September 21, 2014

GOKARNA DIARIES: AUG'14 - Part XX

EXPLORING THE TEMPLES AND THE TOWN


We spent the last two hours in Gokarna visiting the various places of religious importance. We began with Koti Teerth, which is a small sacred tank, about 500 metres from the main temple and is believed to have been formed by the confluence of over a crore fresh water springs. Bathing in the rectangular pond, is said to cleanse you off all the sins and is the primary reason that some rituals of the last rites are performed on its ghats. The medium sized water body is surrounded by several temples and houses with sloping roofs that are peculiar to the coastal plains. Here you can spot House Sparrows too which is such a delight. As you walk towards the Teerth from the Car street, watch out for the houses of the temple priests. While some have been rebuilt in modern style, many still retain their old world elegance and style. The simple two storied houses with verandah that have sitting platforms on either side of the small in addition to the main narrow main door are worth a watch. The closely spaced homes and the narrow streets shared by men, cows, bikes and rickshaws will definitely remind you of another holy city in the north dedicated to Lord Shankar - Benares. Moreover, we also came across this huge Baniyan tree under which are several idols of Nag Devta (Cobra God) which were stunning.


The Houses of the Priests

Our next stop were the temples of the town. Before I write about it, here is the story behind it for all those who are interested in Indian Mythology. The tale of the picturesque town is woven around the legend of Lord Shiva's most powerful manifestation - the Atma Lingam. It was believed that God Shankar's cosmic powers and infinite energy were derived from it. The Puranas mention that these powers would automatically be transferred to anyone who possessed this divine insignia. In his bid to become invincible, Ravana - the chief antagonist of the Ramayana underwent a rigorous penance lasting several years to get the Lingam as a boon. However, he was tricked by Narada Muni and ended up asking for Goddess Parvati instead. As he was returning back to his kingdom from Mount Kailasha, the half Brahmin, half demonic king was shocked to see that the lady who was accompanying him was not beautiful consort of Shiva but her ruthless and fearsome incarnation - Goddess Bhadrakali. Realizing that he had been fooled by the Gods, Ravana abandoned the Devi at modern day Gokarna and is said to have fled back to Lanka. Not the one to give up though, he returned back to the Himalayas some years late and performed yet another penance, this time with renewed vigor and complete dedication. Impressed by his unflinching devotion towards Him, Lord Shiva had no choice but to fulfill the wishes of his foremost devotee.

Aware that an unconquerable Ravana could endanger Dharma on Earth and threaten the lives of its inhabitants, the Devas came up with a 'sinister' plan to disarm him. The demonic ruler was a devout Brahmin and would never miss his evening prayers. On his way back, with the Sun setting over the Arabian, the he stopped over, again at Gokarna so that he could perform his rather elaborate ablutions. However, there was a problem; Lord Shankar had cautioned the Lankan King not to keep the Lingam on the ground under any circumstances since that would make it powerless. As such, he handed over his 'priced possession' to a cowherd who was grazing his cattle nearby, asking him to hold it till he completed his prayers. The young boy was none other than Lord Ganesh; No sooner did Ravana leave, the elephant God kept Siva's emblem on the ground and all its powers were immediately transferred back to the Lord. On returning back, Ravana was stunned. He used all his power and might to pull the Lingam off the ground. After numerous failed attempts, the enraged demon pulled out parts of the divine symbol and threw it at different places. The four remnants as well as the base of the Atma Linga, are believed to be worshiped today in five different shrines in the Uttara Kanara (Karwar) district of Karnataka, namely Sajjeshwara, Dhareshwara, Gunwanteshwara, Murdeshwara and the most important - Gokarna.


The Nag Devta (Cobra God)

The main temple here is the Mahabaleshwar Temple located on the shore which contains the remnants of the holy Linga. It is believed to have been constructed by the King Mayurasharma of the Kadamba dynasty and renovated by later rulers. Maratha King Chhatrapati Shivaji is said to have come here to pray to the Lord. The temple is big and I could not spend much time there. Close to it is the Mahaganpati Temple, which commemorates Ganesha's role in the story; the black standing idol of the Elephant God is simply stunning. The Bhadrakali Temple is located around a kilometer away. However, we could not go there. Other places that are frequented by the tourists include the Ram Teerth, the Jatayu Teerth which according to legend is the place where the great bird fell after it was killed by Ravana, the Hanuman Janmabhoomi which is supposed to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman and the Go-Garbha - a cave on way to the Om beach which is believed to stretch all the way to Gokarna's 'twin city' of Varanasi in the north. We had seen it on the way to the Kudle Beach.

Male House Sparrow
The Madropadarcharya Mutt (Left) and the Gokarna Partagali Jevottam Mutt (Right)

Next, we went to a local hotel for snacks. We could not get either Masala Puri or Missal Bhaji, which we had eaten the day before. I and Da ate Idlis which were not tasty at all. We had one last thing on our agenda - a visit to the house where we had stayed in Gokarna during the late 80s. Dad was posted here as a clerk in Syndicate Bank immediately after his wedding and one of the houses where my parents stayed back then is located close to our hotel. To be frank, I do not have any memories of this place; we left for Haryana when I was one. Pavan Da does remember a few things. We walked all the way to the house we had rented which is hardly 5 minutes from the bank. We spent some time standing there, contemplating how things had changed over the last two and half decades. At 6:30 pm, we headed back to our room, packed our bags and hired an auto to the boarding point. We boarded our bus sometime later and reached Bangalore the following morning. All in all, it was a superb trip, something that we all will remember for a long time.

Syndicate Bank, Gokarna


For more posts in the series: GOKARNA DIARIES: AUG'14, click here (Link)