By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Gokarna, GokarNa, Gokarna
Gokarṇa literally means ‘the ear of the cow’.
Significance of Gokarṇa
There are three extremely important places of pilgrimage for the devotees of Lord Śiva. All these places together are called ‘Tristhalī’. These places are:
- Kāśī (Vārāṇasi)
Gokarṇa is on the west coast in South India. It is situated in the Kumta taluk of the North Canara (or Uttarakannada) district of the Karnataka State.
Tale of Gokarṇa
The story goes that Rāvaṇa, the demon king of Laṅkā, secured the ātmaliṅga from Śiva. He himself was bringing it to establish it in his capital city. Since this would have ended in catastrophe for the gods as well as the human beings, the gods worked out a stratagem to prevent it. Gaṇapati disguised as a young brahmacārin saw that the liṅga is placed on the ground.
On sunset, Rāvaṇa wanted to perform his evening sandhyā ritual. He gave the charge of the liṅga to the boy Gaṇapati who was found loitering nearby. Rāvaṇa gave the special instructions to not place it on the ground as it would then get stuck permanently. Gaṇapati accepted the responsibility stipulating the condition that Rāvaṇa should come back before he is called thrice to return.
Gaṇapati managed to call Rāvaṇa three times before he could finish his sandhyā and kept the liṅga on the ground. It got permanently fixed there. After punishing Gaṇapati by a severe punch on his head, Rāvaṇa tried all his might to uproot the liṅga but to in vain. In the process, the liṅga got deformed into the shape of a gokarṇa or the ear of a cow. Hence it is named as ‘Gokarṇa’. It became a famous place of pilgrimage.
Śivaliṅga in Gokarṇa
The Śivaliṅga is known as ‘Mahābaleśvara’ since even the mighty Rāvaṇa could not move it even by an inch. The whole liṅga is under the ground and hardly 5 cms. (2 inches) of it is seen above. The temple here is very old and it belongs to the early Christian era.
Temple in Gokarṇa
The sanctum is about 5.1 meters (17 ft.) square. The kalaśa or pinial is made of brass. The height of the vimāna (tower over the sanctum) is 18 metres (60 ft.). The raṅgamaṇṭapa is 18 meters by 9 meters (60 ft. by 30 ft.). Images of Pārvatī, Gaṇapati and Nandi have been established around the main shrine.
The icon of Gaṇapati here is in the standing posture and is a little peculiar in appearance. It is considered as very ancient (A. D. 600 to 700). Mahāśivarātri is the biggest festival celebrated here. The rathotsava (temple car festival) is held on Phālguna śukla pratipad.
Koṭitīrtha is the biggest temple tanks where the pilgrims bathe before visiting the temple. Some of the other bathing places are:
Rituals during Gokarṇa Pilgrimage
For those who undertake the pilgrimage to Gokarṇa as a religious ritual, the following rites are prescribed:
- Bath in the Koṭitīrtha
- Śrāddha to the forefathers
- Bath in the sea
- Pujās at the main temple and other temples
- Giving gifts
Two more Gokarṇas have been mentioned in the purāṇas existing near the Sarasvatī river and Mathurā in Uttar Pradesh. But they are not well-known now.
Gokarṇa, A Saint
Gokarṇa is the name of a saint mentioned in the Padmapurāna. He was born of a barren cow due to the grace of a monk. He had a human body with a cow’s ears. Hence he was named as ‘Gokarṇa.’ His devoted recital of the Bhāgavata brought liberation to all the listeners.
- Ātmaliṅga is the Śivaliṅga containing the very essence and power of Lord Śiva.
- Mahābaleśvara means ‘īśvara of infinite might’.
- Raṅgamaṇṭapa is a hall in front of the sanctum.
- It is the first day of the bright fortnight in the month Phālguna, usually in February/March.
- Uttarakhanda chapters 4 and 5
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore