Even though there are many Shiva Temples within India and abroad, certain temples have special significance and importance. Of these, there are 275 temples that are called as “Paadal Petra Shiva Sthalams” (The temples that are sung in the verses). These Shiva temples gain more importance because they were been sung/mentioned in Tamil Thevaram hymns. The Thevaram Hymns were composed by the 3 Nayanmars namely Thirugnanasambandar, Thirunavukkarasar, and Sundarar, who lived between 7th and 9th century A.D. Most of the Paadal Petra Shiva Sthalams are found in South India and a few are found in North India. The Major divisions where these temples are found are, Chola Naadu (North of Kaveri), Chola Naadu (South of Kaveri ), Pandya Naadu, Kongu Naadu, Nadu Naadu, Tondai Naadu, Malai Naadu, Tulu Naadu, Vada Naadu and Eezha Naadu.
In this blog, we are going to know about the only Paadal Petra Sthalam in Tulu Naadu (Karnataka). The Mahabaleshwar Temple in Gokarna, Karnataka is considered as the ‘Paadal Petra Sthalam’. The place Gokarna is located in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. This Mahabaleshwar Temple of Gokarna houses the PranaLinga or the AthmaLinga facing the Arabian Sea.
There is a famous story behind this temple that is related to the Mighty King Ravana of Ramayana. According to Hindu Mythology, Ravana’s mother was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva and she was worshipping a Shiva Linga to bring prosperity to her son. Indra, God of Heaven was jealous of her worship and so he stole the Shiva Linga and threw it into the sea. Being angered and agitated by this event, Ravana’s mother went on a fast-unto-death to show her displeasure. Seeing this, Ravana promised her that he would go to Mount Kailas, and bring her the main Atma Linga for worship. Ravana then started doing an intense penance towards Lord Shiva by reciting the Shiva Tandava Sthothram. He was even ready to chop off his head. Being pleased by his devotion, Lord Shiva appeared before him and offered to grant a boon. Ravana then asked for the AthmaLinga. Shiva then took out the AthmaLinga, brightly shining like the Sun, from his own heart and gave it to Ravana. He gave strict instructions that it should not be placed on the ground till it was idolized at a final destination. He went south towards his kingdom. This created an alarm and fear among the various gods in heaven. Lord Ganesha too feared that Ravana might use the power of AthmaLinga to fulfill his evil intentions. So He appeared in front of Ravana in the disguise of a Brahmin Boy. Ravana being a Brahmin, wanted to offer his evening prayers, Sandhyavanthanam. Seeing the Brahmin Boy, he requested him (Lord Ganesha) to hold on the AthmaLinga till he returned. He gave strict instructions to the boy, not to place the Linga on the ground.
Ravana could not come back within the specified time. Lord Ganesha called out His name thrice and rapidly placed the AthmaLinga on the ground before Ravana could return. Ravana got anguished on seeing this and the Brahmin Boy (Lord Ganesha) took the form of a cow and vanished quickly in the herd of cows. Ravana too quickly chased one of the cows that were going underground. He managed to get hold of the cow’s ear. Rest of the body has disappeared below the ground. This is the reason why this place is known as Gokarna. Go – Means Cow, Karna – means ear.
Ravana tried his level best to lift the Shiva Linga but in vain. Hence the Lord is known by the name “Mahabaleshwar” – meaning All-Powerful and Strong. While he was trying to extract the Linga from the ground, Ravana threw the coverings of the ground and they fell in the places namely, Dhareshwar, Gunavanteshwara, Murdeshwar, and Shejjeshwar. We could still see the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva in these places. Based on these legends, the AthmaLinga of the Gokarna temple is believed to be about 1500 years old.
The temple was built in a Dravidian style of architecture and was first constructed by Mayurasharma of the Kadamba dynasty. Inside the main Sanctorum of the temple, the AthmaLinga is placed on a square-shaped Saligrama Peetam. The Linga has a Hole at its center so that the devotees can see the AthmaLinga from the top.
Moreover, this temple is considered as one of the 7 sacred Mukti Sthalas in Karnataka. The other Mukti Sthalas are Udupi, Kollur, Subrahmanya, Kumbasi, Kodeshvara, and Sankaranarayanan. This is also known as “Dakshin Kasi” as Lord Shiva of this temple is more sacred and pious as that of the one at Kashi.