Gaya: The Place to Liberate the Ancestors
Gaya is connected primarily to Lord Vishnu, and is especially important in connection with the Shraddha ceremony.
Gaya was included in the ancient kingdom of Magadha. Gaya is named after a demon named Gayasura, son of Tripurasura. Gayasura acquired divine power so that anyone who saw or touched him went straight to heaven. This intruded on the jurisdiction of Yamaraja, the God of Death. So Lord Vishnu killed the demon after granting him the boon that the ground covered by his body, some ten miles in extent, would become the holiest place on earth and would be known as “Gaya Kshetra”. The ancestors of those performing funeral ceremonies here are said to be sent straight to heaven. A son can protect his father’s soul when the father is dead by offering sacrifices to please the Supreme Lord, Vishnu. This system is still prevalent in India. After the death of his father, a son goes to offer sacrifices at the lotus feet of Vishnu at Gaya and thus delivers the father’s soul if the father is suffering from sins committed in his previous life.
Gaya is on the bank of the sacred Phalgu River. Lord Buddha, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, appeared on this earth in the province of Gaya. The main temple in Gaya is the Vishnu-pada temple, where pilgrims worship the footprints of Lord Vishnu and perform the sraddha ceremony (pinda or funeral cakes offered to one’s ancestors to save them from hell). Last rites are offered to the ancestors under the akshaya vat or immortal banyan tree, which grows in the yard of the Vishnu pada temple. Lord Buddha practiced meditation under this tree before going to Bodh Gaya (8 miles away) to attain liberation. Lord Ramachandra came here with his wife Sita to perform ceremonies for his late father, King Dasaratha. Lord Chaitanya was initiated by his guru, Ishvara Puri in the Vishnu-pada temple. There are fifty five places to perform the sraddha ceremony. Of these, Gaya is the most important place. There are forty five places to offer pinda and offer sraddha and ceremonies within the thirty five square mile area of Gaya Kshetra.
Gaya is 178 miles west of Calcutta