Gokarna is a town in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka state, India with a permanent population exceeding 25,000 (2001). It is a Hindu pilgrimage centre as well as a popular tourist destination. Gokarna is a temple town and is referred to in a number of Hindu historical literature pieces. The main deity is Lord Mahabhaleshwara, a form of the Hindu god Shiva. Around the town lie a number of beaches which serve as a major attraction for travellers.
Tamil saints like the Nayanmars Appar and Sambanthar from the 6th century CE praised the deity of Tulu Nadu in their hymn canon Tevaram. It is an established fact that Mayurvarma of the Kadamba kings brought Brahmins from Ahicchatra. A sect of Brahmins fled from the Gomantak to escape forcible conversions by the Portuguese and British and settled in and around Gokarna in the 15th century. It was part of the Sodhe and Vijayanagar kingdoms. Later, when the Konkan region - including Goa - was occupied by the Portuguese, it became part of their rule. A few temples were destroyed by the Portuguese in 1714 and then rebuilt later in the 18th century and also under the supervision of Guru H. H. Shrimat Anandashram Swamiji in 1928.
Gokarna is a town of contrasts, as it is a temple town and also a holiday destination by the sea. Gokarna is full of coconut and palm trees, blue seas and clean sands. It is an attractive town with two main streets having shops and traditional tile-roofed brick houses. Gokarna is a hippy paradise with drums, guitars and hammocks. The beaches near Gokarna have shacks (huts) for rent. Kannada is the main spoken language in Gokarna.
Gokarna is also an important centre of Sanskrit learning and houses Bhandikeri Math and Toggu Math. It is a place where Sanskrit knowledge is passed down from generations in Brahmin families. Many Hindus also perform the last rites of a person here.
- Mahabaleshwar Temple (Maha: great, bal: strength) is a famous Shiva Temple and it houses the 'Atmalinga'. Named so after Ravana referred to the linga's great strength. It is situated at the western end of the main street. In the sanctuary is 'Athmalinga' in between the Saligrama Peethaa. The idol of Lord Mahabaleshwara is called Nagabharana. It is so named becasuse of the Lord rests under the head of Naga (serpent). The floor of the hall in front has an intricate engraving of a giant tortoise.
- Maha Ganapathi Temple built in honour of the boy Ganapathi, who deceived the demon Ravana. The deity here is two-armed, standing and at least 1500 years old.
- Kotitheertha is a man-made tank that is used for immersion of idols and ritual bathing. It is surrounded by temples.
- Shivaratri Festival is celebrated here with great enthusiasm. The temple has two chariots - named locally as 'Dodda Ratha' (Dodda for Big in Kannada) and 'Sanna Ratha' (sanna for small in Kannada). Dodda Ratha is quite huge. While 'Sanna Ratha' is out in the open during winter and summer, the 'Dodda Ratha' is brought out and made ready only during Maha Shivaratri. On the last day of Maha Shivaratri festival the Lord Mahabaleshwara idol is carried in 'Dodda Ratha' in a procession through the town's big Car Street, while priests and pilgrims chant hymns in praise of Shiva. More than a hundred people are needed to pull the chariots with thick ropes while priests conduct religious ceremonies inside. During the nine day Maha Shivaratri festival, the small town of Gokarna is visited by up to 20,000 pilgrims.
The drive up the winding path that leads to Gokarna is scenic, with the rocky mountains and Western Ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. Gokarna is also famous for its beautiful beaches and landscapes. The main beaches in Gokarna are the Gokarna beach (also known as Indian Beach), Main Beach, Kuddle Beach, Om Beach
, Half moon Beach and Paradise Beach (also known as Full moon). The Gokarna beach forms the coast of the town and is followed by Main beach in northern direction while the other four beaches lie to the south of Gokarna.
Gokarna Beach is mainly used by Indian pilgrims. Main Beach is a long open beach, also known for surfing. Kuddle and Om are around 6 km from Gokarna town along a muddy hill; they are accessible by rickshaw or foot. Half moon and Paradise are beyond Om beach and are accessible only by foot or boat. Om beach is named so because it is shaped like the auspicious ॐ [Om] symbol. Om beach is the only naturally Om shaped beach. Two other beaches - Paradise and Half Moon - are smaller and remote beaches.
Gokarna is about 483 km from Bangalore, 238 km north of Mangalore
and about 59 km from Karwar
. It is between the Gangavali and Agnashini rivers and situated along the Karwar coast by the Arabian Sea. It is 200 km north from the college towns of Suratkal and Manipal
. Gokarna can be reached by buses and maxicabs from Kumta
(36 km), Ankola
(26 km) and Karwar (59 km) on National Highway 17( NH-17 ). Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) also runs long-journey buses from many cities like Panaji, Bangalore and Mangalore. Private buses (Vijayanand Roadlines - VRL, Sugama, Sea Bird, etc.) operate night journeys from the capital city of Bangalore to Gokarna daily. It can be reached by train Konkan Railway on the Mumbai to Mangalore route. The railway station ( called Gokarna Road ) is 6 km away from the town. The nearest airports are Dabolim at Goa and Mangalore International Airport