During the Mahalaya paksha period, here is a travelogue about Gaya and its significance.
On 25.09.2013, Left Varanasi for Gaya at 11.30pm.in two jeeps, each carrying 6 passengers (Rs 1,150 per head). At about 2.30 our jeep got punctured. Sri Ramani, Sri Ramesh and Sri Sundararajan helped driver Pande while Hema and me watched. It was pitch dark, no habitation in sight and pretty scary. The tyre was fixed in about 45 minutes. It was raining and we got inside but Sri Sundar, Sri Ramani and Pandeji were drenched. We had called Mr. Sreedharan travelling in the other jeep and they waited till we reached them. We reached Gaya at about half past seven. Pitru paksh mela was on, so entry of heavy vehicles from other states was not allowed. We took an auto (Rs 150) to Karnatak Bhavan. A police charged us Rs 20 for allowing entry from the wrong side.
At Karnatak Bhavan we were given a room with a wooden diwan. We brushed our teeth washed our clothes and put them to dry on the terrace. Meanwhile we had cofffee/milk, had bath and wore half dried clothes and got ready for Shrardham. The 12 of our group and about 20 in another group were directed through narrow streets to Phalguni River. This river is generally dry due to Seetha’s curse but due to rains, there was water this time of the year. Generally water is bought for money per shombu. The men went and fetched water in their respective shombus. (shombu and kulapatram udhirini were provided by Karnatak Bhavan) and we were all taken to a room. Men performing shrardham sat in rows and the wives stood behind them. Each performer was given cooked rice and the wives made rice balls. Those who had lost both parents were to make 17+64 balls, those who had lost their father alone had to make 17+48 balls. The officiating priest was Sri RamaKrishnacharya. His assisstant laid five rows of darbha before each kartha and placed a leaf of black sesame seeds before each. The wives stood behind their husbands holding dharbhas with the tips touching the shoulders of the kartha. Yagnopaveetham was changed. The priest did Sriman Venkatanatharya sankalpam for Sri Vaishnavas assembled and relevant sankalpam for smarthas. Pinda pradhanam was done first for those doing Go-dhanam with relevant mantras. Then mantras were said for the rest according to their vedas. Pindams were offered to one’s father, then grandfather then great grand father. The 2nd row was for mother, paternal grand-mother, paternal great grandmother. Third row was for maternal grandfather, great grandfather and great great grandfather, fourth row for maternal grandmother, great grandmother and great great grandmother. One pinda was placed at the top left hand side for Karunya pitru. The remaining four were placed in four corners. Sesame seeds were placed on the top of all balls. Plain rice with sprinkling of sesame seeds was offered to the seventeen rice balls along with water. This done the pindas were collected on a leaf, the darbhas were removed and the place cleaned up.
Next darbha was spread all around so as to fit in the 64 or 48 ball offerings. First 3 balls were for father, grandfather, great grandfather, then mother, paternal grandmother and great grand mother, then maternal grand father, great grand father and great great grandfather and maternal grand, great and great great grandmother. Then those without mothers were asked to keep 16 pindams and these were offered to the mother citing that each was an offering for the troubles she went through from the time of conception through 9 months of pregnancy and thereafter. The debt one owes to mother can never be repaid. This offering is just a token. When this happens we could not control our tears.
Next forgiveness was sought for the different criticisms we make in our daily lives. Beginning with Matru Ninda the list goes on to acharya, rivers, sastra, purana ninda etc etc. This over the remaining pindams were offered to relatives friends, animals etc etc. (we had a list ready so that the process is fast). One pindam for Karunika pitrus was placed in the centre, four in the four corners and plain rice sprinkled with sesame seeds and water was offered.
The 16 pindas were taken to Phalguni river and left to float .When Phalguni is dry these pindams are fed to cows. After this the 64 or 48 pindams were collected and we were guided to Vishnupadam. Vishnupadam has one foot of Vishnu. It was this foot that pressed the head of Gayasuran. This Gayasuran was a devotee of Vishnu, ,but he used to harass the demi-gods who sought Mahavishnu’s help. Mahavishnu wanted a place on Gayasuran’s body to perform a yagna and he gave his heart for the purpose. He could not bear the heat and succumbed to it. As his last wish he wanted that in this place which is named Gaya after him, people should be allowed to perform shrardha not only to their ancestors but for any body friend or foe, animal or bird and those who died in accidents or suffered unnatural deaths. Vishnu granted his wish and placed His foot on his head. This then is where pindams are placed and wheresoever one does shrardha Gaya, Vishnupadam and Akshaya vatam are remembered. Infact pindas are put on copper Vishnupadams .during yearly shrardhams.
Many karthas were seen drinking lassi at the wayside shops. Even water should not be taken as Gaya Srardham is not yet completed. From Vishnupadam we went to Karnataka Bhavan. On the 2nd floor an area was kept ready for doing homam. Two bricks, infront of which were two cowdung cakes (virrati) with camphor on top, dharbha grass, a mudcup with ghee, sesame seeds, plain rice akshata and a brass vessel containing cooked rice, vada and plantain karamadhu. The wives lit the camphor and placed the dung cakes on the bricks. Ramakrishnacharya in his clear voice gave clear instructions and the homam began. The women got busy making rice balls. Once the srardham was over the pindams were placed in the brass vessel. Meanwhile a Gaya Brahmin came in. Gaya Brahmins are Brahmanirmitha Brahmins who have Seetha’s curse on them and are never satisfied with however much they get as dakshina. Each kartha and his spouse had to give up eating a fruit, a vegetable and a leaf thenceforth (three days grace period is given and the promise starts thenceforth). In case these are accidently consumed prayaschitham is done by giving a kilo or so of the item as dhanam to a brahmin in the month of Karthigai.
The fruit, vegetable and leaf or money in lieu is given to the Brahmin and the thyagam is made. The Brahmin expresses satisfaction at the performance of shrarda etc.
Then we all went downstairs to find leaves readily set for Brahmin Bhojanam. with mudcups for water. The place was full of Gaya Brahmins in spotless white dhotis in panchakacham. Some people had brought dhotis but the Gaya Brahmins seemed to prefer cash. Each kartha and his wife washed the feet of their guests and food was served to them. When they were done they gave their blessings and the ceremony was over. After this we were taken in autos to Akshaya Vatam the Holy Banyan blessed by Seetha.
After offering dakshina and placing the pindams at the foot of the great tree we went back to Karnatak Bhavan and were served food. Rice, ghee, bittergourd preparation, chutney, karamani karamadhu, kuzhambu, poori, halwa, broken wheat porridge, sathumadhu, vada and butter-milk were served. Then we offered daksina to the priest, and dandavath pranamams and left Gaya with a feeling of satisfaction.
Why did Seetha curse the river, the Brahmin, the cow and Tulasi and bless Akshayavatam? When Rama Seetha came to Gaya to do Srardham Rama had gone to fetch the necessary items. Seetha was waiting on the banks of Phalguni, Dasaratha came asking for the pindam offering. Seetha could offer only a ball of mud and Dasaratha was satisfied. When Rama came back and made the appropriate offering Dasarath did not turn up. Seetha revealed her mudcake offering and called the Phalguni River, the cow, the Tulasi plant, the Brahmin and the Banyan tree as witnesses. The Banyan alone gave witness and got blessed. Phalguni got cursed to be dry, the cow became dumb, Tulasi (though it is very sacred) grows anywhere and the Brahmin never experiences satisfaction and as long as pindam offerings are given Gayasuran will remain pressed by Vishnu’s feet.
PS. This was a mass performance. One can contact the priest at Karnatak Bhavan and do srardham by doing your own cooking etc.
Shodshi M.N. Bacchu Acharya
Ram Sagar,NaiSadak Road
Gaya 823 001
English Writeup and Photos by: Vyjayanthi & Sundararajan, Tami Writeup and Drawings by: Hema and VenkataRamani