The Vishnupad Temple in Gaya is one of the most historic temples in Bihar, and is of particular religious importance in that it is one of the important ties between the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Located not too far from the Mahabodhi Temple, the most sacred Buddhist site in India, it marks another very important Buddhist site. For Hindus, it is incredibly important as it marks a spot where the Lord Vishnu once stood upon the Earth and left a footprint. For both of these reasons, and because of its proximity to Mahabodhi, the Vishnupad Temple is one of the most visited Hindu sites in northeast India.
The Vishnubad Temple is a very ancient place. Though the current structure is but a few centuries old, the site’s sacred importance goes back centuries longer, perhaps more than two thousand years. Its earliest association in history and religion is with Siddhartha Buddha, who lived in the village sometime around the 5th century BC. Some Buddhists and Hindus hold that he spent several years meditating on the spot that would someday be home to the temple.
In Hindu legend, a demon named Gayasura once inhabited the area. The demon, seeking to undo his past deeds and achieve some level of personal attonement, acquired the power to help others achieve salvation. This resulted in far too many unworthy supplicants gaining salvation, which caught the attention of the gods.
To redress this, the Lord Vishnu came and visited the demon. Desiring to stop Gayasura, Vishnu convinced him (either willingly or unwillingly) to disappear into the earth. Vishnu aided the demon in this by stepping on his head and pushing him deep underground. The spot where he drove the demon underground still bears the mark of the god’s foot.
Because of the events here, and perhaps even more because of the sacred footprint, the site became an incredibly popular pilgrimage destination. Several temples have stood here over the centuries, and many many important saints and other historic Hindus are known to have travelled here over many years. The current temple was constructed in 1787 by the leaders of Indore.
The Vishnupad Temple, which has spent much of history in the shadow of the magnificent and incredibly sacred Buddhist shrine known as the Mahabodhi Temple, is nevertheless quite the impressive structure in its own right. Next to the shrine, a staircase of one thousand stairs leads to the top of a nearby hill, a virtually mandatory climb for all pilgrims which offers spectacular views of the temple and all of Gaya.
The temple itself is one of the best examples of 18th century Hindu architecture in India. The exterior is very impressive, with a huge pyramid tower and an enormous onion dome over the main shrine. Inside the shrine are several important sacred spots: the rock bearing Vishnu’s footprint, of course, as well as one of Buddha’s places of meditiation.
The Vishnupad Temple is located on the west bank of the Falgu River on the south side of Gaya, approximately 500 miles east of New Delhi. It is closed to non-Hindus. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: N/A.
Gaya is also home to a prominent Durga Temple. Also, just nearby in Bodh Gaya is the spectacular Mahabodhi Temple, one of the world’s holiest Buddhist shrines.