Shivratri in Gokarna

Our last few days in Gokarna coincided with the beginning of the Hindu festival, Shivratri, in honor of Lord Shiva’s birthday. Anticipating much congestion and noise, we were not excited, but we were in for a surprise. Wandering the town we noticed the huge wooden chariot had been pulled out of its parking spot beside the temple. Men clambered on top to build a ballon-shaped super structure, which was then decorated with brightly colored strips of cloth.

Gokarna was transformed into a busy cacophony of color, people and noise. Stages set up for dance performances, music blasting from loudspeakers. Thousands of devotees queued to perform puja and purchase offerings of flowers and coconuts.

The path from the temple to the beach was covered with a decorated cloth canopy giving some shade to the devotees patiently waiting. Each day the crowd built and the queue grew longer. To enter the temple, they all stood barefoot, their sandals discarded in a large pile. Will they ever find them again? I wonder.

We left town before the finale, when an estimated 20,000 filled the short narrow street to watch the chariot pulled on ropes while onlookers threw bananas at the brahmin priests sitting inside. The reason why has been lost in translation. But the idea of thousands of people throwing bananas and the smell of the overripe fruit did not entice me to want to stay.

The temple significance lies in a legend associated with Ravana, a mythical demon king. The temple supposedly contains one of the powerful Shivalingam, the center point of worship. Ravana wanted the lingam and through his devotion impressed Shiva to give it to him, but on the condition that wherever Ravana placed the lingam it would be stuck there. In Gokarna, Ravana met Ganesh and asked him to hold the lingam while he prayed. But Ganesh put it down and vanished. Finishing his prayers, Ravana tried to pull it out without success. Tearing the outer covering of the lingam, he threw the pieces in different directions, which became the sites of the different temples in Gokarna.

In the usual Hindu combination of the sacred and secular, the small town became a carnival. Packed in beside the regular shops, a multitude of stalls were set up selling an assortment of plastic kitsch, aluminum kitchen ware, women’s “inner wear”, sugary sweets…and so on. We’ve seen this type of carnival often in Indian towns at the time of the many Hindu festivals.

The near side of the beach, beside the town, was flooded with Indians. They stood crowded together at the edge of the water, some venturing to play in the waves. Instead of sand castles, they built lingams and adorned them with flowers.

But down at our end, nothing much changed. The dogs and cows still owned the beach, the restaurants remained relatively empty. We continued swimming until the morning of our departure, then packed up. I said goodbye to the beach that had been my friend for the past month, and we took a rickshaw to the train station. Once again, to find our train was too hours late. Finally, it arrived and we found our seats among an extended family returning home to Mumbai. Gerard quickly entered into conversation with them. Dinner time came and they spread out a feast with paper plates and wooden spoons. Even the chapatis were wrapped in newspaper tied with string. I was intrigued by no sign of plastic. Even the vendor walking up down the corridor sold us clay pots of yoghurt with wooden spoons. It seems in this part of India, the notion of no plastic is taking root. Still talking, Gerard remarked that we won’t find such camaraderie on tomorrow’s airplane!

10 thoughts on “Shivratri in Gokarna

  1. Interesting post. Where are you headed off to next? I’m putting together a rough itinerary (which usually gets blown out of the water fairly quickly) of places to visit that I’ve not been to yet. Generally speaking, do you think that Puducherry, Lucknow, and Puri are worth a visit?


  2. As always your photos and words are a treasure. I had no idea Shavatri coincided with the Mothers birthday and Auroville’s celebration. Sending you love ❤️ safe travels.


  3. Thank you for sharing your adventures with such wonderful details and anecdotes. The explanations of the festivals and holy days are very interesting, and, of course, the illuminations of your photographer enrich the stew of stories….be safe, stay well…miss you two….


  4. what a wild place you have explored!!! It’s sooo colorful and populated. I love seeing your lovely form as you hug the side of the pole looking into the crowds, not easy to e relaxed with soooo much going on everywhere. You are my heroes! XXXXXX Jackie


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