Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gaya - Bodh Gaya Tourist Places to visit | Mahabodhi Temple | VishnuPada Temple Tour | Buddhist Temples of Visit | Lord Buddha

The holy town of Gaya, is the second largest city of Bihar, India, and it is also the headquarters of Gaya District. Historically, Gaya was the part of the ancient Magadh Empire.

Gaya is located 100 kilometers south of Patna, the capital city of Bihar. The city is serenely placed on the banks of Falgu River, is a place sanctified by both the Hindu and the Buddhist religions. The Town is on a slightly raised ground in the valley between the Ramshila and Pretshila Hilla. It is surrounded by small rocky hills (Mangla-Gauri, Shringa-Sthan, Ram-Shila and Brahmyoni) by three sides and the river flowing on the fourth (eastern) side. An essential transit point to Bodhgaya, Gaya is a densely packed town. The city has a mix of natural surroundings, age old buildings and narrow bylanes. 

It is believed that this place has been blessed by Lord Vishnu with purificatory powers and is a major religious tourist place among Hindu’s. Perhaps it is the most auspicious place considered in Hindu sect to perform the ritual of Pind Dan or Oblation, a holy act in Hindu religion to ensure peace of the departed souls of twelve generation of their deceased ancestors. Even the followers of Buddhism also visit Gaya as the famous seat of Buddhism, 'Bodh Gaya' is few kms away from Gaya. Apart from having a religious significance, it wins over the tourists for its no-frill appearance, serene setting and a relaxed pace of life. 

Gaya derives its name from the mythological demon Gayasur (which literally means Gaya the demon). Lord Vishnu killed Gayasur, the gentle demon by using the pressure of his foot over him. This incident transformed Gayasur into the series of rocky hills that make up the landscape of the Gaya city. Gaya was so holy that he had the power to absolve the sins of those who touched him or looked at him; after his death many people have flocked to Gaya to perform Shraddha sacrifices on his body to absolve the sins of their ancestors. Gods and goddesses had promised to live on Gayasur's body after he died, and the hilltop protuberances of Gaya are surmounted by temples to various gods and goddesses. These hilltop temples at Rama Shila, Mangla Gauri, Shringa Sthan and Brahmayoni are part of the pilgrimage circuit, and grand staircases have been built up to most of them. Like Varanasi, and many other riverside towns, Gaya is said to be a 'tirtha' - a crossing across the celestial divide.

Places of Interest in Gaya

Akshyabat is the immortal Banyan tree that stands in the courtyard of the temple and located 12 kms away from Gaya.  The tree situated in the the Bodh Gaya is of immense significance as it was under this tree, Buddha is said to have meditated. Also, the final rites for the dead are held beneath it.

Archaeological Museum

This small museum housing collection of sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, paintings, arms and manuscripts is near the tank. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm on all days except Monday.

Vishnupad Temple

Vishnupad Temple is one of the major attractions in Gaya. This massive temple located in the central part of the old town is believed to have been built over the footprints of Lord Vishnu. Inside the temple, the 40 cm long `footprint' of Vishnu is imprinted in solid rock and surrounded by a silver plated basin. The temple with its 30m high silver plated octagonal peak is resting on eight rows of decorated pillars, was built in Shikhara style of architecture in the year 1787. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it was constructed by Ahilay Bai Holkar of Indore. Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple. A flight of 1000 stone steps leads to the top of the Brahmajuni Hill, 1 km south-west of the Vishnupad Temple that presents a splendid view of the temple. 

The temple complex is quite big and houses many images of different Gods and Goddesses. There are many other shrines in and around the temple. Another important temple is of Lord Nrisimha, the god which according to Hindu mythology was a man-lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The temple and statue is intricately carved and designed and is a major tourist attraction at Gaya.

Surya Kund

Surya Kund is another tourist attraction. Devotees visit in large numbers as they believe that a holy dip in the pond remits the sin. The temple is situated on the west side of the Vishnupad temple. During Chath Puja, devotees visit in large number to worship the Sun God after taking a dip in the holy Kund. 

Brahmayoni Hill or Gayasirsa

Brahmayoni Temple located just one km away to the southwest of the Vishnupada Temple. One has to climb up 424 high stone steps to reach the top of the hill. The temple perched atop a hill offers breathtaking view of the city below. There are two caves Brahmayoni and Matreyoni on the hill and an ancient temple of Astabhujadevi. 

Barabar Caves

Barabar Caves date back to second century BC, located 25 kms of Gaya, are the treasures of Bihar and are set in wild and inhospitable environs. These caves were built by Ashoka, the Great for Ajivikas. Loma Rishi cave happens to be the most splendid

Bodhgaya Town

Lying 13 kms south of Gaya, this place is of immense importance to the Buddhists, as Lord Buddha attained his enlightenment here.

The life of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is associated with the small town of Bodhgaya. It is one of the four holiest cities of Buddhist faith. The Mahabodhi temple is the main attraction of this town and is located near the spot where Lord Buddha attained spiritual enlightenment. Bodhgaya is not only an important Buddhist pilgrim center, but it is also an important center for the study of Buddhism. 

Mahabodhi Temple and other monasteries are the major attractions in Bodhgaya. Places associated with the life and times of Lord Buddha are located inside the Mahabodhi complex including the Bodhi Tree and a pond where according to legends, Lord Buddha mediated for few days. 

Mahabodhi Temple 

The Mahabodhi Temble is located at the place of Lord Buddha's enlightenment. The temple has a 50m (170 ft) tower. The present temple was restored around 1880. There have been several other temples on this site. A previous temple was destroyed by the Muslims in the 11th century. Parts of the intricately carved railings to the south and west of the temple are very old. Some of the railings are original and parts of the railings are reproductions.  In the inner sanctuary there is a huge Buddha. In the center of the temple there is also a Siva-linga that was installed about 860. This temple is also sacred to the Hindus because Lord Buddha is the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. 

Bodhi Tree 

The Bodhi tree here is said to be a descendent of the tree under which Budhha attained enlightenment. A sapling of the original bodhi tree that the Buddha sat under was carried by Emperor Ashoka's daughter (Sanghamitta) to Sri Lanka. That tree is at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. A cutting from that tree was planted in Budha Gaya when the original tree died. Under the tree is a red sandstone slab that is said to be the Vajrasana, the diamond throne, that Buddha sat on and attained nirvana. The tree is located behind the temple and is about 80 feet high and about 115 years old.