The prime attraction of the Gokarna is the Mahabaleshwar Temple which houses the Atmalinga. The Atmalinga was given to Ravana by Lord Shiva himself. Ravana was stopped here for his evening prayers while going back to Lanka. He had been instructed by Lord Shiva not to keep the Atmalinga on the ground, since it would be fixed wherever it touched ground. Atmalinga was a powerful weapon and devatas did not want Ravana to get such a powerful weapon, fearing destruction. Lord Ganesh took the avatar of a boy and offered Ravana to hold the Atmalinga during his prayer. Ganesha then kept the linga on ground before Ravana comes back from prayer. Ravana, in extreme anger, tried to pull out the Atmalinga from the ground, breaking it in the process. These pieces then resulted in the establishment of various temples in Karnataka. Besides Mahabaleshwara temple, there are other prominent temples here including Maha Ganapathi temple, Bhadrakali Temple, Varadaraja temple and Venkataramana temple.
The name of the town Gokarna is derived from two words, Go and Karna, which means cow’s ear. According to mythology, Lord Shiva appeared from a cow’s ear, after he was sent to Patal Lok by Lord Brahma. Some believe, the town is located at the confluence of two rivers Aganashini and Gangavali, and the place where the rivers converge forms a shape that is similar to the ear of a cow, hence the name Gokarna. Gokarna was under the rule of the Kadambas, Vijayanagara kings and was later conquered by the Portuguese.
Apart from being a religious town, Gokarna is also known for its beaches. There are many beautiful beaches located close by, which have small shacks serving as accommodation along with many small shops and modern eateries. The Om Beach, Kudle Beach, Gokarna Beach, Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach are the five main beaches here. Gokarna Beach is the town’s main beach and pilgrims gather here when they visit the Mahabaleshwar Temple. The Kudle Beach is the largest of the five beaches and it is crowded during the peak season November to February. Among the beaches in Gokarna, the Om beach is extremely popular among surfers. The beach gets its name due to the natural formation of the holy Om symbol.
Gokarna is considered to be the Mukti Stala, where Hindus perform funeral rites. Devotees visit Gokarna temple on large number during Mahashivratri and Kartika Purnima festivals. The entire town is decorated during the four days of the Mahashivratri festival and the temple deity is taken out in a procession.