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India is often described as the Land of Gods, where you will find places of great religious significance every few hundred kilometers. One such holy and revered shrine dedicated to Goddess Shakti (Sati or Adi Parashakti) is Vaishno Devi Temple located among the Trikuta Mountains in Jammu and Kashmir. The beloved shrine is visited by lakhs of pilgrims every year who brave harsh weather and a steep climb with true dedication and devotion to receive her blessings.
Vaishno Devi Temple is actually a cave where the Goddess is worshiped in the form of a five feet rock having a three-headed peak. These three heads are locally known as Pindies, each representing the three holy forms of Goddess Shakti. The Pindi on the right of the devotee represents Goddess Mahakali, the central Pindi represents Goddess Mahalakshmi and the Pindi to the left represents Goddess Saraswati.
Vaishno Devi Temple is located at one of the three peaks of the Trikuta Mountains. The 13 km Trek to the peak of the mountain begins at Katra, passes through Banganga and then diversifies into two different routes. One route passes via the Adhkuwari Temple and is the old route to reach the Bhawan. The route is steep and narrow but is considered to be built along the original route that the Goddess must have taken to reach the Holy Cave at the top. For the convenience of the devotees, a new route was constructed by the administration. The new route passes through Himkoti. The track is wide with an ascendable gradient. The track is preferred by pilgrims accompanied by senior citizens and children.
The Banganga is the first stop for the pilgrims en route to the Bhawan, followed by the Charan Paduka and Adhkuwari. The Adhkuwari shrine is the halfway point to the Bhawan. Vaishno Devi Temple is managed well and provides all required modern services to the visiting pilgrims such as food, shelter, resting places, viewing points, blankets, toilets, hot water facilities and medical facilities.
Vaishno Devi Temple History
- The exact date or the year of the beginning of worship of the Goddess in the caves is unknown. Several references can be found in the Mahabharata which mentions the holy goddess of Jamboo Mountains. It is believed that Jamboo is the ancient name of the present day Jammu. It is also believed that Pandavas where the original worshipers of the Goddess in the holy cave. Five stone figures probably representing the Pandavas can be found in a nearby mountain range giving some credibility to the association of Pandavas to Vaishno Devi Temple.
- According to the legend, in the Treta Yuga, Mata Vaishno Devi was born as Trikuta to a man named Ratnakar Sagar in South India. She was later named as Vaishnavi as she has taken birth from the lineage of Lord Vishnu. When she was 9 years old, she performed penance on the seashore and met Lord Rama. She asked for his hand in marriage but was promised by him that Lord Vishnu’s tenth avatar in the Kaliyuga, Kalki will marry her. Lord Rama instructed her to meditate in a cave present in the Trikuta Mountains of Jammu. He instructed her to set up an Ashram at the base of the mountains. He also gave her a bow and an arrow, a lion and a small army of monkeys for her protection.
- A devotee of Mata Vaishnodevi, Sridhar organized a Bhandara (Community meal) in which the whole village and Mahayogi Guru GorakshNathJi along with all his followers including Bhairavnath were invited as it was wish of Mata Vaishnodevi to invite MahaYogi Guru GorakshNathJi. Guru Gorakshnath visited a Bhandara along with more 300 disciples including the Bhairavnath. Bhairavnath was amazed by seeing the power of divine mother. He wanted to test her powers. For this, he asked Shiv Avatari Guru GorakshnathJi for his permission. Guru Gorakshnath said I do not recommend but still if you wanted to test, go ahead. Guru Gorakshnath and his all disciples enjoyed the pure vaishnav food and went off from there. Mahayogi Guru Gorakshnath accepted hospitality by only Mata Vaishnodevi since he follows a pure real vaishnav path. Bhairavnath stayed off to test her powers he attempted to grab Mata Vaishnodevi but she tried her best to daunt him. On failing to do so, Mata Vaishnodevi decided to flee away into the mountains to continue her Tapasaya undisturbed. BhairavNath however chased her to her destination.
- Vaishnavi halted at Charan Paduka, Banganga, and Adhkuwari, but she observed much to her distaste that Bhairon Nath followed her everywhere. Finally, she lost her patience and beheaded him outside the holy cave. The head of Bhairon Nath fell 1.5 km away and the site is known as the Bhairon Nath Temple today. His soul repented the incident and asked for forgiveness from the Goddess. The Goddess forgave him and granted him the wish that devotees should visit him to complete her pilgrimage.
- The Goddess is believed to have then shed her human form and took the form of a rock to continue uninterrupted meditation.
- The cave was then left to nature and was undiscovered until about 700 years ago. In a village named Hansali, near the Trikuta Mountains, lived a Brahmin Pandit named Shridhar. He was a staunch devotee of Goddess Shakti. Goddess Shakti was happy with his devotion and granted him a darshan in the form of a Kanya (young girl). He invited all the villagers to his humble hut for a Bhandara (a feast of food). However, the crowd that collected during the Bhandara was too much to accommodate inside his hut. He was also worried about the food availability for all his guests. Miraculously, the girl that gave him darshan appeared and created abundant food and space so as to fulfill everyone’s stomach.
- After the Bhandara, Shridhar wanted to thank the girl but could not find her. Dejected, he spent several sleepless nights. Eventually, he was given a darshan by the Goddess in her dreams directing him to proceed towards the cave that was her abode. He followed the directions in his dreams and eventually discovered the cave. It is believed that the three Goddesses, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Saraswati gave him darshan there.
- The trek to the Bhawan begins at the Darshani Darwaza. It is believed that Mata Vaishno Devi met Pandit Sridhar in the form of a young child at the spot. One can also get a complete view of the Trikuta Mountain range from the Darwaza.
- The legend of Banganga states that Goddess Vaishno Devi created the River from the tip of an arrow. Hence, the name “Ban” meaning Arrow in Hindi and Ganga signifying the holy River Ganga. It is believed that the Goddess was accompanied by a Langoor named Veer during her journey till the holy cave. At Banganga, the Langoor got thirsty. To quench his thirst, the Goddess created Banganga.
- The legend associated with the Charan Paduka mentions that at this place, the Goddess stopped and turned back to check whether Bhairon Nath was following her or not. Her footprints got enshrined at the location and are worshiped reverently.
- The Adhkuwari cave is believed to be the place where the Goddess Vaishno meditated and observed a penance dedicated to Lord Shiva for nine months. The cave that she meditated in was womb shaped and hence is also known as the Garbha Joon. During the meditation, she realized the presence of Bhairon Nath and created an exit route with a Trishul from the back of the cave. The cave and the Garbha Joon can be still visited by the pilgrims.
Significance of Vaishno Devi Temple
- The shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is popularly but controversially believed to be the most important Shakti Peetha of Goddess Sati. It is a belief that the skull or the head of the Goddess fell here after the Daksha Yagna episode. However, some also believe that the left arm of Goddess Sati fell here. To corroborate the beliefs, the remains of a human hand can still be found in the holy cave. This is known as “Varad Hast” meaning “The Hand that grants blessings”.
- It is strongly believed and certified by most of the devotees visiting the shrine that they usually receive an inner spiritual call or pull from the Mata or the Goddess to visit the Vaishno Devi shrine. It is a belief that only the one who receives the call will receive her blessings. Once the call or desire is raised, nothing on Earth will impede the devotee from reaching Vaishno Devi Temple.
- The three holy Pindies that are worshiped as manifestations of Goddess Shakti arise from a single rock at the base. However, they differ from each other in aspects of color and texture of the rock. The Pindi of Goddess Mahakali is black representing the unknown energy. Goddess Mahalakshmi’s Pindi exhibits golden yellow shade representing wealth, prosperity, and quality of life. The Pindi of Goddess Saraswati can be seen having a whitish tinge representing purity and wisdom of life.
- Vaishno Devi Temple is the most visited pilgrimage site in the Northern half of India and is the second most visited shrine in the Tirumala Sri Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh.
- It is a local belief that any devotee who passes through the Garbha Joon (Womb shaped cave at Adhkuwari) with pure devotion will get his or her wish fulfilled.
- As per the Hindu tradition, there are four Purusharth or the objectives of a good human life – Dharm (righteousness or justice), Arth (Material pursuits), Kaam (Contentment) and Moksha (Enlightenment). It is believed that a devotee who undertakes the Vaishno Devi Temple pilgrimage attains all these four objectives and that no one goes back empty handed.
Vaishno Devi Temple Darshan Timings
- Vaishno Devi Temple Temple remains open throughout the day and during the whole year. Devotees can get darshan of the Goddess anytime as soon as they reach the Vaishno Devi Temple premises.
- For pilgrims who choose to walk to the shrine, one must obtain a “Yatra Parchi” or a “Travel Slip” at the Yatra Registration Counter near the Katra Bus Stand. The slip is subject to regular checks throughout the trek and failure to produce it during the checks will result in discontinuation of the trek. The Yatra Parchi can be booked online as well by visiting the website https://www.maavaishnodevi.org
- After validation of the Travel Slip at the Bhawan, the devotees would be given a group number. This number will signify the duration the devotee has to wait to get a darshan and the sequence of his darshan.
Dress Code in Vaishno Devi Temple
- The Bhawan or the Holy Cave is situated 13 km from Katra at an altitude of 5200 meters. The minimum temperature of this region varies from -2 to 15 degree Celsius throughout the year. As a result, the region remains cool and chilly during the whole year. It is advised that devotees should be dressed warmly. Jackets, scarves, socks, and shawls are a must. If traveling with children or aged persons, special care should be taken regarding their winter tolerance.
- During the months of December-January, it snows in the higher reaches of the mountains. Hence, blankets and proper shoes are highly recommended.
- Raincoats are also advised especially during the monsoons and the winters. Walking sticks will be helpful for the occasional steep climb. These sticks will also be available in the shops lining the walking track.
Festivals celebrated at Vaishno Devi Temple
- Navaratri – The festival dedicated to the worship of the supreme Mother Goddess Shakti is celebrated at the Bhawan with great excitement and religious fervor. The festival is celebrated for nine days. The first three days are dedicated to Durga or Kali who signifies the destruction of evil. The next three days are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of wealth and prosperity. The last three days are dedicated to the Goddess of wisdom, Saraswati. The whole town of Katra is cleaned and decorated for the celebrations. The main Vaishno Devi Complex and surrounding temples are lit up with hundreds of lights. The Shobha Yatra of the Goddess is held during these nine days. Several cultural events like devotional singing competitions are held. The priests also conduct religious discourses throughout the nine days.
- Besides Navaratri, Deepavali, Ram Navami, and Mahashivaratri are also celebrated with great reverence.
Poojas and Rituals at Vaishno Devi Temple
- The Morning and the Evening Aarti – The Aarti dedicated to the Goddess is performed twice a day. The rituals are similar and are performed once just before sunrise and once immediately after the sunset. The whole process can take up to two hours to complete. Each Aarti is performed once inside the main shrine or the sanctum and then outside the cave where devotees gather to witness the divine procedure. The Pooja starts with an “Atma Pooja” meaning self-cleansing by the priests. The Goddess is then bathed with water, ghee, milk, honey and sugar. Among the several chants and shlokas, the Goddess is then dressed in a saree, chola and chuni. She is then adorned with several ornaments like bangles and sindoor (kumkum). The Naivedyam is then offered to the Goddess. The Aarti is then brought outside the cave where all the other Gods and Goddesses are worshiped.
- Individual Pooja – The Havan dedicated to the Goddess is conducted in the “Yagyashaala” at the main Bhawan. The devotees who desire to participate in the Yagna should report before 8 AM at Room number 8. The Pooja service should be booked online in advance. Alternatively, online booking can also be done by devotees who will be unable to attend the Pooja by themselves.
- Shraddha Suman Vishesh Pooja – This Pooja allows the devotee to attend the Aarti Darshan of the Goddess. There are four categories of booking which the devotees can choose depending upon the requirement. The categories differ in the number of devotees allowed to view the Aarti, ranging from one to five
How to reach Katra
- By Air – The nearest Airport is the Jammu domestic airport. Several private airlines and Air India operated regular flights to Jammu from major cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Chennai.
- By Train – The Katra railway station has been opened to handle the pilgrim rush in 2014. The station is named as Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra with the IRCTC code as SVDK. The station is connected by trains that connect several important cities in the country like New Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Pathankot, Jalandhar, Mangalore, and Kalka.
- By Road – Katra is located at a distance of 50 km from Jammu city. Several luxury bus operators run regular buses between Jammu and Katra. Private taxi facilities are also available for the devotees at a reasonable cost. These can be hired outside the Jammu Railway Station or the Airport.
- The trek to the Vaishno Devi shrine begins at the Banganga Checkpost in Katra. The journey distance is 13 km to the Bhawan at the top. This journey can be covered by foot, on horses, on palki (palanquin) and in a helicopter.
- The helicopter services should be preferable booked 60 days in advance. The booking can also be made at the Jagjivan Ghat near the Katra Bus Stand. However, the services are limited and subject to cancelation due to climatic changes. It is advised to book the tickets online as they are subject to easy cancelation.
Where to stay
- The Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board overlooks the operation of several guest houses and Dhams located in Jammu, Katra, Adkuwari, Sanjichhat and Bhawan. Clean and well-maintained rooms can be booked online by visiting the official website of the Board. There are 3 Dhams operated by the Board in Jammu named Vaishnavi Dham, Saraswati Dham, and the Kalika Dham. Four options namely Niharika, Shakti Bhawan, Trikuta Bhawan and the Aashirwad Bhawan can be booked at Katra. The Main Bhawan provides options like double bedded rooms as well as dormitories. The booking should be made at least 60 days in advance and are non-refundable.
- Besides these options, several halls have been constructed that allow pilgrims to take rest before proceeding for darshan. Blankets and medical aid are provided.
Where to eat
- The Temple administration provides Bhojanalaya services at the Main Bhawan as well as the Manokamana Bhawan Complex. The Bhojanalaya services are on no profit basis and hence cheap and affordable. The food is pure vegetarian and is hygienically prepared. Besides traditional food, mineral water, hot and cold beverages as well as milk is provided to all the pilgrims at a fixed and nominal price.
- Smoking, drinking and non-vegetarian food is not allowed during the trek.
- Bhairon Nath Temple – The Temple is located 2 km away from the Main Bhawan that houses the holy cave. The Temple is dedicated to Bhairon Nath. Legend has it that after the beheading of Bhairon Nath by Mata Vaishno Devi, his head fell at this spot. His soul felt repentant and asked for forgiveness from the Goddess. Appeased by the prayers, the Goddess granted him the wish that her pilgrimage will be completed by visiting his temple.
- Raghunath Temple – The famous Temple is one of the largest Temple Complexes in India. The Temple consists of seven individual shrines each with its own Shikhara or Tower. The Temple was constructed in 1860 by Maharaja Gulab Singh and is dedicated to Lord Rama. The Temple also houses hundreds of Saligramas dedicated to Lord Shiva. Several paintings depicting scenes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Bhagavad Gita can be seen adorning the walls of the Temple.
- Ranbireshwar Temple – The Temple is believed to host the biggest Linga of Lord Shiva. The Linga measures 8 feet in height and is constructed out of black shining stone. One can also view twelve Shiva Lingas made of crystal enshrined in this temple. Statues of Lord Ganesha, Lord Karthikeya, and Nandi are also worshiped in the Temple premises.