Gaya - Vishnupada temple
Gaya is a good-sized city between Varanasi and Kolkata (Calcutta). It is 456km west of Kolkata (Calcutta), and 91km south of Patna. Gaya was included in the ancient kingdom of Magadha. Two or three hundred thousand Hindu pilgrims come here each year, many to do pinda (offer funeral cakes) and to perform the sraddha ceremonies for their ancestors.
Gaya is the train junction for Bodhgaya (13km). Besides visiting the holy places in town, there is not much to see or do in Gaya. The greatness of Gaya is described in the Mahabharata and in the Padma, Naradiya, Varaha, Kurma, Garuda, and Vayu Puranas. It is said that Lord Rama came here with Sita to perform ceremonies for his father. Vishnupada Temple is the main temple in Gaya, where pilgrims worship the lotus footprint of Lord Vishnu and perform the sraddha ceremony to liberate their departed forefathers.
Gaya is on the bank of the sacred Phalgu (Dry) River, so-called because part of the year its bed usually appears dry (if you scoop with your hand, however, you will at once come to clear water). The city is named after Gayasura, the son of Tripurasura. The history of Gaya is found in the Gaya Mahatmya, an appendix to the Vayu Purana, and in shorter form in the Agni and Garuda Puranas.
The asura (demon) Gaya acquired divine powers so that anyone who saw or touched him went straight to heaven. This intruded on the jurisdiction of Yamaraja, who rules death. Lord Vishnu killed the demon after granting him the boon that the ground covered by his body—some ten miles in extent—would become the holiest place on earth and be known as Gaya Ksetra. The ancestors of those who perform funeral ceremonies here are supposed to be sent straight to heaven.
There are fifty-five places in India to perform sraddha (pinda to one’s ancestors to save them from hell). Of these, Gaya is the most important, and the Ganges is the most important river.