Kathasaritsagara (the Ocean of Story)

by Somadeva | 1924 | 1,023,469 words | ISBN-13: 9789350501351

This is the English translation of the Kathasaritsagara written by Somadeva around 1070. The principle story line revolves around prince Naravāhanadatta and his quest to become the emperor of the Vidhyādharas (‘celestial beings’). The work is one of the adoptations of the now lost Bṛhatkathā, a great Indian epic tale said to have been composed by ...

On the glories of Gayā (Gayāmāhātmya)

Note: this text is extracted from Book XII, chapter 86

“In that city [Vārāṇasī] he fasted for three days, and then worshipped Śiva with various meat-offerings, as became his own rank, and then set out for Gayā. As he travelled through the woods, the trees, which were bent down by the weight of their fruit, and in which the birds were sweetly singing, seemed at every step to be bowing before him and praising him at the same time; and the winds, throwing about the woodland flowers, seemed to honour him with posies. And so he crossed the forest districts and reached the sacred hill of Gayā (Gayaśiras or Gayāśiras). And there he duly performed a śrāddha, in which he bestowed many gifts on Brāhmans, and then he entered the Holy Wood (Dharmāraṇya). And while he was offering the sacrificial cake to his father in the well of Gayā there rose out of it three human hands to take the cake”

[Gayaśiras or Gayāśiras] literally [means] “head of Gayā.” When Gayāsura was engaged in devotion on the hill Kolāhal, about thirty miles from Gayā, Brahmā and the other gods came to him, and asked him what object he had in view. He said that his wish was that his body might become the holiest thing in the world, so that all who touched it might at once obtain salvation. The request was granted. But Yama complained to Brahmā that no one now came to hell, so that his position had become a sinecure. Thereupon Brahmā, after taking counsel with the other gods, went to Gayāsura, and asked him to give his body for a place on which to perform a sacrifice. He consented. Then Brahmā performed his sacrifice on the body of Gayāsura, placed several gods on it, and made it immovable. His body now lies with its head towards the north and its feet towards the south. It is therefore called Gayākṣetra. The area of Gayākṣetra is ten square miles. The interior part of Gayākṣetra, about two square miles in extent, is called Gayāśiraḥ, or the head of Gayā. A more usual form appears to be Gayaśirah, the head of the Asura Gaya. It is a little south-west of Bīṣṇu Pad. The pilgrims offer piṇḍas there. The principal part of Gayāśiraḥ is called Gayāmukha. Srāddhas are performed there.

Dharmāraṇya, which I have translated “Holy Wood,” is a place in the east of Bodh Gayā, where Dharmarāja performed a sacrifice. Gayākūpa, or the well of Gayā, is in the south-west of Gayāśiraḥ. Here piṇḍas are offered to ancestors who have been great sinners. The above note is summarised from some remarks by Babu Sheo Narain Trivedi, Deputy Inspector of Schools, made for my information, at the request of W. Kemble, Esq., C.S., Magistrate of Gayā. Pandit Maheśa Candra Nyāyaratna has pointed out to me that there is an account of the glories of Gayā in the Vāyu Purāṇa, and another in the Padma Purāṇa. [These agree pretty nearly with that given above.]

See also Barth’s Religions of India, p. 278, note 2——It would be hard to overestimate the sacredness of the little village of Gayā in the eyes of Buddhists.

It “is now,” says Sir George Grierson (in a most interesting article, “Gayā,” Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eth., vol. vi, p. 182),

“the most holy spot on the earth to something like a hundred and forty millions of people.”

The whole article should be read.—n.m.p.

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