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).
Temple of Mata Vaishno Devi in Jammu KashmirThe 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 here.
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 Chatt
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.