Shri Samsthana Mahabaleshwara Deva temple is located on the shores of the Arabian Sea in the holy town of Gokarna. Situated on the west coast of India in North Karnataka or Uttara Kannada district, it is one of the major Hindu pilgrim centres of South India. This temple enshrines the Atma Lingam of Lord Shiva. The Lingam (black stone) is seen as the manifestation (or materialization) of Lord Shiva. This temple is one of the seven Mukti Sthalas of Karnataka with the other seven beings Udupi, Kollur, Subrahmanya, Kumbasi, Kodeshvara and Sankaranarayana. The Mahabaleshwar Shiva temple is regarded second only to the Kashi Vishwanath Shiva Temple in Varanasi and is often called the Dakshina Kashi. This temple is the landmark of the city Mahabaleshwar which gets its name from this shrine. The coastline of Gokarna is lined with beaches and hills which only add to the gorgeous specter that the city is. The temple, styled with Dravidian architecture, has a small hole in the sanctum sanctorum from where devotees can see the top of the Atma Linga.
The history of this temple comes from a legend related to the mighty Ravana of Ramayana. According to legend, Ravana's mother, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva, was worshipping a Shiva Linga to bring prosperity to her son. Indra, God of Heaven, jealous of the worship, stole the Shiva Linga and threw it into the sea. Enraged and distraught by this event, Ravana's mother went on a fast-unto-death to exhibit her displeasure. Seeing this, Ravana promised her that he would go to Mount Kailas-the abode of Lord Shiva-and bring her the main Atma Linga for worship. Ravana then set out for an intense meditation in worship of Lord Shiva. The result of this devotional worship of Ravana was that Shiva took out the Atma Linga from his own heart and gave it to him but with strict instructions that it should not be placed on ground. However, Ganesha, fearing that Ravana might use the power of the Linga to fulfill evil intentions, ensnared him in the form of a beautiful woman. Ravana, in a fit of infatuation, placed the Atma Linga at Gokarna where it got stuck. In his efforts of extracting the Linga, he threw the coverings to Dhareshwar, Gunavanteshwara, Murdeshwar and Shejjeshwar where temples dedicated to Lord Shiva still stand. Ravana, unable to extract the Atma Linga from the ground, called Shiva Mahabala (too strong) and hence the name Mahabaleshwar for the city. The deity here is about 1500 years old.
Apart from the Mahabaleshwar temple, there are other several attractions to this place which include the Tamra Gowri shrine, Ganapathi Temple, Chandikeswara, Aadi Gokarneshwara, Dattatreya and Kotitheertha etc. The six foot tall Shiva Lingam, enclosed in a square Saligrama Peetham, can be seen only once in 40 years, when the Ashta bandana Kumbhahishekam is performed. Also located around Gokarna are Dhareshwar, Gunavanteshwara, Murdeshwar and Shejjeshwar temples. These four temples, along with Gokarna Mahabaleshwar temple, are respected as the Pancha Kshetras (Five Areas). The beaches that surround this place are also one of the major attractions.
The best time to visit the temple is during the festival of Shivaratri which marks the day Lord Shiva was born. During this festival, Rathyatra (Travel on a Chariot) is held in which images of Shiva and other deities are installed in the chariot and ceremonially pulled through the town by devotees. The Rathayatra starts from the Shri Maha Ganapati Temple at the terminus of the main market street, also known as the 'Car Street'.
How to Reach
There is no airport in Gokarna. The nearest airport is at Pune which is about 120kms away. From the airport you can hire a cab or board private buses to reach the district.
The nearest railhead is Wathar in Satara, about 47 km from Gokarna however, the most convenient and well-connected railhead is Pune.
Mahabaleshwar is connected to major towns and cities in the region. From Mumbai, Mahabaleshwar via Pune is 290kms; Panchgani to Mahabaleshwar is 19 kms and Pune to Mahabaleshwar is 120kms. Regular buses ply from Kumata, Karwar, Goa and Mangalore also.
Vijayanagara Emperor visited the temple and weighed himself in gold here. In 1665, Shivaji Bhosle, after disbanding his army here, worshipped at the temple. Such is the marvel of this shrine that devotees of Lord Shiva visit it from all over the world.