Gaya, the second largest city on the banks of Phalgu river in the Indian state of Bihar, is the most sought-after destination in Bihar. The name Gaya is derived from ‘Gayasur', the name of a demon whose body attained piousness on the face of the blessings from Lord Vishnu.
Pind-daan, a Hindu ritual, finds its root from the ancient times till today – the myth of how Lord Rama offered Pind-daan for his father Dasharath, for moksha of his soul in Gayapuri (then). The ancient Magadha region commemorated Gaya as a capital during the Gupta Emperor. Maurya, Gupta, Pala, Mughal and the British successively speak the historical encounters in Gaya.
Tourism in Bihar is subsumed under the locals as school picnics, weekend getaways or subsequent strolls. Or else, international travellers from all over the world visit Bodh Gaya, Nalanda or Vikramshila. But Bihar is visibly cut-off from the rest of India while making conscious travel decisions. Opulent of two World Heritage Sites (Archeological site of Nalanda Mahavihara and Mahabodhi Temple Complex), it's here in Bodh Gaya Buddha attained enlightenment under the peepul tree known as ‘Bodhi Tree'. All the seven spots devouring seven weeks of meditative states of Buddha construe Mahabodhi Temple Premise, constructed by Ashoka after 200 years.
The Rajgir-Nalanda stretch upto the ruins of Nalanda, as far as I could explore, bears distinctive hills and ruins and are well-deserving of more recognition.
Tilkut and Litti Chokha are two of the local food items to try on in Gaya. Sweets of different shapes and sizes, in boxes or without, mostly made of sesame seed and jaggery, are sold all over Bihar-Jharkhand-Uttar Pradesh.
The Mahabodhi complex consists of seven succinct places of Buddha in his meditative period; Bodhi Tree, Animesh Lochana Chaitanya Shrine, Cankamana, Ratnaghar Chaitya, Ajapala Nigrodh Tree, Muchalinda Lake and Rajyatana Tree.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mahabodhi Temple, is a Buddhist temple of worship; Lord Buddha's abode of enlightenment. The temple was built by Ashoka after 200 years of the phenomenon of enlightenment, with Ashoka's initiation towards Buddhism after wars and conquests. The small temple that Ashoka laid the foundation of, is now replaced by a new one around the Bodhi Tree. Gold was granted by the King of Thailand, which contributed to the upper part of the temple. The original base of the structure was made of brick, covered with stucco; not a durable base compared to stone.
Bodhi Tree, the peepal tree under which Buddha reached the ultimate state of enlightenment in the first week, is central in the Mahabodhi Temple Complex. In Siddhartha's quest for answers, he spent three days and three nights at a stretch on the banks of the Phalgu river under the tree.
‘Animesh Lochana' means open eyes. Lord Buddha devoured the second week of meditation gazing at the Bodhi Tree without blinking. The shrine was named Animesh Lochana Chaitanya Shrine. The spot exhumes the teachings of focus and concentration and a statue of Buddha with eyes wide open.
Cankamana, meaning ‘Cloister Walk', was the cushion of Lord Buddha on the third week of meditation, in a state of walking up and down in contemplation. On the platform, lotuses indicate the eighteen steps where the lord's feet rested while walking. It is considered to be a holy shrine featuring a carving of Lord Buddha's feet into black stone lotuses.
Ratnaghar Chaitya is where Buddha spent his fourth week, towards the north-east near the enclosure.
Buddha answered the questions of the Brahmins during the fifth week of meditation, under Ajapala Nigrodh Tree.
Muchalinda Lake, also known as ‘The Abode of Snake King', is where Lord Buddha spent the sixth week in meditation. While he was meditating, severe thunderstorm broke out. To protect him from the violent wind and rain, Naagraj Muchalinda (Snake King) came out to provide safety to Buddha.
The tree has later been planted to celebrate the conclusion of the meditative trance during his seventh week.
Buddha engrossed in a sitting tranquility, resting on a lotus; thus was constructed the 64-feet talk The Great Buddha Statue. Seven years of intensive labour of 12000 stonemasons, and the gigantic statue was born in a combination of sandstone and red granite blocks. Five on each side, the sculptures of Buddha's ten principle disciplines adorn the narrow entrance ending in the one grand structure. It was founded by the 14th Dalai Lama, and speculated to be the largest Buddha statue in India.
The Tibetan market is located adjacent to the Mahabodhi Temple Complex. Handicrafts, souvenirs, winter wears – a plethora of Tibetan showpieces make it a perfect place to shop.
History of Nalanda goes back to the days of Mahavira and Buddha in 6th century BC. It was the place of birth and nirvana of Sariputra, one of the disciples of Buddha. The place rose into prominence as a great monastic-cum-educational institution for Original art and learning in the whole Buddhist world. Their educational holding could attract students from distant countries, like China. The galaxy of luminaries associated with it includes Nagarjuna, Dharmapala, Dharmakirti and many Chinese travellers. They have described the monasteries and shrines at Nalanda and the life of monks here. Various subjects like theology, logic, astronomy, philosophy, medicine were taught here. The institution was maintained by the revenue collected from the villages bestowed specifically for the purpose by the contemporary rulers.
Nalanda Mahavihara, regarded as one of the greatest universities of the ancient world, was founded by Kumaragupta of the Great Gupta Dynasty. King Harshavardhan of Kannauj and the Pala kings of East India continued to extend patronage to this centre. The decline of this great institution started in later Pala period, but the final blow came in around 1200 AD, by the invasion of Bakhtiyar Khilji.
Excavations have exposed the extensive remains of six brick temples and eleven monasteries arranged on a systematic layout and spread over an area more than a square kilometre. A passage runs north-south with the row of temples on the west and that of the monasteries on the east of it. The dimension and disposition of rooms within monasteries is almost identical.
At every corner, on every street, you will come across monasteries, sometimes two or three in a line. Thai Monastery, Royal Bhutan Monastery, Chinese Temple, Indosan Nippon Japanese Temple, Vietnamese Temple, Burmese Vihara Monastery, Daijokyo Buddhist Temple; to name a few.
By train – Gaya Junction has direct Train Services from New Delhi, Howrah and Mumbai. It is about 1100 Km away from New Delhi and 450 Km away from Kolkata (Howrah Junction). Altogether Four Rajdhani Express Trains apart from other Super-Fast trains take you directly from Delhi to Gaya.
By bus – GT Road connects Gaya from major cities of north India. Gaya is well connected with Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Raurkela, Hazaribagh, Kolkata, Varanasi, Allahabad, Kanpur, Delhi and Amritsar.
By flight – Gaya has its own international airport and is connected with majorcities of India. Gaya is also connected with cities like Colombo, Bangkok, Singapore and Paro. One can get down at Patna airport too and hire taxis or buses or board train to reach Gaya. There are direct flights from Delhi to Gaya.