Gokarna – A town where the legends flow with the water and the air is filled with the sanctity and resonance of the folklores of Shiva. Tales of Gods and Asuras lend the town a history and identity while telling the stories of the triumph of good over evil. The unspoilt town of Gokarna (Cow's Ear), 50km south of Karwar, attracts an unlikely mixture of Hindu pilgrims, Sanskrit scholars, beach-loving travellers and a hardcore hippy element who shifted here when things got uncool in Goa. For Hindus, Gokarna is one of the most sacred sites in South India. It's a sleepy, charming town with a single ramshackle street composed entirely of Kerala-style wooden houses.
Literally meaning ‘cow’s ear,’ this village is formed by the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers. Adventurous travellers must be prepared for a bit of cliff-scrambling in this coastal town.
The sacred Mahabaleshwara Temple, home to a revered Shiva lingam. is located here, with the nearby Ganapati Temple honouring the role that Ganapati played in rescuing the lingam. Near the temple are two enormous chariots, which are dragged along the main street amid much brouhaha on Shiva's birthday in February/March. At the eastern end of the streets is the Venkataraman Temple and 100m south of this is Koorti Teertha, the large temple tank, where locals, pilgrims, and immaculately dressed Brahmins perform their ablutions.
Om beach, one of Gokarna’s five famed beaches, takes the shape of an ‘Om,’ a spiritual symbol. The other beaches, wedged between gigantic cliffs that protrude like delicate fingers into the sea, are Gokarna, Kudle, Half Moon and Paradise. The drive up the winding path that leads to Gokarna is a scenic delight with rocky mountains and the Western Ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other.
The earliest history of Gokarna is not known but it is said that the local people fled from Gomantak or Goa to escape forcible conversion by the Portuguese and British settled in and around Gokarna in the 15th century. Located at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers Gangavali and Aghanashini, Gokarna literally means "Cow's Ear." In this land of sacred lore, it is believed that Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow – a metaphor for Mother Earth or Prithvi. According to another legend, Brahma sent Shiva to hell (believed to be beneath the earth) to undergo penance. He returned through the ear of the earth and blessed her with the name Gokarna. Shiva apparently collected the essence of all Brahma’s creations and created a golden deer with four legs, three eyes, and three horns. It is believed that the three horns were placed at Siddi Kshetras like Pushkar, Shaligram and Gokarna.
In the yogic culture, Shiva is not known as a God, but as the first Guru or the Adi Guru. He is the Adi Yogi or the first Yogi. Out of his realisation, he became ecstatic and danced all over the mountains or sat absolutely still. He was constantly into bouts of stillness and bouts of mad dancing. All the gods who saw him, saw something was happening to him that they themselves did not know. Suddenly heaven felt like a bad place, because this guy is having such a good time! They felt, "We are missing out on something." When they finally got him to teach the method, Shiva expounded various types of yogas depending upon the level of preparedness of the person who was sitting in front of him.