No deva-puja is so old and so famous in India as that of Siva or Mahadeva (the great god), who occupies an honoured place in the Hindu Trinity. Historically, it is as old as the Indus Valley civilisation. Copious references have been made in honour of Siva, in the Vedas, epics and Puranas. The mighty king Jarasandha-Asura of Magadha, (which includes Gaya), was a devout worshipper of Rudra-Siva. The Mahabharata has mentioned the figure of Nandi of Griddheshvara-Siva existing on Griddhakuta at Gaya and the same still forms a holy spot of the Gaya pilgrimage .The impressive black-basalt stone-temple of Prapitamaheshvara, referred to in the Agni Purana ,stands at the feet of two adjoining sacred hills of Brahamayoni and Vasma-Koota and just to the east of the holy Rukmini Kendra, on the northern side of the famous shraddha-vedi of Akshyavata. The charming hilly environs of the temple present pleasant views. It is one of the oldest and loftiest existing temples of Gaya.
The pyramidal tower of the temple is surmounted by amalaka, ornamented finial and a broken iron trident. This temple was originally built in 1050 A.D. by Visvaroopa at the time of King Nayapala belonging to the famous Pala dynasty, as is evident from the stone inscription found in the neighbouring Vatesha-Temple (1050) standing under the famous Akshayvata where pindas are offered by the pilgrims. The sanctum of the temple contains the phallic symbol oflord Siva called Prapitamaheshvara. The shape of the Linga is of uncommon type. Its upper part is tapering and its base bears a circle of lotuses. The top of the Linga is bulged out like a jata. Its cylindrical body shows three circular belts and fifteen vertical stripes. It is an Ekmukhi Linga, representing the face of lord Siva. He is bedecked with a ‘munda-mala with eleven beads and other ornaments. The Linga stands on an uncommon type of Argha, which is circular in shape instead of being projected to the northern side. The temple has its attached sabhamandapa in the front, i.e., to the east. These columns bear little ornamentation. There are five graceful domes over the mandapa, revealing its unique type. The enormous size and height of the mandapa do not conform to that of the structure of the temple. The mandapa contains an old and elegant image of Ganesha. It is assumed that the stone-materials, employed in rebuilding this temple (excepting the original lower part of the sanctum) and its mandapa, were brought from some ruined temples of the neighbourhood, This may be known from the fact that a stone door-jamb has been used as the roof-slab of the garbhagrihe; a huge stone door-lintel has been utilised as a step leading to the mandapa and the stone blocks of the temple’s tower are of different shapes, sizes and ornamentations.
According to the Puranas, Prapitamaheshvara, like Gadadhara, is a witness-deity for the performance of the pinda-dana ceremony completed by the pilgrim at Gaya. This is also supported by a stone inscription dated 1240 A.D. of the time of Sultana Maujidina (or Sultan Maujuddin) fixed in the northern outer-wall of the mandapa, recording that one Rajput chief, Mantreshvara Kamdeva, performed Gayashraddha duly witnessed by the god, Prapitamaheshvara of Gaya. In front of the mandapa, there is a brickmade, small, circular platform. According to local tradition, it is the burial place of a military chief who died on the spot, immediately after his breaking a part of the iron trident on the top of the temple by an arrow and this broken trident is still seen there. It is noteworthy that the people of the locality, as a customary rite, perform, within the precincts of the temple, some funeral rites.
Other Puranic Saiva deities, enshrined in the temples at Gaya-kshetra are:
- Falgisha, Kedara,
- Pitarauni, Ekoddishta, etc.