GAYA, a city and district of India, in the Patna division of Bengal. The city is situated 85 m. S. of Patna by rail. Pop. (1901) 71,288. It consists of two distinct parts, adjoining each other; the part containing the residences of the priests is Gaya proper; and the other, which is the business quarter, is called Sahibganj. The civil offices and residences of the European inhabitants are situated here. Gaya derives its sanctity from incidents in the life of Buddha. But a local legend also exists concerning a pagan monster of great sanctity, named Gaya, who by long penance had become holy, so that all who saw or touched him were saved from perdition. Yama, the lord of hell, appealed to the gods, who induced Gaya to lie down in order that his body might be a place of sacrifice; and once down, Yama placed a large stone on him to keep him there. The tricked demon struggled violently, and, in order to pacify him, Vishnu promised that the gods should take up their permanent residence in him, and that any one who made a pilgrimage to the spot where he lay should be delivered from the terrors of the Hindu place of torment. This may possibly be a Brahmanic rendering of Buddha's life and work. There are forty-five sacred spots (of which the temple of Vishnupada is the chief) in and around the city, and these are visited by thousands of pilgrims annually. During the Mutiny the large store of treasure here was conveyed safely to Calcutta by Mr A. Money. The city contains a government high school and an hospital, with a Lady Elgin branch for women.
The District of Gaya comprises an area of 4712 sq. m. Generally speaking, it consists of a level plain, with a ridge of prettily wooded hills along the southern boundary, whence the country falls with a gentle slope towards the Ganges. Rocky hills occasionally occur, either detached or in groups, the loftiest being Maher hill about 12 m. S.E. of Gaya city, with an elevation of 1620 ft. above sea-level. The eastern part of the district is highly cultivated; the portions to the north and west are less fertile; while in the south the country is thinly peopled and consists of hills, the jungles on which are full of wild animals. The principal river is the Son, which marks the boundary between Gaya and Shahabad, navigable by small boats throughout the year, and by craft of 20-tons burden in the rainy season. Other rivers are the Punpun, Phalgu and Jamuna. Two branches of the Son canal system, the eastern main canal and the Patna canal, intersect the district. In 1901 the population was 2,059,933, showing a decrease of 3% in the decade. Among the higher castes there is an unusually large proportion of Brahmans, a circumstance due to the number of sacred places which the district contains. The Gayawals, or priests in charge of the holy places, are held in high esteem by the pilgrims; but they are not pure Brahmans, and are looked down upon by those who are. They live an idle and dissolute life, but are very wealthy, from contributions extorted from the pilgrims. Buddh Gaya, about 6 m. S. of Gaya city, is one of the holiest sites of Buddhism, as containing the tree under which Sakyamuni attained enlightenment. In addition to many ruins and sculptures, there is a temple restored by the government in 1881. Another place of religious interest is a temple of great antiquity, which crowns the highest peak of the Barabar hills, and at which a religious fair is held each September, attended by 10,000 to 20,000 pilgrims. At the foot of the hill are numerous rock caves excavated about 200 B.C. The opium poppy is largely cultivated. There are a number of lac factories. Manufactures consist of common brass utensils, black stone ornaments, pottery, tussur-silk and cotton cloth. Formerly paper-making was an important manufacture in the district, but it has entirely died out. The chief exports are food grains, oil seeds, indigo, crude opium (sent to Patna for manufacture), saltpetre, sugar, blankets, brass utensils, etc. The imports are salt, piece goods, cotton, timber, bamboos, tobacco, lac, iron, spices and fruits. The district is traversed by four branches of the East Indian railway. In 1901 it suffered severely from the plague.
See District Gazetteer (1906); Sir A. Cunningham, Mahabodhi (1892).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)