|Nestled in the folds of the mighty Trikuta mountain
61 kilometres north of Jammu at a height of 5,200 feet from
the sea level, the cave shrine of Trikuta Bhagwati has been
a beacon of faith and fulfillment for millions of devotees since
time immemorial. Vaishno Devi, a holy cave shrine situated at
an altitude of over 5000 feet in a beautiful recess of the Trikuta
mountains forming a part of the lower Himalayas attracts a huge
number of pilgrims every day of the year unless the route is
blocked by snowfall.
Within the cave are ancient images of three deities, the Mahakali,
Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. Popular belief holds that anybody
who walks up to the shrine of Vaishno Devi to ask for a boon
rarely goes back disappointed. There are many who journey here
year after year to pay obeisance, regardless of their faith
or belief, creed or class, caste or religion, for Mata Vaishno
Devi transcends all such barriers.
As the legend goes, more than 700 years ago Mata Vaishno Devi,
a devotee of Lord Vishnu, had taken a vow of celibacy. Bhairon
Nath, a tantric (demon-God) tried to behold her, making use
of his tantric powers. On arriving at the holy cave at Darbar,
she assumed the form of Maha Kali and cut-off Bhairon Nath's
head which was flung up the mountain by the force of the blow
and fell at the place where the Bhairon temple is now located.
The boulder at the mouth of the holy cave according to the
legend is the petrified torso of Bhairon Nath who was granted
divine forgiveness by the benevolent Mata in his dying moments.
The abode of the Goddess Vaishno Devi is in the Moutains of
Trikuta Hills, in the Jammu and Kashmir State of Northern
India. Ma resides in a beautiful cave in the form of 3 'Pindis'
namely, Maha-Kali, Maha-Laxmi and Maha-Sarawati. Ma Vaishno
Devi took birth in the South of India in the home of Ratnakar
Sagar, Her worldly parents had remained childless for a long
time. Ratnakar had promised, the night before the birth of
the Divine child, that he would not come in the way of whatever
his child desired. Ma Vaishno Devi was called Trikuta as a
child. Later She was called Vaishnavi because of Her taking
birth from Lord Vishnu's lineage. When Trikuta was 9 years
old, She sought her father's permission for doing penance
on the sea-shore. Trikuta prayed to Lord Vishnu in the form
of Rama. During Shree Ram's search for Sita, He reached the
sea-shore along with His army. His eyes fell on this Divine
Girl in deep meditation. Trikuta told Shree Ram that She had
accepted Him as Her husband. Shree Ram told Her that during
this Incarnation He had vowed to be faithful to only Sita.
However the Lord assured Her that in 'Kaliyuga' He would manifest
as 'Kalki' and would marry Her. In the meantime Shree Ram
asked Trikuta to meditate in the cave found in the Trikuta
Range of Manik Mountains, situated in Northern India. Ma decided
to observe the 'Navratra' for the Victory of Shree Ram against
Ravan. Hence one reads the Ramayana during the 9 days of Navratra,
in remembrance of the above connection. Shree Ram promised
that the whole world would sing Ma Vaishno Devi's praise.
Trikuta was to become famous as Vaishno Devi and would become
immortal forever. With the passage of time many more stories
about the Mother Goddess emerged. One such story is about
Shree-Dhar. The above story is about 700 years old. Shri-Dhar
was an ardent devotee of Ma Vaishno Devi. He resided in a
village called Hansali, 2 Km away from the present Katra town.
Once Ma appeared to him in the form of a young bewitching
girl. The young girl asked the humble Pandit to hold a 'Bhandara'.
(A feast to feed the mendicants and devotees).
The Pandit set out to invite people from the village and near-by
places. He also invited 'Bhairav Nath'. Bhairav Nath asked
Shri-Dhar how he was planning to fulfill the requirements.
He reminded him of the bad consequences in case of failure.
As Panditji was lost in worry, the Divine girl appeared and
told Him not to be despondent as everything had been arranged.
She asked that over 360 devotees be seated in the small hut.
True to Her word the Bhandara went smoothly with food and
place to spare. Bhairav Nath admitted that the girl had supernatural
powers and decided to test Her further. Bhairav Nath followed
the Divine girl to Trikuta Hills. For 9 months Bhairav Nath
was searching for the mystic girl in the mountains. He saw
the 'girl' hitting the stone with an arrow and water gushing
out of the stone. He 'saw' the 'girl' sitting on the mountain
top. When Bhairav went to that place, he saw footprints on
the stone. Bhairav wondered how the 'girl' had eluded him
for 9 months! Wondering whether she was hiding in the cave
(Adi Kunwaari), he decide to enter it. On seeing Bhairav entering
the cave, Ma tore open a path behind the cave, by Her trident
and came out. Ma reached the beautiful cave in the Trikuta
mountain. She urged Bhairav not to follow Her. But he disobeyed.
The Goddess took the shape of Fierce Chandi and killed Bhairav.
The head of Bhairav fell on the mountain peak. Bhairav had
Spiritual powers. So though his head was severed, he still
retained consciousness. Bhairav repented for his conduct.
Ma forgave him and granted him the boon that whosoever worshipped
Her would later visit his shrine. Meanwhile Pandit Shree-Dhar
became impatient. He started to march towards Trikuta Mountain
on the same path that he had witnessed in a dream. He ultimately
reached the cave mouth. He made a daily routine of worshipping
the 'Pindis' in several ways. His worship pleased the Goddess.
She appeared in front of him and blessed him. Since that day,
Shree-Dhar and his descendants have been worshipping the Goddess
Mother Vaishno Devi.
The Yatra (Religious Pilgrimage) begins in Katra at 1,700
ft. From here, pilgrims have to get a mandatory Yatra slip,
which is free of cost from the Yatra Registration Counter
at the Tourism Reception Centre. The Yatra traverses a distance
of 7 miles covering a vertical height of about 3500 ft. The
path is wide, tiled and well lit at night. Pure vegetarian
food and drinking water is available at outlets along the
route as well as public utilities. At Bhawan, pilgrims need
to present the Yatra slip at the Registration Office and obtain
a batch number, which determines your place in the queue for
darshan (holy offering). Here, pilgroims have a bath and proceed.
Luggage and leather items need to be booked in the cloakrooms
Places to visit
Going down for about a mile one crosses
Baan Ganga, a stream associated with Maa Vaishno Devi. Actually
from this place the stiff ascent on the Trikuta range starts.
The pilgrims take a purificatory dip in this stream before
starting on the ascent. This place is about two and a half
kilometers distant from Katra at an altitude of 2,800 ft.
above the sea-level.
Mata's cave shrine is nestled in snow-capped
mountains and forests of Trikuta mountain forming a part of
the lower Himalayas and 61 kilometers north of Jammu at a
height of 5,200 feet above the sea level in the state of Jammu
and Kashmir. There is a 13km mountain hike on foot from Katra
to the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. On reaching 'bhavan',
token of prashad can be bought and 'sanan' can be done before
entering the cave for 'darshan'.
It is believed that a supernatural power takes over every
soul to terrain the distance with ease.
It is believed that the journey to Mata's
shrine is complete only after visiting the shrine of Bhairon,
2.5 km from the Bhawan, on your way back. You have to collect
your belongings before going to this shrine, as the return
path from the Bhairon shrine joins the main path at Sanji
Light winter-wear is required at night
during the summer months. During the remaining part of the
year, carry heavy winter wear. During winter months, the path
may be blocked due to snowfall.The heaviest rush is during
the Navratra periods in March-April and September-October.