Foreigners seek salvation of their ancestors’ souls in Gaya

They are not Hindus, not even Indians. They all are from various foreign lands, visiting India as tourists; yet they are performing the Hindu ritual of “Pinda Daan”, like lakhs of other Hindus, in the pilgrim town of Gaya in Bihar.

Every year during “Pitrapaksh” — the 15-day lunar period as per the Hindu calendar, falling immediately after “Anant Chaturdashi” or “Ganesh Visarjan” — Hindus descend on this pilgrim town to perform the Pinda Daan ritual for salvation of their ancestors’ souls.

A group of 18 foreign tourists, mostly from Germany, Spain and Russia, offered Pinda Daan on Friday in Gaya, about 100 km from state capital Patna, much to the surprise of thousands of Hindu pilgrims gathered here from across the country, a district administration official said.

“They performed Pinda Daan in Gaya for their family and ancestors and expressed their amazing experiences,” said an official.

They will stay in Gaya for three days to perform different rituals, according to officials.

A Hindu priest, locally known as Gaywal Panda, Gopal Lal, who has been conducting the rites for the pilgrims on the banks of Falgu river within the famous Vishnupad temple premises in Gaya, also said that foreigners had been performing Pinda Daan in large numbers.

A Hindu pilgrim from Gwalior, Satish Chand, said he was stunned when a group of foreign women offered Pinda Daan. “It’s something unusual for me,” he said. As per Hindu traditions, only men perform the ritual.

Elaborating on the importance of the ritual, a priest said: “The soul keeps wandering till this ritual is performed by male descendants of the dead. As per Hindu beliefs, the soul keeps wanders after death until Pinda Daan is offered.”

Hindu devotees offering the Pinda Daan get their heads shaven, take a holy dip and head for the local Baitarni pond. The prayers are performed at Vishnupad temple, named after Hindu god, Lord Vishnu.

According to officials in the Gaya district administration, more than 100,000 Hindu devotees have already performed the ritual in the first three days of the fortnight.

The religious service seeking salvation for the dead began in Gaya on last Wednesday.

More than half-a-million Hindu pilgrims are likely to visit Gaya during this period, according to the Gaya administration officials.

The district administration has made elaborate arrangements for the safety and security of the pilgrims.

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