The shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is one of the most visited pilgrim sites in India. Situated at a height of 5, 300 ft., the site is located inside a cave in a hill. One of the most visited pilgrim sites in India, the shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is located in a cave, amidst the folds of the Trikuta Bhagwati hill at a height of 5, 300 ft., in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J & K). This cave temple is at a distance of 61 kms from Jammu and the last 13 kms of the way have to be negotiated on foot by the yatris, as the devotees are called. Once at the entrance to the cave, the path turns into a narrow tunnel with a cold stream named the Charan Ganga running through it. The pilgrim has to wade through this to reach the sanctum sanctorum.
The holy cave shrine of Vaishno Devi is nestled in a beautiful recess of the Trikuta Mountains forming a part of the lower Himalayas. It is located 61 km north of Jammu at a height of 5,200 feet above the sea level in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In the cave there are images of three deities viz. the Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. The Vaishno Devi shrine is nestled in the Trikuta Mountain. It lies 61 km north of Jammu in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. Perched at a height of 5,200 feet above the sea level, Vaishno Devi is a cave in the lower Himalayas. Katra, the town at the foot of the Trikuta hills is the base camp for the Vaishno Devi shrine. Katra is 48 km from Jammu, 650 km from Delhi (via Una), 520 km from Udhampur, 410 km from Chandigarh and 80 km from Patnitop The shrine is visited all through the year, but the path is difficult during the winters when the route is often blocked by snowfall.
The temple of Vaishno Devi is dedicated to Vaishnavi, the human manifestation of Goddess Shakti. Within the temple is the deity in the form of a five and half feet tall rock with three Pindies or heads. It is written that the goddess to achieve her destiny of finally merging with Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a human and was born as Vaishnavi, in the household of one Ratnakar. Even as a young girl, Vaishnavi displayed an immense thirst for knowledge that soon out thought her teachers. Soon she started to search within herself for the answers that she couldn’t find elsewhere and learnt the art of meditation. Realizing the importance of Tapasya (meditation) Vaishnavi renounced all worldly comforts and betook herself to the forest to meditate in peace. Legend has it that while Vaishnavi was in the forest she encountered Lord Rama, prince of Ayodhya, who was in exile. Recognizing him immediately as an avatar of Lord Vishnu she begged him to merge with her, but Lord Rama, knowing that the time was not ripe promised her that on the completion of his exile he would again pass that way. If she recognized him then he would fulfill her wishes. True to his word he returned in the guise of an old man, but Vaishnavi failed to recognize him. Rama consoled her and advised her to set up an ashram at the base of the Trikuta Hills and continue with her penance.
The holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is unique as it contains the holiest of holy Pindis manifesting Mata in her three forms which are Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati. Each of these forms represent particular attributes. Maha Kali represents Tam Guna : Tam stands for darkness or unholiness. In her attribute of Maha Kali, Mata is constantly endeavoring to vanquish the forces of darkness. She blesses her devotees by giving them strength to never lose heart and constantly battle the forces of darkness till they prevail upon them. Maha Lakshmi represents Raj Guna : Raj stands for sustenance, prosperity and well being. In her attribute of Maha Lakshmi Vaishno Mata blesses her devotees with wealth and prosperity and thus makes their life more comfortable and happy.
Maha Saraswati represents Satva Guna : Satva stands for purity and goodness. In her attribute of Maha Saraswati, Mata blesses her devotees with pure thoughts and a high intellect. This enables them to distinguish between the good and the bad, between righteousness and unrighteousness and helps them to adopt the correct path in life. A combination of these three attributes in a single Shakti is known as Mata Vaishno Devi Ji and this unique combination is what makes her revered all over the world. Each person on earth contains the attributes of Tam Guna, Raj Guna and Satva Guna in some degree or the other. His or her behavior is therefore, conditioned by the attribute that is predominant. However, to lead a full and meaningful life a balance has to be struck amongst the three. This balance is extremely difficult to achieve. It needs divine blessings. It is only at Vaishno Devi Ji that such blessings are possible simultaneously from a single source of Shakti . This is what makes the holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji unique in the world.
The Yatra: The Yatra begins at Katra and pilgrims have to cover 13 km of terrain on foot to reach the Darbar. One kilometer away from Katra, is Banganga, place where Mata quenched her thirst and at 6 km further down, is the holy cave at Adhkawari.The entire 13 km route is quite wide and tiled. Besides, the whole path is lit up every night by powerful sodium vapour lamps. The whole route is swept and cleaned from time to time throughout the day. Yatris are requested to keep the path clean. Shelter cum sheds and shelter cum cafeterias are setup throughout the route. Pure vegetarian food is available at these outlets. Price charts are exhibited at all these outlets prominently. Drinking water has been made available all along the route, with water coolers and storage facilities. Public utilities with automatic flushing systems along the track and at the Bhawan. After 6 km. of trekking, you would reach Adhkawari, the holy cave where Mata meditated for nine months. Do visit the cave. After 9.5 km., you would reach Sanji Chhat where you can rest for sometime. Accommodation is also available at this place. Bhawan is just 3.5 km. away.
The Darshan: At the entrance to the cave is a place called Bhavan where the worshipper buys prasad (offering to the God, a little of which is returned to the devotee for distribution amongst his near and dear ones) and other offerings. Here the Yatri is issued a token number on showing the Yatra ticket. The group no. and the time for the Yatri’s turn is mentioned on the token. At Bhavan there are cloakrooms, lockers for your belongings and change rooms. It is customary to bathe and change clothes before joining the queue for the darshan. Amidst the continuous chanting of Jai Mata Di, pilgrims wait patiently for their turn after depositing their coconut at the entrance for which they are given tokens. Each one has to enter the cave alone as the tunnel to the shrine is very narrow and has to be negotiated with care. Once inside it widens out to provide darshan of the goddess. The return is via a different route that takes the devotee to the shrine of Bhairon and then back to Katra.
The total length of the holy Cave is about ninety eight feet. Here you can see symbols of a large number of Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. At the mouth of the original tunnel to the holy Cave on the left hand side of the rock face you can see the symbol of Vakra Tunda Ganesha. Adjacent to the symbol of Lord Ganesha you can see the symbols of Surya Dev and Chandra Dev. When you crawl into the holy Cave through the natural tunnel you cross over the Dhadh of Bhairo Nath who was beheaded by the Goddess at the entry point to the holy Cave. The Dhadh is fourteen feet long. After this you come across the symbol of Lord Hanuman who was also called Launkra Beer.
Beyond the Launkra Beer point you have to wade your way through water Twenty three feet beyond Launkra Beer, on the left upper hand side, the roof of the cave flares out and the weight of this over hang appears to the resting on the innumerable heads of Shesh Nag. Immediately below Shesh Nag there is the Havan Kund of Mata. Adjacent to the symbols of Shankh, Chakra, Gada and Padam. Higher up, almost touching the ceiling of the cave are the symbols of the five Pandavas, the Sapt Rishi, the Than of the divine cow, Kamdhenu, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiv and Parvati. Three feet further ahead, on an elevation some what lower than Shiv and Parvati, is the Khamba that was gripped by the legendary worshipper Prahalad. Diagonally below this, at the water level you can see the Yantra with innumerable mystical signs and symbols inscribed on it. Twenty two feet beyond this point, the Sher Ka Panja symbolising the lion, which is the mount of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is located.
The distance from the entry point to the Sher Ka Panja is fifty nine feet.. Six feet further ahead, on the left hand side, are the symbols of Shankar and Gouri. Thirteen feet beyond the symbols of Shankar and Gouri the holiest of the holy Pindies of “Mata Maha Kali Ji’, “Mata Maha Lakshmi Vaishno Devi Ji,’ and “Mata Maha Saraswati Ji’.appear .To the right of the holy Pindies on the upper side we can once again identify the symbols of Ganesh, Surya Dev, Chandra Dev and Goddess Annapurna. Slightly behind the holy Pindies, on the right hand side you can see the symbol of the seated Sinh Raj. A little ahead of this you can make out the full hand of the Goddess raised in the Vard Hast mode, granting boons to the world. Immediately opposite the Holy Pindies is the natural symbol of Lord Pashupati Nath. Water(Charan Ganga) gushes out of the base of the holy Pindies and flows out of the holy Cave. Charan Ganga is collected in small containers by the devotees and is taken home. It is also channelised to the bathing ghat and the devotees can take a bath in this water before they join the queue for Darshan of the holy Pindies.
The Pindis: The cave at the Trikuta mountain is indeed a unique cave as it is in this cave that Shakti in her incarnation of Vaishavi resides in a petrified rock form and it is only here that she is manifested in her 3 forms Maha Kali , Maha Lakhsmi and Maha Saraswati The holiest of the holy Pindies of “Mata Maha Kali Ji”, “Mata Maha Lakshmi Vaishno Devi Ji” and “Mata Maha Saraswati Ji which are the ultimate destination for pilgrims are located at a distance of 91 feet inside the cave .In the surroundings symbols of ‘Surya’, ‘Chander’, ‘Sinh Raj’, ‘Pashupatinath’, ‘Shiva’ and ‘Dhrupad Ji’ are quite prominent. A stream of water gushes out of the base of the holy Pindies which is commonly known as ‘Charanganga’. After flowing through the cave this Charanganga is chennalised to ‘Bathing Ghat’ at Bhavan where the devotees take their bath before proceeding for Darshans of the deity. As a mark of reverence the devotees also carry this ‘Charanjal’ in small containers to their homes.
The Aartis: The Aarti of the Goddess is performed twice a day, once during the morning at sun rise and again during the evening at sun set. The holy cave is closed for pilgrims during the period the Aarti is being performed. It usually takes around two hours for the Aarti to be completed. Only the Pujaris, Sahayaks and an officer are permitted in the cave when the Aarti is being performed. The sequence of the various activities that are performed at Aarti is as under : Chanting of Mantras: At the commencement of the Aarti the Pujaris utter aloud the 108 names of Durga. Then they perform Atam Puja for their own purification and apply Tilak on each other’s forehead. This is followed by the chanting of mantras exhorting the Devas to give the Pujaris sound health. Thereafter, Prithvi, Surya, Deep and Dhoop are worshipped by the chanting of mantras. Once these activities are over, the Pujaris chant the Pratigyaa Sankalp where they vow to worship Mata Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi Vaishno Mata and Mata Maha Saraswati Ban Ganga Temple.After the goddess left the Bhumika Temple, she went to the Trikuta Hills passing through here. At this time, Langoor Vir (Veer Langur) felt thirsty. The goddess shot an arrow into the stone and a holy river was produced, now known as Ban Ganga. It is called Ban Ganga because the goddess washed her hair at this place. Most pilgrims take bath here. You must show the slip you got near the Bus Stand in Katra to pass this point. Ban Ganga is about 3 km from Katra.
Charan Paduka Temple: This is where the goddess stopped for some time while Bhairon was chasing her. Her footprints are supposed to be visible on a stone at this place. Charanpaduka means “holy footprints”. It is about 1.5 km from Ban Ganga at 3,380 feet.
Ardh Kuwari: Ardh Kuwari is the halfway point, and some pilgrims stay here for the night. There is a 15-foot-long cave called Garbha Joon where the goddess hid herself for nine months and showed herself to a saint. The cave is narrow, and you have to almost crawl all the way through it. When Bhairon entered the cave, the goddess made a new opening with her trident and ran away. Ardh Kuwari is 4.5 km from Charan Paduka and 4,800 ft above sea level.