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Published: October 2nd 2018
Gaya and Varanasi are two holy cities which all Hindus wish to visit at least once in their lifetime. Gaya and surrounding areas like Nalanda, Pawapuri are sacred to three important religions of humanity, i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Distance between Gaya and Varanasi are roughly 260 kms.
When we planned to travel this region, our basic objective was two fold :
i. To perform religious rites (called Pindadaan) our forefathers as per Hindu traditions by myself and my sister. As per Hindu mythology, this ritual is a homage to the ancestors and mandatory for a Hindu to release the departed soul of his forefathers after death, to the ultimate world of nirvana or happiness.
ii. To enlighten ourselves of the immense significance of this land, from where three sects of religion flourished and ancient scholars propagated their preachings to the mankind for thousands of years. Significance of Pindadaan in Hindu tradition
Respect for family and the ancestors is the important principle of Hinduism. Our religion is conceptualised based on reverential worship and offerings to our forefathers. One of the mandatory ritual a Hindu performs in his lifetime is Pindadaan at Gaya for his
parents who expired. It is a puja to honour our parents who are no more and to take their blessings. It helps the departed soul to achieve liberation from the cycle of death and re-birth. However, it can be done only after one year of parents death and after conducting the first year ritual at home.
Pindadaan at Gaya is considered auspicious due to its immense importance in Hindu mythology. Lord Rama visited Gaya with Sita and offered Pinda to his father King Dasarath at Treta Yuga. This tradition was continued by millions of Hindus for thousands of years. Preliminary inputs about Gaya
Searching the net and collecting general impressions from the people who visited Gaya what we gathered was as follows :
a. Gaya has two completely opposite faces i.e. Bodhgaya and old Gaya.
b. Bodhgaya is the place of attainment of ultimate knowledge of Lord Budhha. It is very clean, well maintained and extremely popular both for Budhhists as well as ordinary tourists.
c. On the other hand, old Gaya is dirty, filthy, notorious for stealing, snatching and all possible unlawful activities. Visitors need to be extremely careful about their
belongings and themselves at Gaya.
d. Performing religious rites (Pindadaan) at Gaya need the assistance of priests (Pandas) and other associates at the temples. There are innumerable cases of harassment, deceit, extortion of money from the gullible devotees from those clans.
e. It is safe to perform the rites thru Bharat Sevasram Sangha (BSS), a well-known charitable institution who have establishment in Gaya and who assist the devotees in performing the function. But there are instances of local rickshaw at Gaya taking visitors to “fake” BSS. Hence locating the real BSS is extremely important.
f. Good hotels are not available at Gaya. Hence it is convenient to hire accommodation at Bodhgaya and
g. Distance between Gaya and Bodhgaya is around 18 kms. Guidance from Bharat Sevasram Sangha (BSS), Kolkata office
To get a better idea, we first visited the BSS office at Kolkata (211, Rasbehari Avenue, Kolkata 700019, near Ballygunge Station, Phone Nos 24405178,24402327,24601381,24402326). Sadhus provided valuable inputs for our visit to Gaya as follows :
1. Get down at Gaya railway station. Their station office is located just opposite to the Railway Station.
2. Do not talk to any
stranger and go straight to BSS office.
3. Take their guidance and Auto/Rickshaw selected by them for reaching Bharat Sevasram Sangha Ashram at Gaya Town.
4. Beware of bag lifting from the rear open portion while travelling thru auto-rickshaw.
5. Accommodation can be booked at Ashram only. No system of Advance Booking.
We purchased a book from their office also (Rs. 10). It contained a photo of their Gaya Railway Station Office which was useful to locate. Our Journey to Gaya
We reached to our native place in Kolkata and performed the Shraddh ceremony for our father on the 2nd
May, 2018 (Wednesday) as per the priest advice after one year of his death.
May, 2018 (thursday) we commenced our journey from Kolkata by train. It (12381 Poorva Express) started at around 8.15 AM in the morning and reached Gaya at around 2.45 PM (Six and half hours). Distance between two places was around 460 Kms.
We were tensed whether we could trace the BSS office at railway station as well as subsequent experience at Gaya.
Being hot summer, we expected Gaya would be boiling that time,
but it was not so. Temperature was hot but tolerable that day. Also not many crowd at the station.
We followed the BSS Kolkata office advice in toto and spotted the BSS office very easily. No abnormal pressure from waiting Autowallas/ Rickshawpullers was noticed except normal request which was common in any railway station.
We were six adults. Two autorickshaws were arranged through the BSS office along with fares to be paid. I was very sceptical and careful about our belongings. But it was smooth. We could reach the BSS Asram office without any difficulty.
The personnel at the counter having an indifferent look noted details. Exchange of communication was as follows :
a. “Who will be performing the ceremonies?
(Myself and my sister both attended the cremation rituals of our father. When replied that both of us would carry out the function he stared at us but miffed after our firm replies.)
b. Whether we would be doing today ?
Then you have to come tomorrow early morning by 6.30 AM.
c. Whether any accommodation is required?
Is it available?
Yes. Both AC & NON-AC room.
Charges of AC room are reasonable (around Rs. 1200), but period upto 12 PM next day.”
We asked “When is the likely time of completion of our offerings tomorrow?”
“Normal death or abnormal?”
“Then it is likely to be completed early. Of course there is no certainty.”
Since Bodhgaya was quite far away (around 18 Kms) and we were not assured about conveyance in the early morning, inspite of having our hotel booking at Bodhgaya, we decided to hire an AC Room here also. He asked for paying the room rent as well as some donation in advance. We obliged. Our overall impression was that crave for money was not less here. Onward journey to Buddhagaya
Our accommodation was booked at Hotel Siddhartha Vihar, Bodh Gaya of Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. There was no online facility to book that hotel. I had to book that hotel thru a lengthy and cumbersome procedure i.e. initially by telephone call and E-Mail correspondence and subsequently payment of room rent in advance to the designated Bank Account advised by them. However Room tariff was quite moderate (Rs 1100 plus GST).
communicating with Hotel authorities before our trip, I also enquired about Car arrangements. They provided the contact number (Mobile No. 09934749980) of Mr. Chandan. I booked an Innova thru him for the following :
May, 2018 - Travelling in Gaya, Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Nalanda Rs. 4500/-&
May, 2018 - Dropping from Gaya to Varanasi. Rs. 7000/-
As demanded I paid Rs. 1000 as advance booking to his designated bank account.
My suspicion about any untoward incident diminished while travelling from BSS to our Bodh Gaya hotel thru another Auto. Driver was a gentle and friendly person. I was chatting with him whether the image of Gaya we gathered was factual. He explained that whatever impression we had that prevailed earlier. Off late there was considerable improvement in Law & Order status. Culprits have been booked and confidence restored with the common people.
While approaching Bodhgaya the Autodriver had to take a kachha road since autos were not allowed to venture to our hotel thru main road. We reached our today’s destination at last.
Hotel Siddharth Vihar
Hotel was well located but had a deserted look, may
be due to off season. Hotel area was quite spacious. Rooms were ok, ACs functioning, front office people were reasonably good.
Myself and my sister decided to return to BSS Ashram by 9 O Clock same day. Others would stay in Bodh Gaya. Bodhgaya
It was around 4.30 PM. We planned to visit Bodhgaya. There were various tourist attractions at Bodh Gaya. Due to time constraints, we decided to restrict our visit to Mahabohi Temple only, most important and a must visit.
Travelling thru the roads of Bodhgaya was a pleasure. Roads are wide and clean in sharp contrast to Old Gaya. Large number of restaurants, fast food centre, gift shops etc spread on both sides of the street. A large portion of the travellers as well as devotees were foreigners, particularly from ASEAN countries. We hired a Tanga (driven by Horse) as a fun to reach near the temple gate. On the way, we observed many Buddha Temple constructed by various countries like China, Thailand, Srilanka etc on both sides of the street. They were nicely maintained and well decorated. Budhisatta
Around 2500 years ago Siddharth left his home
from a place called Lumbini, Nepal. His goal was to find ways to conquer grief and sorrow and attain ultimate happiness of human life. He meditated at this place under a peepal tree after taking a bath from nearby Falgu river. He attained the enlightenment after three days of relentless meditation. Buddhadev was born. The rest was history. He won the heart of millions of people through igniting the light of knowledge he acquired. His preaching was propagated and influenced the mankind spanning thousands of years.
As per legend Mohavodhi Temple was originally built by King Ashoka about 250 years after Buddha attained the enlightenment at the same place. Influence of Buddhism flourished to the length and breadth of India and abroad for the next 1500 years. During the twelfth century Muslims led by Bakhtiyar Khilji invaded Bodhgaya and destroyed the temple. Thousands of scholars and monks were massacred and slaughtered.
The temple was restored by the British Government during 1880. It was declared as World heritage site by UNESCO.
Due to terror attack few months back, there was elaborate security checks at the temple point. Baggage had to be deposited
at the entry counter. Mobiles were not allowed, bit can be deposited in the luggage room. Separate charges had to be paid for carrying camera.
Even though the evening light disappeared, the whole area was fully illuminated with floodlight. Overall crowd and security management was excellent.
It was a vast area within the temple compound. We hired a guide to steer us to the important areas and to explain their history and significance. The whole compound was so silent despite hundreds of people visiting inside. We saw monks and nuns even ordinary people coming from across the world were meditating. Sanctity and divinity of the place was beautifully maintained. It was an ideal place for having peace of mind.
Nightstay at Bharat Sevasram Sangha Ashram
At around 8 PM I started my return journey to BSS along with my sister. We carried our requirement of clothes and other necessary items in a small bag. Contrary to our worry, it was a smooth journey even at night time.
The room allotted to us was located at first floor, looked like a confined cell with two small cots. No other convenience like towel, soap
etc. Everything would be self-owned. Drinking water was to be brought from down stairs. No mosquito net, but luckily we brought a mosquito repellent which worked well. No room service. Most significantly AC was fully on and there was no remote to control the temperature. We would be freezed if it continued. After frantic search I could catch the room boy who increased the temperature. We were relieved.
The dinner was simple but delicious with Roti, Daal and Sabji at a nearby hotel and at a very cheap rate. Feeling tired with a tight schedule throughout the day, I slept immediately.
Our original plan was to get up at round 5.30 AM in the early morning next day and to get ready for the ceremony. But a big uproar sometimes after midnight interrupted our sleep. I could hear the High pitch chanting of Harinaam kirtaan (prayer to God) with musical instruments being played breaking the silence of night. I saw my watch. It was 3.30 AM in the morning. With chanting continued without a break we had to get up and prepare ourselves for the morning schedule. Important brief by Sangha Maharaj next day morning
At around 7.30 AM the counter opened. Swamiji at the counter asked queries like whether we completed the first yearly rituals, accidental or natural death, our budget etc. Luckily there were not many people in the queue. We were allotted the priest, his name was Mr Barun Bhattacharjee. A gentle, middle-aged man who helped us a lot in our entire mission.
Main points of the brief were as follows :
a. For us Pinda daan would be held in three places i.e. Near Phalgu River, Inside the Vishnupad temple and in Akshay Bott.
b. Name of parents, their ancestors (both father and mother) for last three generations, their relationship with the devotees and Gotra would be required for offering pindadaan.
c. On the way to our destination we had to face pandas (Brahmins). Tackling them would be the toughest challenge in the whole pilgrimage. They would encircle us, ask the name of our forefathers, original native place etc to match with the good old records they maintained for generations. Although it had no relation to our Pindadaan Ceremony, this harassment was going on for ages. They would apply all kinds of tactics like threatening, intimidating
and even snatching, to extract as much money as possible.
d. In every place of our worship it would continue. Being a local resident and to avoid subsequent bad blood our priest would not open his mouth during our interaction with them. Devotee had to negotiate with them and pay based on his affordability.
e. Our priest would collect the required puja items for which we had to pay separately.
The priest hired an auto on our behalf and our mission commenced at last. Facing the Panda flock
According to mythology Brahmins of Gaya were cursed by Sita Devi to be always greedy and dissatisfied. Our first encounter with Pandas proved that point. On our journey towards Falgu river through a narrow road (Bishnupur Road), the priest halted for buying some puja items at a place called Chandchoura. Immediately a group of panda surrounded our auto. Barrage of questions were coming like bombardment : “native place”, “forefathers name”, “gotra”, “address”, “native place and its locality” etc. Search for tracing our details in their records continued. It was a real test of patience and keeping ourselves cool despite all temptations. We were reasonably prepared
but some of the questions were out of syallabus. We were dumfounded when the next query was made regarding name of street and house number of our ancestors. We did not have such minute details about the place of abode of our forefathers. Ragging continued until our priest returned and somehow rescued us.
This was repeated many times when we entered the narrow lane as also the shaded compound on the bank of holy Falgu River where our ceremony would begin. Questions were known by then and our replies were better placed based on earlier experience. Priest also helped us to overcome this challenge. Falgu River
This river was unique due to only sand wherever we looked on the surface, although water flowed underground. There was an interesting legend behind it which our priest narrated at our last puja destination.
My puja ceremony involved daans (i.e. givings) through pinda (balls made of cereals, ghee etc) to the deceased elders of our family i.e.
a. My parents,
b. My maternal and paternal uncles who expired,
c. Three generations of my maternal and paternal grand parents,
My sister was also willing to
offer puja, but the tradition did not permit. She sat beside me from beginning to the end, assisted me to remember all the names and offer puja.
Priest told me to imagine the images of our parents while offering puja. Uttering name of our ancestors individually with Gotra, I offered prayers chanting mantras as guided by our priest. As per custom offerings were also made to those deceased who could not receive Pindadaan from their descendents. I also offered favourite food of our parents during the puja. It was a lengthy ceremony which took more than an hour. Vishnupada Temple
Next phase of puja was held at Vishnupad temple. It was around ten minutes walk through the narrow lanes. This beautiful temple was famous for the footprint of Lord Vishnu imprinted on a rock and worshipped for centuries by devotees. Pindadaan ceremony was performed outside the main hall at a corner. Afterwards I offered pindas at the feet of Lord Vishnu. Akhshay Vata
Last phase of our offering was held at “Akhshay Bott”, which was around half an hour journey by auto. Temple compound was located near a peepal tree adjacent
to Phalgu river. Here the Priest permitted both myself and my sister to perform puja. He also asked whether we were ready to leave one favourite food for the rest of our life in memory of our parents. After the puja he also narrated a beautiful story behind name of this place. Legend of Curse and Blessings of Sita
Lord Rama visited Gaya along with Sita Devi and Lakshman to perform Pindadaan for his father, King Dasaratha. Ironically when the brothers went to take bath in the river, King Dasarath appeared to Sitadevi sitting on the river banks and asked for the Pindam. Sita pleaded him to wait till his sons return and offer traditional pinda with rice and til. But Dasarath refused to wait. Sita gave him pindam made of sand keeping five witnesses – the Akshaya Vata, Falgu River, a cow, a Tulsi plant and a Brahmin.
After their return when the brothers started rituals, King Dasarath appeared and said that he already had received Pinda. Sita then narrated what happened in their absence which they did not believe. Sita then asked the five witnesses to tell the truth. Amongst the five
only Akshay vatam took her side and spoke the truth and all others lied. In her anger Sita cursed all the four liers as follows :
a. Falgu river would have no water at Gaya,
b. Cows would not be worshipped from the front unlike others – only its backside would be worshipped,
c. There would not be any Tulsi plants at Gaya,
d. Brahmins of Gaya would be ever greedy and always crave for more.
She also blessed the Akshay Vat (Banyan Tree) to be evergreen and immortal. People who come to Gaya for pindadaan, would come to Akhsay Vatam too for offering pinda to their anscestors.
Whole ceremony was completed by 12 O Clock. By then, other members of our family also rejoined with us. It was extremely satisfying feeling from our heart. We felt relieved that our mission was fruitful. We broke our fasting with sweets and snacks.
Our next program was to visit Nalanda and Viswa Shanti Stupa at Rajgir on the same day.
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