For the eighth consecutive year the Umahesh Yoga School will conduct an immersion course in the holy town of Gokarna, on the West coast of Karnataka, South India. Our purpose built and natural Yoga 'Shala' is found in a small farming hamlet just 2 kms North from Gokarna centre. Here is a little story about how Gokarna became one of the most important pilgrimage centres of India.
As with all mythical Indian stories the characters and events are strongly linked to Gods, Goddesses, demons or legendary creatures
Once upon a time Kaikesi, the mother of the demon king Ravana and loyal devotee of Lord Shiva, was worshipping a Shiva Linga to help bestow success to her son. When Indra, the Lord of Heaven, who was jealous of this worship, stole the Shiva Linga and threw it away into the Sea. The Kaikesi went on a hunger strike as her devotional worship of Shiva had been disrupted. Ravana seeing that his mother was unhappy promised her that he would go to Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and bring the Atmalinga (the original lingam) itself for her to worship.
When Ravana arrived at Mount Kailash he performed severe penance to please the great Shiva, also he sang praises of the great god.
Shiva was very pleased with Ravana's devotion so he agreed to bestow boons to the demon king. Ravana proceeded to ask Shiva for the Atmalinga and also a wife for himself, as pretty as Shiva’s wife Uma (mother of creation). Shiva then took from his own heart the Atmalinga, it was amazingly beautiful and it shone as brightly as the Sun. He gave it to Ravana with the strict instruction that it should not be placed on the ground untill it was deified at its final destination. As for the second boon for a beautiful wife, Shiva offered his own wife to Ravana, as in his view there was no other woman more beautiful than Uma. Uma was told by Shiva to go with Ravana, which she did knowing that Shiva would find a way for them to reunite.
Ravana, feeling happy with himself, departed the Himalayas and travelled south towards his abode on the Island of Lanka. Meanwhile Shiva asked Lord Vishnu to help him get Uma back. So when Ravana stopped on the south-western coast of India for rest he met an old and frail looking Brahmin who was actually Vishnu in disguise! The Brahmin asked Ravana as to how such a lovely woman was following him. Ravana, in his enthusiasm, explained that Shiva himself had given her to him. Ravana, being full of pride, was very pleased with the Brahmin's words of praise, but his was his undoing as in a flash, Vishnu tricked Ravana and exchanged Uma with Mandodari daughter of Mayasura (also a demon).
Then, at the same location, he met Ganesha, who as per request of lord Indra, was disguised as a cowherd boy. It was time for Ravana to perform his evening religious prayers, so he requested Ganesha to hold the Atmalinga in his hands until he returned from performing rituals. He gave Ganesha strict instructions to not to place it on the ground under any circumstance.
However, Ravana did not come back on time. So Ganesha called out for Ravana three time very quickly, and even before Ravana could return, Ganesha placed the Atmalinga on the ground, tricking Ravana and disappeared from the scene with his cows. Ravana then chased the only cow that was left. When the cow then started to go underground, he managed to catch one of the cow's ears only, as the rest of cow's body had already disappeared below ground. It is this ear now seen in a petrified form, which has given the name 'Gokarna' to the place, meaning "Cow's ear." (in Sanskrit 'Go' means "cow" and 'karna' means "ear"). Afterwards Ravana tried very hard to lift the Atmalinga but failed to do so as it was firmly fixed. Ravana had even fainted from the tremendous effort of trying to shift the linga; thereafter he gave the name to the temple that houses Atmalinga, Mahabaleshwar (meaning all-powerful).