One of the more interesting stories I heard during my Kashi travels was the story around the river Phalgun.
The riverside at Gaya is believed to be a confluence of 3 rivers; Phalgun, Nilanjan and Mohana. The river overflows it’s banks quite heavily during the monsoon season as it had when we were there. Whole trees were submerged and the force of the river was quite strong.
We stayed in the Shankara Acharaya matt next to the Vishnu Padam temple. This temple is centered around the feet of Lord Vishnu. The story goes that once a demon known as Gayasura, did a heavy penance and sought a boon that whoever see him should attain Moksham. Since salvation is achieved through being righteous in one’s lifetime, people started obtaining it easily.
To prevent immoral people from attaining salvation Lord Vishnu asked Gayasura to go beneath the earth and did so by placing his right foot on asura’s head. After pushing Gayasura below the surface of earth, Lord Vishnu’s foot print remained on the surface.
As with most sacred Hindu places, multiple stories abound. The above is what I read over the net when looking for the right spelling of the river. However, the story told to us is as below:
There was once an Asura named Gayasuran, who was a great devotee of Vishnu. However, he caused a lot of trouble and the Devas were quite troubled by him. When the Devas couldn’t bear the trouble he caused any more, they went to Vishnu and asked for a way out.
Vishnu approached Gayasuran and told him that He wanted to perform a special yagna, and wanted a special place to perform it. Gayasuran offered his heart, and Vishnu accepted. The yagna began, and soon, the fumes and the heat became unbearable, and Gayasuran started succumbing to it. Vishnu asked him for his final wish, and Gayasuran asked that the place he died would be immortalized by his name, and hence the name ‘Gaya’. Second, he asked that people should be allowed to perform the sacred rites (Pinda pradaanam) not only for their ancestors, but for anyone- family, distant relatives, friends and foes, non-Hindus, pets, unclaimed bodies- in short, for any dead human/creature they could think of. This remains the only place where Pinda pradaanam is carried out in this manner. 3 pindams are offered during the sharadhams at home; 16 during the Teertha Shrardham , as at Kashi, Allahabad, Rameswaram, etc., 16 pindams are offered, including all ancestors on both parents side. In Gaya, 64 pindams are offered, of which 32 are for the mother alone, since she carries her child for 9 whole months within her body, 16 for the ancestors, and 16 for all others as I have mentioned earlier.
Once Vishnu granted his wishes, he stepped on him with his foot, leaving a footprint at this holy place, and granting liberation to Gayasuran. It is this footprint which is worshipped as the Vishnu Padam. One can buy an imprint of the Padam on a muslin cloth and given to keep in the Puja room
Parents did the pindam at the Vishnu Padam temple and from there we went on to Akshaya Vatam. During the Sharadham, one also offered 64 pindams at the Akshaya Vatam and one is not supposed to bath at river Phalgun. This is due to the curse placed on the river by Sita.
The story goes that Rama, along with his brothers and Sita, came to Gaya to perform the sacred rites for his father, Dasaratha. When the brothers were bathing in the river, Sita was sitting on the banks, playing with the sand. Suddenly, Dasaratha appeared out of the sand, and asked Sita for the Pindam, saying he was hungry. Sita asked him to wait till his sons returned, so that she could give him the traditional Pindam of rice and til. He refused to wait, asking her to give him pindams made of the sand in her hand.
Having no other option, she gave him the Pindam he desired with five witnesses – the Akshaya Vatam, the Falguni River, a cow, a Tulsi plant and a Brahmin. Soon, Rama returned and started the rituals. In those days apparently, the ancestors would arrive in person to collect their share, and when Dasaratha did not appear, they wondered why. Sita then told them what had happened, but Rama could not believe that his father would accept pindams made of sand. Sita now mentioned her witnesses, and asked them to tell Rama the truth. Among the five, only the Akshaya Vatam took her side and told the truth, while the others lied, trying to take Rama’s side.
In her anger, Sita cursed all of them thus: the Falguni river henceforth would have no water at Gaya; the Cow would no longer be worshipped from the front as all others are- only its backside would be worshipped; there would be no more Tulsi plants at Gaya and the Gaya Brahmins would never be satisfied, they would always be hungry and crave more and more. She then blessed the Akshaya Vatam saying that all who came to Gaya would perform the Pinda pradaanam at the Akshaya Vatam too.
After visiting the Akshhaya Vatam, we went back to the Matt and finished off the Sharadam at Gaya with a Homum. I was responsible for fanning the flames to ensure the homom fire does not run out. Clearly I was lousy at it coz the uncle in-charge of the Matt who was watching the proceedings took over from me 🙂
We then gave food to the Brahmans and then had our usual late lunch at around 3 pm before proceeding back to Kashi.