Pilgrimage in Jammu & Kashmir - Mata Vaishno Devi Yatra
Vaishno Devi Mandir is one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Shakti, located in the hill of Vaishno Devi, Jammu and Kashmir, India. In Hinduism, Vaishno Devi, also known as Mata Rani and Vaishnavi, is a manifestation of the Mother Goddess.
Katra Town, lying in the foot of Trikuta Mountains, 48 kms. from Jammu, serves as the base camp for visiting the famous shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi, which is approachable on foot along a 13 kms long well laid footpath. The famous shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi is located in Jammu. Every year, more than 4.5 million pilgrims pass through Katra on their way to the holy shrine. The cave shrine of Mata Vasihnodeviji or Trikuta Bhagwati at the height of 5,200 feet has been a beacon of faith and fulfillment to millions of devotees from all over the world. The pilgrimage to the Shrine holds great significance for the pilgrims.
Everyday of the year throngs of people surge up the steep pathways that cut across the Trikuta hillsides for mile after mile. This show of faith is finely interwoven with the cultural strands of the Indian subcontinent, and these pathways have been trod on for many centuries now. Popular belief holds that anybody who walks the Himalayan trail to the goddess abode to ask for a boon rarely goes back disappointed. Whatever be it, a new enterprise or a forthcoming examination, marriage or birth, the devout look up to the Mata for blessings and guidance. There are many who journey year after year to pay obeisance regardless of their faith or belief, creed or class, caste or religion.
Upon reaching Katra, please obtain a Yatra slip only from the Yatra registration counter at the Tourist Reception Centre at the Katra bus stand. Without an authentic Yatra slip, crossing of the Ban Ganga check post is not permitted. Upon reaching the Bhawan, a group number is allotted to the pilgrims at the slip (‘parchi’) counter against the Yatra slip issued at Katra. The Yatris are required to stand in queue at Gate Number 2 till the announcement of the group’s number is made to proceed to the sanctum sanctorum. While inside the cave, one should concentrate on the Darshan of the mother goddess in her three Pindi forms – Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi or Maha Vaishnavi and Maha Saraswati. The holy water coming from the feet of the Mata can be collected on the way back.
The Legend of Mata Vaishnodeviji -The Yatra to the holy shrine is as fascinating as the legend associated with it. It goes that thousands of years ago, a maiden called "Vaishnavi" was created by the three lords (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh). She attained human form and was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Having taken a vow of celibacy, she spent almost all her life in meditation and prayers. In time she attained enormous spiritual powers and is believed to have extracted an assurance from Lord Rama that he will marry her in Kali-Yug if she persisted in her spiritual quest. This is why she is also known as Ardh Kanwari or the "eternal virgin". She established an ashram in the foothills of the Trikuta Mountain and began to meditate. As predicted by Lord Rama, her glory started spreading and people began to flock to her ashram to seek her blessings. As time passed, a Tantrik called Gorakh Nath (Demo God), who had a vision of the episode between Lord Rama and Mata Vaishno Devi, became curious and wanted to know more about her. Accordingly, he sent his most able disciple `Bhairon Nath' to find out. Bhairon Nath started observing her secretly and realized that despite being a `Sadhvi', she always carried bow and arrows and was always surrounded by langoor (apes) and a ferocious looking lion. Bhairon, the demon God took a fancy to her. But the Mata spurned his advances and fled to the Himalayas to continue her spiritual quest. On the way the goddess felt thirsty at Banganga and shot an arrow into the earth from where water gushed out. Charan Paduka, which is marked by the imprints of her feet, is the place where she rested. The Goddess then meditated in the cave at Ardh Kanwari. It took Bhairon nine months to locate her, which is why the cave is known as Garbh Joon. When the demon found her, Mata Vaishno Devi blasted an opening at the other end of the cave with her trident and fled to the Holy cave at Darbar (temple). However, Bhairon was persistent and followed her there to harass her. Then goddess became very angry and assuming the form of Mata Kali, beheaded Bhairon outside the cave with the aid of the flying disc gifted to her by Lord Krishna. The severed head of Bhairon fell at a distant hilltop. In his dying moments, Bhairon begged and received divine forgiveness from the goddess. Today, it is believed that the Yatra is not complete unless the pilgrim has been to Bhairon ka Mandir (2.6 km from the main sanctum) as well, after the darshan of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi.
The goddess herself took up permanent abode in a cave in the Trikuta Mountains by metamorphosing herself in to three pindis (Rock). This holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is unique as it contains the holiest of holy Pindis manifesting the Mata in her three forms - Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati - each form representing a particular attribute. Maha Kali represents Tamas Guna, Tamas means darkness. In her manifestation of Kali the omnipotent, absolute and all pervasive, she is said to be beyond fear and finite existence and is therefore able to protect her devotees against fear and give them peace. Maha Lakshmi represents Rajas Guna, Rajas means prosperity. In this manifestation, the goddess blesses her devotees with wealth and prosperity for living a better life. Maha Saraswati represents Sattav Guna, Sattav means wisdom and knowledge. This manifestation enables her devotees to distinguish between good and bad and helps them to adopt the right path in life. The combination of these three attributes in a single Shakti is a unique combination, which makes it revered all over the world.
How to reach here from Katra - The distance from Katra town to Vaishno Devi (Durbar) is 13 kms, which has to be traversed by pony, ‘dandi’ or on foot. ‘Pithus’ (coolies) are also available.
What to remember - Obtain a yatra slip only from the yatra registration counter at the Tourist Reception Centre at the Katra bus stand and nowhere else. Without an authentic yatra slip, crossing of the Ban Ganga check post is not permitted. Take official receipts for all payments made to the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMV Shrine Board) as well as those made to private vendors. Use only the donation boxes provided by the SMV Shrine Board. In case of donations at the donation counters of the board at Katra (central office), Ardhkawari, Sanji Chhat and various points at the Bhawan, obtain a formal receipt for the same. Donations to the shrine are exempt from income tax under the Income Tax Act. Avoid over straining yourself on the climb. Walk on the paved track, instead of the stairs. Do not relax at points where warning notices are displayed. Do not break traffic discipline or try to over take others at difficult stretches. Good accommodation, with bedding facilities is provided by the SMV Shrine Board on payment. Facilities for booking of such accommodation on fixed rates are available at various offices of the Board. To maintain the sanctity of the place do not indulge in playing cards, smoking or chewing betel (paan) at Bhawan or enroute. Do not paint, stick posters or disfigure signboards, and also avoid littering the area. Fellow pilgrims are bound to you by their faith in the Mata. Avoid playing transistors or tape recorders too loudly or creating blockage or hindrances in the passages meant for circulation of the yatris. Qualified doctors are available at the Primary Health Centre, Katra and at the dispensaries at Adhkawari and Bhawan, round the clock. They are also available at the evening clinic at Katra bus stand. Medical Aid Centres run by the SMV Shrine Board provide necessary assistance to the pilgrims at the Katra bus stand, Banganga and Sanji Chhat.
Where to eat - The Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMV Shrine Board) and various private vendors runs a large number of cafeterias and viewing points along the trail between Katra and the shrine where snacks, coffee and cold drinks are provided to the yatris on a no-profit-no-loss basis. The Shrine Board also runs ‘bhojanalyas’ at Katra, Adhkawari, Sanji Chhat and at the Bhawan / shrine for providing hygienically prepared food to the yatris on a no-profit-no-loss basis.
Clothing - Light woolens are required at night even during summer. During the remaining parts of the year heavy woolens are required.
How to reach Katra - Jammu, 48 kms from Katra, is the nearest airport, railhead and inter-state bus terminus. Buses leave for Katra at 10 minute intervals between 5:30 am and 8:30 p.m. During peak season, additional buses are pressed into service. Taxis are available both at Jammu and Katra for the journey. In Jammu city, these can be hired from the Jammu airport, Jammu railway station and the Tourist Reception Centre. We also conduct tours to Katra regularly from Delhi and other major cities of India.
Helicopter Service - Pawan Hans operates two flights daily from Jammu and 5 flights from Katra to Shrine. Its capacity is of 6 persons per flight. This service has been discontinued for the time being.
Where to Stay in Katra - At Katra accommodation to suite all pockets and preferences is available in hotels, guest houses, sarais, and hostels. The SMV Shrine Board provides accommodation and other services en-route and near the Bhawan.