Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gaya ...Gaya...Gaya...

My recent trip to Gaya turned out to be a two-in-one trip. Though the main purpose of the visit was to perform the ultimate ‘shrardham’ for my ancestors, it also turns out that by visiting Gaya which is located in Bihar, I can now claim to have visited most of the big States in India. (I am yet to visit only J&K and three of the `seven sisters` of the North East)

Gaya – about which I had imagined the worst turned out to be mostly true. A holy city for the Hindus, it is a dusty, dirty and overcrowded place where the rule of law is mostly non-existent, like in most places in Bihar. Traffic is haphazard, traffic constables cons picous by their absence, begging rampant and almost everybody is out to fleece the hapless tourists, most of whom are not necessarily flush with money.

Power and water are in acute short supply. In fact, while we were in Gaya , one day there was a big morcha in a big colony for regular water and power supply and another day the autorickshaws were on strike protesting against the local mafia who were forever demanding a share of their earnings as protection money, leaving the poor rickshawallas struggling for survival.

The supply of power was most erratic. Though, ‘Karnataka Bhavan’ where we were staying, had a genset, it could not be operated all the time, with the result we suffered two powerless, sleepless, sweaty nights in Gaya. We got a taste of what millions of poor people go through in their lives right through the year!
Contrary to my expectation, the Gaya station was a big junction, teeming with people even at 4.30 am. Though there was general lighting in the station, thanks to a big dedicated generator, all the shops in the station, depending on the ‘line’ supply had no power. The tea shopkeeper gave the lack of power in his shop as an excuse for his inability to supply us the morning cup of tea which we were eagerly looking forward to, while waiting for the train to Kanpur.
On the positive side, I must admit that I was quite impressed with the meticulousness with which our priest conducted the shrardh ceremony, which began at 8.00 am on the banks of waterless Falguni river and the nearby Vishnupada temple and ended at the Karnataka Bhavan at 3.30 pm. We could have our meals only at 4.00 pm. Contrary to the annual ritual conducted in Madras at jet speed by local priests, the priest at Gaya took time to explain to us the significance of what we were doing – especially the explanation given for offering 16 pindams (rice offerings) out of 64 to one’s mother , highlighting the important role a mother plays in ones life. It was really a moving experience.
Watching thousands of people performing the shrardh on the banks of Falguni river that morning, I realized that it is a big business in Gaya involving hundreds of priests and local Brahmins who make substantial income by participating in the rituals. Many other suppliers of materials needed for the ceremonies were also thriving.
For most believers among Brahmins, performing the shrardh at Gaya is a very important event, conducted to please the souls of near and dear ones including friends and pets like dogs, cats, etc.

On the whole the visit to Gaya was an interesting experience, though physically very taxing!.

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