Ravana’s mother was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. She worshipped the Lord with great fervour so that with the power and blessings of the Lord, Ravana would become invincible. Indra, the king of the Gods came to know about this, and he stealthily took away the Shiva linga which Ravana’s mother was worshipping and hid it in the ocean. Unable to find the altar of her pooja, she refused to touch food unless she got the Shiva linga back. Ravana consoled his mother and said that he would go to Kailasa and bring the Lord’s Atma-linga itself.
Ravana went to the Himalayas and undertook severe penance. Lord Sankara pleased with his tapas appeared before him and asked him what he wanted. Ravana asked for the Lord’s Atma-linga for his mother to worship. The Lord gave Ravana His own Atma-linga, but warned him that enroute if he placed the Atma-linga down on the ground, the Atma-linga would get rooted there itself and he would not be able to lift it up again. Ravana was very happy to receive the divine linga and started off to Lanka by the air route.
All the Gods were worried. Atma-linga in Lanka meant Ravana would be very difficult to conquer and vanquish. They all went to Lord Vishnu for help. In the meantime, Devi Parvati also was not happy with Ravana taking the Atma-linga to Lanka. Lord Vishnu and Ganapati came up with a plan to prevent the Linga from reaching Lanka.
Ravana was very particular and strict about performing his religious duties. Knowing this, Vishnu used His Sudarshan Chakra and covered the sun, which gave an illusion that it was dusk time. Ravana immediately thought it was the time to perform his sandhyavandana. He landed down on the shores of the ocean. He looked around and saw a young brahmana boy with cows standing nearby. It was none other than Ganapati in disguise. Ravana asked the boy if he could hold the Atma-linga in his hands until he finished his sandhyavandana. The boy agreed but on one condition. He said he did not have much time to spare and therefore Ravana must finish his prayers and come back quickly. “Three times I will call you, if you don’t come back by then I will place the Linga down”, said Ganapati in disguise.
Ravana promised to come back quickly and walked towards the waters of the ocean for his sandhya prayers. Ravana had hardly reached the ocean and started his prayers, when Ganapati called out “Ravana” three times. Ravana hurriedly finished the ritual and came running back. By then Ganapati placed the Atma-linga on the ground and started running away along with the cows. Ravana was furious and ran behind Ganapati but could not catch him. But he caught hold of the ear of one of the cows. The cow disappeared into the earth. All that remained above the earth’s surface was the cow’s ear. Hence the name of the place became Gokarna – ‘Ear of the Cow’.
Ravana tried with all his might to uproot the Linga, but he could not. Since the Atma-linga was so powerful that it defied even the strength of his twenty hands, he called the Atma-linga as “Mahabaleshwar”. Hence the Atma Linga of Lord Shiva is worshipped as Mahabaleshwar in Gokarna which is situated on the western coast of Karnataka.
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