The Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna,Karnataka an important Mukti Kshetra

The Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna,Karnataka  en/
The Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna, Uttar Kannada distt., Karnataka, built in classical Dravidian architectural style,  is an ancient temple - came up in the  4th-century.  Being as holy as Kasi Visvanath temple  on the banks of the Ganges River, UP  it is considered as a major Saivite pilgrimage center and  is close to  Karwar town  on the beach of the Arabian sea.  Hence, the Mahabaleshwar temple, Gokarna is known as the Dakshin Kasi. The temple  that adores the Pranalinga also called Atmalinga or Shiva Linga   is one of the seven sacred Mukti kshetras / Muktistalas -"places of salvation" in Karnataka.  Pilgrims from Karnataka and other states come here in large numbers  to perform   Srardham Ceremony or Pithrukaryam - obsequies (death rites). 

The six other Mukti kshetras in Karnataka are at Udupi, Kollur, Subrahmanya, Kumbasi, Koteshvara and Sankaranarayana. The temple is being managed by  Sri Ramachandrapura Mutt following the tradition of Adi  Shankaracharya of Kaladi.   It is said the presiding god is so powerful that He will relieve the devotees of all their problems and bless them immensely. In major Hindu temples neither the devotees are allowed to touch the main idol, nor do they allow them to conduct puja. But, here it is a different tradition; devotees   can touch the idol and do the puja by themselves.
In the sanctum  you can see  the Atmalinga  enshrined  on a square Saligrama Peetha (pedestal). The pedestal has a small hole at its centre from where devotees can see the top of the Atmalinga. The Moolavar, the main deity  Lord Shiva is made of hard stone and is in a standing posture.
Gokarna Mahabaleshwar Temple TripAdvisor
Legend has it that the Atmalinga that is revered here was from Mt. Kailash  (gifted by lord Shiva himself) and was to be installed in Srilanka by Ravana of epic Ramayana.   Circumstances worked against him and he was unable to move the lingam  from the ground and left it as it was. The temple was built  around it later. At this temple the worship of Mahaganapathy is very important because, according to the mythology, he was the one who, in the guise of a boy, placed the Atma lingam here without Ravans' knowledge.   

As for the origin of this popular temple,  the king Mayurasharma of the Kadamba dynasty (reign 345 CE – 365 CE) initiated the  first construction.   Legend has it that  Mayurasharma, who was keen to know about  the  Vedic rites and the Ashwamedha Yagna (ritual of horse sacrifice) went to Kanchipuram (now in Tamil Nadu), a major temple town to contact the learned pundits. He was not happy about  the way he was received there. Infuriated king Mayurasharma declared war on the Pallava rulers and defeated them and brought the pundits to perform the regular pujas and the  Ashwamedha Yagna to sustain his control over the region and its  prosperity.  Mayurasharma's son, King Kangavarma authorized the  descendants of  Brahmin families  to maintain administration at the temple. Here, the hereditary priests have the right to conduct puja.
Gokarna Mahabaleshwar Temple, Karnataka  Times of India
The  great writer   Kalidasa who wrote Raguvamsa  (4th century) in Sanskrit mentioned about this temple.  We also find reference about this  holy place in the famous  Tamil devotional  Shavite canon Tevaram (7th century)  compiled by various Nayanmars.  This temple was patronized by many rulers. Once,  during the  Vijayanagara period (1336–1646 CE), a ruler made a Tulaparam offering to the deity. He weighed himself in gold on a visit  to this temple. Additional construction was done  during the 17th century by  Queen Chennammaji and her son, Soma Sekharanayaka of Keladi.  The Chandrasala and Nandi  mandabas/pavilions were built by rulers  Visvesvaraya of Halasunadu-Kundapura.  Maratha warrior and ruler  Shivaji (1630 CE - 1680 CE) in 1665 worshiped at the Mahabaleshwar temple after disbanding his army in Gokarna.

The Shivaratri  is a famous temple festival and  the Rathayathra (chariot procession) is part of it. Scores of devotees come here during festival time to get the lord's blessings.,_Gokarna