Gaya derives its name from the mythological demon Gayasur (which literally means
Gaya the holy demon), demon (asur, a Sanskrit word) and Gaya. Over its history dating
millennia, the word asur got deleted and the name Gaya remained in currency. Lord
Vishnu killed Gayasur, the holy 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.
Holy Sites in Gaya
Sacred places in Gaya correspond to physical features, most of which occur naturally.
Ghats and temples line the banks of the sacred Falgu River. Trees such as pipal
trees and Akshayavat, the undying banyan, are especially sacred. The Mangla Gauri
shrine is marked by two rounded stones that symbolize the breasts of the mythological
Sati, the first wife of Lord Shiva. The most popular temple today is Vishnupad Temple,
a place along the Falgu River, marked by a footprint of Vishnu incised into a block
of basalt, that marks the act of Lord Vishnu subduing Gayasur by placing his foot
on Gayasur's chest. The present day temple was rebuilt by Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar,
the ruler of Indore, in the 18th century. Buddhist tradition regards the footstep
in the Vishnupad Temple as a footstep of Buddha (who is regarded as an avatar of
Vishnu by Hindus).
Gaya is significant to Hindus from the point of view of salvation to the souls of
ancestors (a ritual called pindadanam). According to Ramayana, when Lord Rama came
to Gaya along with Sita for pitrupaksha (or to perform pindadanam), Sita cursed
the Falgu River following some disobedience on the part of the river. The mythology
states that on account of this curse, Falgu River lost its water, and the river
is simply a vast stretch of sand dunes.
For Buddhists, Gaya is an important pilgrimage place because it was at Brahmayoni
hill that Buddha preached the Fire Sermon (Adittapariyaya Sutta) to one thousand
former fire-worshipping ascetics, who all became enlightened while listening to
this discourse. At that time, the hill was called Gayasisa.
Documented history of Gaya dates back to the birth of Gautam Buddha. About 15 km
from Gaya town is Bodh Gaya, the place where Gautam Buddha got enlightenment. Since
then the places around Gaya (Rajgir, Nalanda, Vaishali, Patliputra) had been the
citadel of knowledge for the ancient world. These centers of knowledge further flourished
under the rule of dynasties like the Mauryans who ruled from Patliputra (modern
Patna) and covered the area beyond the boundaries of the Indian subcontinent. During
this period, Gaya was a part of the Magadh region.
Gaya is well connected to the rest of India and the world by roadways, railways
The Grand Trunk Road (NH-2, which is undergoing a revival under The Golden Quadrilateral
project) is about 30 km. from Gaya city. Thus, Gaya is well connected to Kolkata,
Varanasi, Allahabad, Kanpur, Delhi, Amritsar, and to the Pakistani cities of Lahore
and Peshawar. The highway connecting Gaya to Patna is now in a good condition,also
the railway services between the two stations is up to the mark.
Gaya is the second most important station in Bihar after Patna. It is a junction
and is connected to the three of the four metropolis New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai
through Important Broad Gauge Routes (direct trains), including the Grand Chord
line. There is a direct non-stop train, the Mahabodhi Express from New Delhi to
Gaya daily. It takes around 16 hours to reach Gaya from New Delhi through train.
There are direct trains from Gaya to other important stations in India like Ranchi,
Varanasi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Agra, Mathura, Jabalpur, Bhopal, Indore, Nagpur,
Puri, etc. There are also two smaller train lines from Gaya, one to Patna and the
other to Kiul.
Gaya has the only international airport in Bihar and Jharkhand taken together. It
is an international airport connected to Colombo, Sri Lanka through two airline
operators; Bangkok, Thailand; Singapore, and Paro, Bhutan. It is said to be being
developed as a stand-by to the Calcutta airport. Gaya Airport is served by Indian
Airlines for domestic flights and Sri Lankan Airlines, Mihin Lanka, Druk Air and
Indian Airlines for international flights. Thai Airways is planning a non stop flight
to Gaya from Bangkok. The distance of gaya airport to National Heritage sites "Bodh-Gaya"
about 5 Kilometers.