Gaya has been captivating the hearts of spiritual seekers for Sanctuaries. Gaya, named after the great demon Gayasur, literally means gone and echoes the essence of the heart sutra Gate, Gate, Paragate, Paasamgate, Bodhi, Svaha (meaning, “O Bodhi, gone, gone, gone to the other shore, landed at the other shore, Svaha”).
The term is more broadly associated with a ritual called Pinda Pradaana, performed to pay homage to one’s ancestors. It has been the pious land of lord Vishnu, Jain Tirthankaras, and Sufi saint Hazrat Ata Hussain Fani. Gaya whispers the tales of divinity that hold immense spiritual and religious significance for devotees. They come from far away to pay homage to their ancestors and explore the divine destinations for spiritual bliss.
Let’s dive deep into the history of Gaya through some mythical stories –
The Tales of Ancient Gaya
Long before the ink of recorded history touched parchment, Gaya’s landscape bore witness to the footprints of Lord Rama. According to Ramayana, during his exile, Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and loyal brother Laxmana spent some time in Gaya to perform the sacred ritual of Pind-Daan for his father, King Dasharatha to provide salvation to his departed soul.
Many spiritual sites in Gaya are rooted deep in legends of epic Ramayana. The famous Ramshila Hill has numerous stone sculptures that belong to the times of Ramayana. The Sita Kund has kept intact the memories of Devi Sita. According to a legend, Devi Sita bathed here before going into exile for 14 years with Lord Rama.
The sacred precincts of Vishnupad Temple echo the tale of Lord Vishnu. In the temple, we witness the 40-foot-long footprint of Lord Vishnu in a basalt rock.
The Pretshila hill has a temple of Lord Yama (god of death) built by Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar in 1787 to assuage a spirit that once haunted this place. Near the temple lies the pious Ram Kund, which is a spot where Lord Rama once bathed. Beneath the surface of Pretshila also lies a tale of demons and penance. Gayasur, depressed by the spectacle of death, ascended to the mountain to pray to Lord Vishnu that whoever came into contact, be it an insect, saint, angel, demon, human, or animal, would find salvation. However, Lord Vishnu killed Gayasura by stamping his foot over him. Vishnu’s stomp births Gayakshetra.
Each attraction in Gaya carries the weight of centuries. Devotees traverse this blessed land to pray for the salvation of their ancestors in the sanctified waters of Gayakshetra. They follow the celestial rhythm set by Lord Ram. Lord Vishnu’s benevolent touch created the very landscape that now cradles the city of Gaya, the most pious land on earth.
The land of Lord Buddha
In the pious land of Bodhgaya (10km away from Gaya), you will also witness the sacred places where the profound teachings of Lord Buddha flourished. Gaya’s significance in Buddhism lies in the peaceful embrace of Mahabodhi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most prominent shrines out of 84,000 erected by King Ashoka in the 3rd Century BC. In this place, King Siddhartha Gautama got enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree. The tree still stands in pride as a witness to the momentous event that unfolded over two millennia ago.
It is the sacred land of Bodh Gaya, where the spiritual metamorphosis of Lord Buddha occurred. The present temple of Bodh Gaya is said to have been built by Dharampala, the son of Gopala of the Pala Dynasty.
Erstwhile Rulers of Gaya
In 300 BC, King Ashoka played a crucial role in spreading Buddhism. Emperor Ashoka displayed the principles of Buddhism through Ashokan inscriptions that are still scattered all across the towns of Gaya and Bodh Gaya. He used Gaya as a cultural center for showcasing the principles of Buddhism. The Sisunga dynasty ruled Gaya in 600 BC, marking the beginning of Gaya’s vibrant spiritual journey.
From Nanda to the Maurya dynasty, each era contributed to Gaya’s cultural, religious, and spiritual growth. Then, the Gupta Empire, a catalyst for the Hindu revival, added a new chapter to Gaya’s story in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.
Later, the Pala Empire, led by the Gopala whose son Dharampala erected the Bodhgaya Temple in the 12th century.
Amidst the glorious pages of Gaya’s history, Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji attempted to cast a dark shadow, only to be defeated by Hindu generals in the 12th century.
Gaya-British Conflict – Battle of Buxar
The battle of Buxar in 1764 marked a turning point in Gaya’s history. Gaya accepted British rule until independence in 1947. Initially, Gaya was located in the Behar and Ramgarh districts till 1864. In 1865, it stood tall as an independent district. In 1976, the Aurangabad and Nawada districts were born out of the roots of Gaya. Then, on the 1st of August in 1986, Jahanabad was sculpted out of Gaya.
As the pages of time turned, Arwal stepped onto the stage from the womb of Jehanabad in August 2001. In Bihar’s administrative landscape, the Magadh division unfolded its wings in May 1981 with the districts of Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad, and Jehanabad.