Gaya is the second largest city of 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 the Phalgu (or Niranjana, as mentioned in Ramayana), it is a place sanctified by the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Jain religions. It is surrounded by small rocky hills (Mangla-Gauri, Shringa-Sthan, Ram-Shila and Brahmayoni) by three sides and the river flowing on the fourth (eastern) side. The city has a mix of natural surroundings, age old buildings and narrow bylanes.
Importance to Hindu Religion:
Gaya derives its name from the mythological demon Gayasur (which literally means Gaya the demon), demon (asur, a Sanskrit word) and Gaya. Lord Vishnu killed Gayasur, the holy demon by using the pressure of his foot on 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.
The site of the Bodhi Tree at Bodhigaya is, according to the Buddhist commentarial scriptures, the same for all Buddhas. According to the Jatakas, it forms the navel of the earth, and no other place can support the weight of the Buddha's attainment. According to Buddhist mythology, if no Bodhi tree grows at the site, the ground around the Bodhi tree is devoid of all plants for a distance of one royal karīsa and nothing can travel in the air immediately above it, not even Sakka.
Buddhist mythology also states that when the World is destroyed at the end of a kalpa, the Bodhimanda is the last spot to disappear and is the first to appear when the world emerges into existence again. The myth also claims that a lotus will bloom there, and if a Buddha is born during that the new kalpa, the lotus flowers in accordance with the number of Buddhas expected to arise.
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.
Bhumihar Brahmin have been the traditional priests at Vishnupad Mandir in Gaya as Gayawal Pandas and in the adjoining districts like Hazaribagh. 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 pinda daan). According to Ramayana, Lord Rama came to Gaya along with Sita for pitripaksha (or to perform pindadanam).
There have been great educationist and scholars from the city with immense contributions in the field of education, most of the government-run schools in Gaya (notably Zila School, Haridas Seminary – also knowns as Town School, Theosophical Model School, Gaya High School, Anugrah Kanya Vidayalaya, Mahaveer School, Government Girls High School) are affiliated to Bihar School Examination Board.
There are two Central Schools (Kendriya Vidyalaya) affiliated with the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, New Delhi. Most of the private schools are affiliated to ICSE and CBSE boards.Nazareth Academy is the oldest one with its' roots dating back to the British era and has a legacy of its' own. Gyan Niketan NGO Non Government Organization charitable school is a single school in north side of Bodhgaya who provides free education to 200 students surrounded by more than five villages.