmalinga enshrined in a square ‘Saligrama Peetha’. The deity is a carved image of Lord Shiva that is known to be at least 1,500 years old. The temple is also one of the seven sacred Muktikshetras in South India where many Hindus prefer to perform the last rites of their departed loved ones. Shivarathri is celebrated with great gusto here and you can catch the excitement if you time your visit to coincide with the festival. But for those that cannot, do not worry, all around the year, the temple halls resound with the rhythmic prayers and chants of the priests that have a calming effect on a stressed worshipper.
2. Maha Ganapathi Temple.
Built to celebrate Lord Ganesha, the little Brahmin Boy who managed to thwart Ravana’s plan of taking the Atmalingam to Lanka, this Maha Ganapathi Temple is located just a few kilometers east of the Mahabaleshwar temple.
Honouring Lord Ganesha is a requisite first step before a devotee visits the Atmalingam at Mahabaleshwar Temple. The Ganesha idol in the temple is 1.3 meters high and made of black stone. The sculptural feast offered by this temple is another compelling reason to include it in your temple circuit of Gokarna.
3. Murudeshwara Temple
This temple is not in Gokarna but an hour and a half’s drive south away at Murudeshwar. But the 123 feet silvery statue of Lord Shiva sitting majestically against the blue backdrop of the sea and sky is an unforgettable sight that is well worth the extra travel time and effort!
The temple is located atop the Kadunka Giri Hill surrounded on three sides by the azure waters of the Arabian sea. Its 20 storeyed Rajagopuram at a height of 249 feet could be the largest in the world and provides a view of the sea and statue that wallops you with wonder. The entire complex is a visual narration of the legend behind the temple, replete with sculptures of scenes and myths from the Mahabharata.
4. Koti Theertha
In the mid 17th Century, before the English’s conquest of India, John Fryer an English traveller visited Gokarna and wrote in detail about it.
When talking about the Koti Theertha, a man-made temple pond, he wrote “all of both sexes wash and present rice and money to the Brachmins”. Even after more than 350 years, the Koti theertha remains the same - a place for ritual cleansing of devotees and immersion of Idols. Lined by unfussy rows of coconut trees and tile-roofed traditional temple buildings the Koti theertha fascinates you with this time-stopping trait.
5. Shree Venkataramana Temple
The Shree Venkataramana temple located in the eastern end of the town has beautifully-structured pillars along it’s entrance and an idol of Venkataramana facing west.
The temple venerates Lord Venkataramana, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu and surprisingly co-exists with the Shiva temples in this Saivite stronghold. It’s narrative intertwines beautifully with the legend of the Atmalinga, the central vein of Gokarna’s history. It is said that Lord Vishnu laid the master plan for retrieving the Atmalingam from Ravana and installing it in Gokarna with the help of Lord Ganesha. So a spiritual tour to Gokarna would be incomplete without seeking the blessings of this God of Protection and Preservation!