August 7, 2011

Vaishno Devi

Compared to any other country in the world, India has a lot of tourist sites. However, most of them are religious sites. Vaishno Devi cave temple located in Jammu and Kashmir state of India is one of the three most visited religious sites in India. The other two are Tirumala Tirupati Balaji temple in Andhra Pradesh state and Sabarimalai Ayyappa temple in Kerala state.

Location: Vaishno Devi temple is located at the Trikuta hill. The base point is Katra city which can be easily reached from Jammu city. Jammu has flight and train facilities. From Jammu, one can easily travel to Katra through public transport or private taxis. Vaishno Devi is located at around 14 kms from Katra. The temple is situated at an altitude of around 5200 feet.

How to reach: There are various means to reach this ancient cave temple, which is visited by around 8 million pilgrims every year. One can walk all the way from Katra to the holy temple. Although the distance is around 14 kms, many pilgrims prefer to walk. It takes around 4 hours to reach the temple by walk (assuming the pilgrim is healthy and doesn't take rest frequently). There are many shops available all the way for refreshments. Enough number of facilities are available for drinking water and taking rest. There are also other options such as palanquins and ponies. Very old people or children can be carried by pithoos (porters). Helicopter facility is also available; however, you cannot reach upto the cave temple by this facility; you can cover almost 10 kms distance from the ground level.

Legends: There are various legends associated with this shrine. As per a legend, the three main Goddesses - Sarawati, Lakshmi and Kali pooled their power together and were born as Vaishno Devi. Vaishno Devi was born to a Brahmin named Ratnakar in Rameswaram in South India. Vaishno Devi was knowledgeable since childhood. She used to spend most of her time on meditation. She met Lord Ram when he was in his fourteen years of exile. She requested him to merge her with himself. He told her that he was travelling to Sri Lanka looking for his wife Sita. He further added that when he would return, if she could find him out, he would merge her into himself. Unfortunately, Vaishno Devi couldn't recognize Lord Ram when he returned to this site after his triumph over Ravan. Hence, she was asked to wait till he takes the incarnation of Kalki at the end of Kaliyug. The belief is that she would marry Kalki or she would merge herself into Kalki.

Based on the advice from Lord Ram, Vaishno Devi went towards the northern part of India. She went to the foothills of Trikuta mountain and started doing meditation. Her fame spread far and wide. A tantrik named Gorak Nath sent his disciple Bhairon Nath to find details about the Goddess. However, Bhairon Nath fell in love with Vaishno Devi. He kept disturbing and chasing her. Vaishno Devi kept moving away from him towards the holy shrine of Vaishno Devi. On her way up to Vaishno Devi, she stayed in various places such as Ban Ganga, Charan Paduka and Adhkwari. Ultimately, she beheaded Bhairon Nath near the mouth of the cave. She took the form of three pindies (five and half feet rock with three heads) and continued doing meditation. She also gave a boon to Bhairon Nath stating that the devotees would visit him after visiting the shrine so that their yatra (pilgrimage) gets completed.

History: It is believed that there are references about this holy temple even in Mahabharat epic. It is also believed that this temple was perhaps built by the Pandavs. However, the earliest historical record about this temple is Sikh Guru Gobind Singh's visit to the shrine. It is unanimously accepted that the shrine was discovered by Pandit Shridhar around 700 years ago.

Shrines: At the foothills, Ban Ganga river is found. The yatra to Vaishno Devi actually starts from this point. It is believed that in order to quench the thirst of accompanying Langoors, Mata Vaishno Devi created this water body with an arrow.

After about 1.5 km from Ban Ganga, there is a site named Charan Paduka. This site has a small temple for Vaishno Devi with her foot prints engraved on a rock. It is believed that on the same place Vaishno Devi stopped and looked back if Bhairon Nath was still chasing her.

Almost at a distance of 6 kms from Ban Ganga, the site called Adhkunwari is located. It has a cave temple for Vaishno Devi.

The final destination has the 98 feet long holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. The shrine has three pindies and no idol. The three pindies represent Kali, Vaishno Devi and Saraswati. The main shrine can be reached through the cave. However, not always the path through the cave remains open. During the peak time, only the other path through the temple is kept open for the public.

The cave has some other deities too. The entrance of the cave has Ganesh. The symbols of Surya, Chandra and Hanuman are seen adjacent to Ganesh. Then the legendary river passes through the foot of the devotees. The symbols representing Sesh Nag, Shankha, Chakra, Gadha and Padam are present. The symbols of Pandavs, Sapta rishis (seven important saints), breast of divine cow Kamdhenu, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva and Shiv-Parvati are also present in the cave.

The temple has few idols such as Vaishno Devi on lion, Vaishno Devi on tiger, Hanuman, Ganesh and another Vaishno Devi on tiger.

Near Vaishno Devi temple there is an ancient cave temple for Shiva. The temple of Bhairon Nath is also located at around 1 km above Vaishno Devi.

Happy travelling.

Fast Facts:
Site Name: Vaishno Devi
Site Type: Temple, Hindu pilgrimage
Location:  Vaishno Devi, Near Katra, Jammu region, Jammu and Kashmir state, India
Highlights: One of the most important temples of India which is being visited by a huge number of devotees; believed to be one of the Shakti Peeths
Nearest Railway Station: Jammu - well connected from the cities/towns all over India
Nearest Airport: Jammu
How to reach: From Jammu, take car or bus to Katra; From Katra, Vaishno Devi can be reached by walk, palquin or pony
Hotel: A lot of hotels are available in Katra; Accommodations are available even in Vaishno Devi
Restaurants: Only vegetarian in Katra

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