Situated on the banks of river Phalgu, Gaya is regarded as the most sacred place by Hindus to perform Shradh (for offering Pindadan and Tarpan to the departed souls). It is believed that one can even perform his own Shradh during his/her lifetime. There is a famous legend behind the auspiciousness of the spiritual city of Gaya which was highly regarded even in the age of Lord Rama. Let’s have a look at the legendary story of Gaya and the city’s significance mentioned in Ramayana.
Legend of the sacred city – Gaya
Demon Gayasura, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, on performing tough penance was granted a boon by the benevolent Lord according to which, his body became sacred than the Teerths (places of pilgrimage). With Lord Vishnu’s blessings, he became so pious that even the sight or touch of him could grant moksha (enlightenment) to people. However, as a consequence, this disrupted the cycle of karmas and the life cycle of birth and death, as everyone started attaining salvation through the sanctity of Gayasura. This had to stop and it was necessary to kill the demon. Hence, the Trinity (Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva) disguised as Brahmins approached Gayasura and asked him to provide his body for the sacrificial yagna that they intend to perform for 7 days with a promise that he would remain still during yagna, failing which he shall be killed. Gayasura happily agreed and stretched his body to a length aptly suitable to perform the holy yagna, following which, the Lords in the disguise of Brahmins, started the Puja.
For six consecutive days, Gayasura remained still which frightened Lord Shiva of his impending victory in fulfilling his promise. Thus, Lord Shiva took the form of a fowl and crowed in the middle of night, misleading Gayasura into believing it to be a morning wake- up call. As a result, Gayasura moved slightly which broke his promise made to the Brahmins, entitling him to die as per the terms of agreement. Thereafter, the three Lords appeared in their original form in front of Gayasura and revealed the truth of the entire episode. Lord Vishnu, then placed His sacred foot on Gayasura’s chest which eventually killed him.
Before killing Gayasura, Lord Vishnu granted him moksha and blessed that funeral and Shradh rituals performed on his sacrosanct giant body (equivalent to the size of city), will not only provide salvation to the deceased but also to the performer and the Trinity will always reside in the holy city of Gaya which will get immortalized in his name.
Since then, every year, people throng in large numbers in the blessed city of Gaya, especially during Pitra Paksha to offer Pindadan and Tarpan to the souls of deceased family members.
Significance of Gaya in Ramayana
Once, Lord Rama along with Lakshman and Devi Sita visited the revered city of Gaya to perform Shradh of Their late father, King Dasharatha. While the two brothers were busy taking bath in the waters of Phalgu, Devi Sita sat beside the river, playing with sand. In those days, the departed soul appeared itself to accept Pinda and Tarpan. Likewise, the soul of King Dasratha appeared before Sita and asked for Pindadan as the auspicious time (Muhurat) for Shradh ritual was ending soon. At first, Devi Sita was hesitant since the tradition allows only the male member of the family to perform Shradh but on humble insistence of Her father-in-law, she finally complied and with nothing else to offer, she presented sand balls as Pindas to pacify the soul of the great King.
On learning about this incident, Lord Rama refused to believe Devi Sita and asked for any witness to Her action. To this, Devi Sita asked the river, Phalgu, Brahmin, cow, tulsi plant and akshaya vat (witness to Sita’s generous action) to prove Her innocence. To Devi Sita’s surprise, all except akshaya vat (banyan tree) lied and refused to acknowledge the truth of the episode. This infuriated Sita to an extent that She cursed all four of them.
Maa Sita cursed the river, Phalgu, to become an underground river, whose water shall appear only when the ground is dug. It is therefore called Gupta Ganga. The Gaya Brahmins were cursed to remain discontented throughout their lifetime while tulsi plant is never kept inside the house. Also, a cow’s front part is regarded inauspicious while only its back portion considered holy. As Akshaya Vat or the banyan tree spoke the truth, it was rewarded by Devi Sita to remain pious and evergreen.
This sums up the very essence and significance of the serene land of Gaya, where one gets liberated from the sins of past lives and where, Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.II Heart- felt salutations to this auspicious city of Gaya II