There is a place in India for everything. Banaras is where people go to die and attain “Moksh”( salvation). Gaya is where those who couldn’t attain salvation before their death are remembered and sent to Swargalok (heaven). The dead incur expenses for everything here.

Vishnupad temple, Gaya

“South ka log bahut aate ho Kya yahaan pe?” I asked my panda( The guy who performs the rituals) whether a lot of South Indians come to Gaya.

“Aap log hi hamara kheti Hain” You guys only are our agriculture, he said. I smelled business in Gaya right from the start. However I wanted to see the process through because I wouldn’t come here again probably. Besides my mother fished out a strange coincidence for the day that I came to Gaya. It was the same day that my maternal Grandfather had died. And he used to talk about Shraadh in Gaya. So now I had no choice but to perform it.

The dry riverbed of River Phalgu. It is on the banks of this river that Sriram performed his father’s Shraadh

If you visit Gaya, be sure to carry a lot of change. There are Brahmins and Beggars at every nook and corner waiting to give you blessings for money. The “pinda daan” that is performed here is the rituals of giving food and water to those who passed away, satisfy them and sending them off to heaven. It is said that it was in the Phalgu river (also called Niranjana) here that Sriram did the ritual for his father during his Vanvaas ( forest banishment of Ram)

Vishnupad temple outer wall

The temple at this location was built in the 18th century by Ahalyabhai Holkar of Indore. The temple has a basaltic rock with a footprint shape in it. The belief is that this is the footmark of Bhagwan Vishnu. Hence the name Vishnupad temple.

The dry river bed with the temple in the background

After praying at the sanctum sanctorum, the panda asked me whether I wanted to do the rituals at the river or on the top ( a platform built above the riverbed) My mind was full of an image of a river with water flowing with some force. I answered at the river. When I reached the river, it was nothing as I imagined.

The Phalgu river is a dried up river with no water flowing through it. I asked the panda why there is absolutely no water in the river. I wasn’t expecting him to give any environmental scientist type answer, but barely to say that the water flows during monsoon or winter ( As Himalayan rivers have more flow during winter. I don’t know whether this is a Himalayan River) However his response surprised me.

Ye Sitaji ki shaap Hain. This is the curse of Mother Sita. On my further asking why Sita cursed the river, he couldn’t come up with an answer.

I was asked to make 51 balls of rice flour. There was a well dug up in the river bed for water, which was manned by a 10 year old. He received 5 rupees for each jug of water he helped dig for the people who came. I also took a jug of water and returned to the spot, where the panda had laid out a gaffitti with white powder.

The well that was dug in the river bed.

Soon the chanting started. My maternal grandparents, Paternal grandparents, anonymous people from my family, people who died, who were murdered, who died in accident, suicides, died of animal bite, died of diseases, unknown cause of deaths, everything and everyone were dealt with. They were all paid obeisance too and would finally receive heaven. When all rituals were over, one leaf of rice was left at the river bed ( which I saw a cow eating within minutes of us walking off. These cows recci the area for rice balls dedicated to dead ancestors), the next leaf was taken to the temple and submitted at the foot of the deity, and the third plate at a tree in the vicinity.

The 51 rice balls that I was asked to make as offering to the ancestors.

The panda then told an elaborate story about how there used to be Brahmin bhojan in the earlier days during such occassions which would give mukti to the souls and I smelled a ruse. He wanted me to basically give him tips. This was in addition to the money I had paid at the Andhra Bhawan for arranging him. I did not argue much, but paid him some tips.

The entrance to the garbhagriha of the temple.

After this at every nook and corner, someone one woo you in the name of blessing and ask for Dakshina (tips). If you have parents/grandparents living, I suggest you spend money and keep them happy with the best facilities you can afford. Don’t wait to make them happy after their passing away.

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