Vishnupad Temple, Gaya

Exterior of the Vishnupad Mandir
Image courtesy: http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in

“Vishnupad Mandir”, which literally means “Temple of Vishnu’s feet”, is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, in the ancient city of Gaya, Bihar, India. Located on the banks of the river Phalgu, the Vishnupad temple is said to be the exact site where Lord Vishnu had pressed His feet on the demon Gayasura’s body, leaving the imprint of His feet on the rocky surface. The footprint, known as Dharmasila, is incised into a block of basalt.

Shikara – Nagara style, Kalasha, flag.
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in

The earliest available evidence for the physical existence of the Vishnupad temple goes back to the period of Samudragupta, who ruled over a vast empire during the 5th Century CE. The inscriptional source for this evidence is based on the Basarh Seal discovered in Vaishali. This seal mentions ‘Sri Vishnupad Swaminarayan’, who is the patron deity of Gaya. A 9th-century inscription commemorates the dedication of a house for ascetics at Vishnupad by the Pala king Narayanapala. A record dated to 1058 CE mentions that Vishvarupa, the ruler of Gaya built the Gadadhara temple, which forms part of the Vishnupad temple complex. The present-day structure was rebuilt by Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar, the ruler of Indore, in 1787.

As instructed by the queen, munger black stone were brought from mountains near the village Bathani and carved in Patharkatti, another village and also a tourist place in Bihar. The final temple was assembled in Gaya near Vishnupad temple site.

Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in

The Shikara of the main shrine measures a height of 100 feet, and is built following the Nagara style of construction. The Kalasha atop the structure has a flag of gold, weighing 50 kgs. A pillared Mantapa adjacent to it, has a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva, where a Shivalinga is worshipped.

The sacred footprint of Lord Vishnu being worshipped.
Image Courtesy : http://www.detechter.com

The sanctum sanctorum faces East. It is octagonal in shape and has the engraved holy footprint of Lord Vishnu, measuring 40 cm. His celebrated symbols – the Conch, Discus and the Mace are imprinted on It. This is surrounded by an octagonal silver-plated basin.  The inner walls of the octagonal shrine have numerous alcoves, depicting several Gods from the Hindu pantheon.

Interior of the Vishnupad Mandir
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in
Pillar detailing
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The pillared Mantapa or pavilion is supported by 8 rows of carved pillars. The temple is built on undulating rocky ground. Since this spot is Gayasura’s body turned to stone, no attempt has been made to level the slopes and curves of the floor. The superstructure is held together at places by iron clamps.

Undulating rocky ground -1
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in
Undulating rocky ground -2
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in
The Akshaya Vat – Immortal Banyan tree
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in

Within the temple premises stands an ancient Banyan tree named the Akshaya Vat, meaning “Immortal Banyan”. This tree is surrounded by a raised platform and a hexagonal railing around it. There is a Navagraha panel inscription on one side of this platform. The tree has an important part to play in the performance of rituals.

The Navagraha panel
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in

There are numerous smaller shrines in the temple premises, as well as niches with sculptures and panels, depicting the various forms of God.

A niche with Lord Ganesh
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in
Sculptures in niche depicting Lord Vishnu and His Dashavatara.
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in
A shrine for the Shivlinga
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Sundial in the courtyard
Image courtesy : http://www.tourism.bihar.gov.in

Worship of the Sun God in this region, dates back to antiquity and one can see a sun-dial installed in the temple premises. There are several temples dedicated to the Sun God in proximity to the Vishnupad temple, including a temple of Lord Suryanarayana at the Gayatri Ghat, with a 7-foot-tall image of the Sun God.

Ghats along the river Phalgu
Image courtesy : http://www.shunya.net

From within the Vishnupad temple complex, one can go down the steps to the Ghats on the bank of river Phalgu. The river is dry for most part of the year except the monsoon season and even then, the water level does not rise beyond 1 to 2 feet. But when one digs a little into the sandy riverbed, there is sub-surface water that is always present and can be accessed for the ritual worship. There is an interesting legend that is associated with this phenomenon. The entire city of Gaya is considered sacrosanct and Vishnupad Temple is the most hallowed place for the performance of rituals and ceremonies, in honour of the departed ancestors.

Data courtesy : Wikipedia, pragyata.com, detechter.com

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