In Gokarna… way to the the legendary Mahabaleshwar Temple, one of the few dedicated to the worship of demon king Ravana of Lanka (‘Ramayana’ fame); it’s a 4th century AD temple built in Dravadian style; a stone tableux in the temple courtyard showing exquisite carving
PANKAJBALA R PATEL on an impromptu visit to the temple town of Gokarna, temple town down south across the border of Goa and on to Karwar, and Gokarna…it’s a relaxing and very do-able trip full of adventures spiritual and not-so-spiritual.
INDIA or Bharatdesh is full of temples big and small, beautiful and ugly, boring with mundaneness or swirling with energies of an extra-special kind. I can assure you that the Mahabaleshwar Temple in the temple village-turning-into-a-town Gokarna, in north Karnataka, has a cool, welcoming feel…don’t ask me why but I have always felt welcomed in this temple! Where these days if you’re a man, someone screening all visitors here, will make you remove kurta or shirt and insist you buy one of these religiously turmeric yellow colored but edged with fine scarlet embroidered borders dhoti… “Sir, if you want go inside temple, you must remove shirt and wear this lungi….or you cannot go in!”
What to do, an atheist friend with me first resisted and then obliged and bought the pretty wisp of a dhoti for Rs100 to wrap around him, and slinging his kurta over one shoulder proceeded to walk down the path leading into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple; mercifully, since it was mid-afternoon there were no crowds and even the priest in attendance here detailed interesting tidbits, taking time off to give each temple visitor some extra attention, “You come closer and put your hand in here…(a narrow drop of water on the revered granite stone atmalinga for blessing)…” I did and instantly felt blessed of course (no, not my vivid imagination). But then again I can be terribly biased sometimes and go purely by emotional and sensory feelings!
This is a jhatphat account whatever it is worth about how one fine Sunday morning I found myself trussed up in a car between two visiting sisters (blood sisters) driving to Gokarna, to catch up anew with Mahabaleshwar Temple, as also Gokarna, Kudli, Om, Half Moon and Paradise beaches…beaches with a heavenly ring to them really, and one may see any number of insouciant cows everywhere, but perhaps that’s why Gokarna is called Gokarna, there is a story attached to the name. Or several religious folklore stories.
Those steeped in Hindu rites and rituals or just believers with a little or a lot of faith in things beyond understanding turn up here seeking blessings of all manner I would say. Mahabaleshwar Temple is one of the my very few favorite temples this side of the country and easy to visit being barely a 170 km drive from Goa.
Well, my sister Mala from the US of A was visiting me and so was my sister from Mumbai Shobha and they said can we go do Gokarna? I was happy to oblige for my sake too! Once upon a time I’d make it out to Gokarna every birthday but after getting hitched in marriage it became kind of difficult to run away to freedom and adventure too often…still, when family or friends turn up and say let’s go Gokarna, I’m always ready to go say hello to Lord Mahabaleshwar and renew familiarity with this ancient pilgrim temple town (often described as the Kashi of the South but this epithet applies to many other temples too).
(Sigh) My first suggestion was we leave early morning 5am or soon afterwards, may be 6am…visit the temple and return by nightfall. It was nothing doing of course and on second and third suggestions by the time we got going it was 10 am or so in Panaji, reached Gokarna by lunchtime and then we couldn’t find the resort we had tried to book into for a night but failed to do so…I wanted to go to the Jungle Lodge’s Om Beach Resort but in Gokarna now there’s an entire hillside taken over by resorts, the higher you drive up the more expensive the resort!
Tired, hungry and tempers running short we missed the right signboards and finally ended up down a fairly steep threshold to Stone Wood Nature Resort, truly a remarkable resort offering brand new very decent cottage accommodation but grand stairways going up and down…an inviting swimming pool, restaurant, winding paved pathways, lots of trees, colorful bougainvillea overflowing, birdcall at dawn and dusk and even noon. Since we had not booked in advance the suddenly turn up going price was Rs7,500 per cottage per night at the Reception. Never mind, I fumed that we should have spent a little more time looking for Om Beach Resort by Jungle Lodges or the Shankar Prasad Foundation ashram which my Delhi friend Pooja Gupta had earnestly told me to visit if only to meet Swami Yogaratna, “You may also stay there if you wish…it is a place which will interest you.”
WHERE TO STAY!
WE couldn’t even find the Namaste Samudra something guesthouse on Om beach which sounded interesting, but eventually, after discovering that the SwaSwara Wellness Retreat was the best but most expensive….we settled for the come lately Stone Wood Nature Resort. It is actually an interesting resort which opened only last year, according to Amit Nandi (Operation Manager), a smiling Bengali full of information. Their forte, he said, was offering adventure thrills and it is for this they get 50 to 100 visitors daily…for zipline, archery, rifle shooting, rock climbing, something called Burma bridge, swing bridge, EBI Zibi, loop line, tires trivial, jumaring, , repelling, slack line, nature walk, etcetera.
Hey, it’s the zipping which was very popular and even if I am on the heavyweight side, I could go zipping for Rs300 or so, for a while I considered the thrills and chills adventure but abandoned it courtesy much discouragement from you know who all! A little funny, non-adventurers of the senior category also turn up through default but my trip was mainly to visit the Mahabaleshwar temple, rest and relax a bit, enjoy the food, and depart the next day…well, that too is okay. Go float in the azure blue waters of the swimming pool if you don’t care to go zipping.
Stone Wood Nature Resort is possibly the only place where you may find such an extensive adventure zone, the claim is that they’re offering Gokarna’s first zipline. Sorry, we were not so interested in all that adventuring but visited Mahabaleshwar temple the same evening of arrival to pay our homage to mahadeo; later in the temple courtyard bought some sweet boondi ladoo (Rs15 each, very desirably delicious)…I wanted to do a thanksgiving puja but the others vetoed it, there was no time to go moon mooning around. Usually I like to do that in temple towns which interest me and Gokarna has always interested me from the point of finding out more. In my last life I must have been a sacred cow wandering around Gokarna, suggested one of my sisters tongue-in-cheek.
An adventurous good thing we did next day early morning was hire one of the autoriksha which zip up and down this hill of tucked away resorts, to go out to a point where a winding and breathtaking stony staircase led us down to lovely Om beach, a most lovely reclusive beach; in another younger or lonely vintage age I might have pitched a tent and stayed overnight here just to wake up to the symphonies of the sea – now there’s a Namaste resort here at one end with a tempting café offering amongst other creature comforts, tattoo art services too…much else I dare say, whatever you’re looking for.
The autorikshawallah Mahesh was also not one to take us careering off track here and there, the rewarding small outing cost us Rs300 and was worth it. We returned to Stone Wood Nature Resort for the reluctant return trip to Goa and home, my usual feelings of I-never-want-to-go-home assailing me anew for a while; we could have spent at least two nights in Gokarna I harped…this is the last time I’m going out to Gokarna with company! Is there somebody who said he or she who travels alone, travels fastest or furthest or alone or some such thing, must look it up anew. And Gokarna, of course.
BUT next time around I’m booking at the heritage property of Om Beach Resort (a signature resort of Jungle Lodges), Karnataka Tourism has taken it over but I learnt this is the place to be for some extended rest and recreation, also adventure of the wellness kind (meaning Ayurveda treatments like a massage after one’s finished with loafing around the set of five famous beaches one after another… Gokarna, Kudle, Om, Half Moon, Paradise. Beguiling names, no? Of course you may skip today’s short cuts and walk the old cliff side trail if you wish, but sadly really the Gokarna hillsides are being taken over by chota-mota resorts most rudely, a shame. Soon there’ll be no hills left, only crumbling resorts!
The story of Gokarna…
It’s a fascinating story! How the Mahabaleshwar Temple is also dedicated to Lord Ravana. Now this is a 4th century temple built in classical Dravidian architectural style. It faces the beach and here in the Arabian sea waters pilgrims first dip themselves before proceeding into the temple. The temple is on par in holiness as the Shiva temple at Kashi on the Ganga river and so Gokarna is known as Dakshin Kasi or “Kasi of the south.”
This temple is also referred to as an atmalinga or Shiva linga temple in legend. It’s said the temple’s deity bestows immense blessing to devotees even if they come have a look at the atmalinga from far…Sri Ramachandrapura Mutt administers the temple in keeping with the guidance of the Adiguru Shankaryachari during the establishment of the matha.
Legends vary or get muddled up in hearsay or repeated accounts but the one I’ve got is to do with how once upon a time the demon king of Lanka, Lord Ravana (of Ramayana fame) was in the area with the atmalinga gifted to him by Lord Shiva of Mt Kailash – after he had performed some formidable penance worshipping at Lord Shiva’s home place…including something dramatic like chopping off his head and turning his skin threads with intestines into a creative harp to sing melodious songs in praise of Lord Shiva!
An amused, generous Lord Shiva gifted him with his own atmalinga at Lord Kailash. So Ravana then proceeded to return home to give his mother the atmalinga (to replace the one she earlier had, which Lord Indra had spitefully stolen and thrown into the sea, and an aggrieved mother went on a hunger strike!). To cut a charming story short as Lord Ravana neared Gokarna, Lord Vishnu, the Creator of the Hindu holy trinity, blocked the sun to give the impression that it was dusk and time for Ravana to perform his evening puja as a Shivbhakt. Lord Ganesh was nearby pretending to be a Brahmin boy minding his cows, Ravan asked to hold on to the atmalinga while he finished his puja and under no circumstance was Ganesh to put the atmalinga on the ground. Ha, ha, ha, Lord Ganesh had struck a deal elsewhere and when to the agreed count of three Ravana didn’t return from his praying, Ganesh promptly put the atmalinga down…where it got instantly rooted!
Hell broke loose naturally and even as Lord Ganesh ran with his cows to escape underground a furious Ravana tried to uproot the atmalinga and failing miserably, although some bits flew here and there (to become associate temples testifying to the rest of the whole story, in Hindu mythology there are very few endings to a story if you’ve noticed, they continue to weave into yet another story and another story ad infinitum or so to speak).
Ah yes, Ravana did manage to catch the ear of one of the cows disappearing underground with Lord Ganesh and that’s how Gokarna gets its name. Where the atmalinga remained rooted, whatever remained of it, became the Mahabaleshwar temple…in the sanctum sanctorum where it is worshiped one dips one’s hand into the narrow drop of water on the stone atmalinga, and…and whatever you feel is whatever you feel. In 2001 when I’d first visited the temple a pujari had guided me into a puja of Sanskrit prayers and finally he took my hand and laid it on the atmalinga…and I felt electrified for a moment, out of my wits! I swear to it, believe or don’t believe.
Hey, the very same year I got married! To this day I say there are only two tragedies in life when we pray: One when we pray and get our prayers answered, and two when we pray and don’t get our prayers answered! I’ll leave it at that. These days I’ve cut down on my prayers, practically zero prayers, but all the same go say hello to Lord Mahabaleshwar at the Mahabaleshwar temple at Gokarna.
There’s surely more to all this than meets the eye and for me personally the temple will always remain a sort of home away from whatever home I imagine in the imagination of my perennially wandering mind!
— Pankajbala R Patel