Gaya is a city in Bihar, India, and it is also the headquarters of Gaya District.
Gaya is 100 kilometers south of Patna, the capital city of Bihar. Situated on the banks of Falgu River (Niranjana, as mentioned in Ramayana), it is a place sanctified by both the Hindu and the Buddhist religions. It is surrounded by small rocky hills (Mangala-Gauri, Shringa-Sthan, Ram-Shila and Brahmayoni) by three sides and the river flowing on the fourth (western) side. The city has a mix of natural surroundings, age old buildings and narrow bylanes.
Gaya was a part of the ancient state Magadha.
Importance to Hindu Mythology
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.
In the 14th-15th century Gaya was frequently attacked by foreign Muslim invaders including other Hindu holy and sacred places. The Hindu rajputs from rajasthan moved towards north-east to defend Banaras and Gaya, the expedition of Maharana Lakha being the most important. Maharana Lakha, was the forty-fifth ruler of the Mewar Dynasty (r. 1382-1421); succeeded his father, Maharana Kshetra Singh; ruled for thirty-nine years from Chittor. He was a brave and gallant fighter throughout his life and led his life defending Gaya. The remaining army settled in parts of city of Magadha Kingdom. After the attack of the Muslim rulers these centers were severely damaged and along with them the historical city of Gaya lost its glory. But, in the medieval era under the rule of the great Sher Shah Suri (an Afghan ruler based in the Sasaram district of modern Bihar), Gaya got connected with the rest of India by the famous Grand Trunk road (passing through Sherghati) built by the ruler.
In modern Indian history, Gaya played an important role in the freedom movement. Though Gaya may not have produced many great leaders during that era, the common people from Gaya participated in the freedom struggle. Many national level conferences were organized in Gaya during that period. In 1922, the national level meeting of Indian National Congress was held in Gaya. It was in this session that Chittaranjan Das, the President of the Gaya session of Indian National Congress, remarked, trial "At the moment Rajendra Prasad appears to be the sole excuse for a further honest trial of Gandhism to solve a political problem". Also, one of the famous 'Seven Martyrs', the seven young men who sacrificed their lives in the Quit India movement of August 1942, was from Gaya.
Several freedom fighters were lodged in Gaya Central Jail. One of them was the nephew of Yogendra Shukla, Baikunth Shukla who was convicted and hanged in Gaya Central Jail on May 14th, 1934 at a young age of 28 years.
Gaya also played an active role in the famous student movement launched by Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) that led to the call for Sampoorn Kranti (Total Revolution) later. A well known slogan of the day was 'Sampoorn Kranti Ab Naaraa Hai, Bhaavee Itihaas Hamaaraa Hai'. It was a quintessential Gandhian movement where students protested against the government by picketing at government offices. On April 12, 1974 an unknown number of people were killed in a police firing at an unarmed crowd near the Kotwali Police Station. This movement led to unease in the government and led to the imposition of emergency by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who nearly forced the President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to approve it. It also led to the fall of her government when elections were announced in March 1977. The first non-Congress government at the Centre (Janata government) was formed by a coalition of disparate parties coming together as Janata Party.