Destination: Vaishno Devi, Jammu
"Chalo Bulawa Aya Hai
Mata Ne Bulaya Hai,” is the usual refrain of one overwhelmed
with the irresistible urge. He forgets his past commitments,
drops the job on hand and, at the first opportunity,
rushes to catch the train to Jammu, the railroad to
reach Vaishno Devi. Over 4.5 million Indians from all
parts of the country respond this way to the call of
the Mother every year to one of the holiest shrines
in northern India. Youngsters hope to fare well in examinations;
newlyweds look for conjugal bliss. Some hope to win
property cases; others look forward to the blessing
of an heir. And some visit Vaishno Devi for no other
reason than their wish to see Mata.
Devotees aver that the revered Mata calls out to her
followers, and only then can one go to her sublime shrine.
An arduous journey up the Trikuta Mountain range and
the final darshan (audience) of the Goddess leaves one
with staunch faith in Her. It is believed that one can
ask the great Mother of any needful thing and promise
to visit her when the wish is fulfilled. Lakhs of people
vouch for the deity's graciousness and visit the shrine
in the form of thanksgiving.
Vaishno Devi originated out of the combined tejas or
powers of the three Supreme Gods forming the Trinity,
i.e., Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The purpose of her creation
was to eliminate the invincible and troublesome Rakshas
community, mainly the vicious Asura Mahishasura. Another
reason was that she might usher on earth an era of pious
and ascetic life so that peace could prevail upon the
world. She was destined to ultimately merge with Vishnu
after attaining higher levels of spirituality through
her penance. Vaishno Devi is the embodiment of the collective
spiritual strengths of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha
The Goddess took birth in her human form in the house
of King Ratnakar Sagar who ruled South India. Named
Vaishnavi, she was a very extraordinary girl displaying
an insatiable inclination towards meditation and penance
right from the childhood. Ultimately, she decided to
adopt a life of renunciation and go to the forest for
It was during her tapasya that Lord Rama, who was in
his fourteen years of exile, happened to visit Vaishnavi.
The divine Goddess recognized him immediately as her
supreme goal, i.e., Lord Vishnu himself. Subsequently,
she prayed to be absorbed into the Creator. Lord Rama,
however, told her that it was not the right time for
the convergence and said that he would visit her again
after the end of his exile. If Vaishnavi succeeded in
recognizing him at that time, then he would fulfill
her wish. Rama visited her again after killing Ravana,
but this time in the guise of an old sage. As destiny
would have it, Vaishnavi failed to recognize him. The
benevolent Lord, however, consoled her by saying that
the appropriate time for Vaishnavi's merging with the
God would come in the Kaliyug when he would be incarnated
as Kalki. He advised Vaishnavi to meditate in the cave
of the Trikuta hills until then.
As instructed by Rama, the Goddess settled down at the
foot of the Trikuta Hills and became engrossed in meditation.
Very soon, her glory spread to far and wide and people
started pouring in to seek her blessings. In the course
of time, a tantrik named Gorakh Nath became curious
about the sanguinity of the famed Goddess and sent forth
his disciple Bhairon Nath to find out the details about
her. However, on seeing Vaishnavi, Bhairon Nath felt
so enamored by her beauty that he became possessed with
the idea of marrying her.
At about the same time, Sridhar, an ardent devotee of
the Mother, organized a Bhandara (community meal). All
the village people including Guru Gorakh Nath and his
disciples were invited. As the Bhandara progressed,
the Goddess came to provide Sridhar with the necessary
food items and also to attend to the guests. On seeing
the beautiful Goddess, Bhairon Nath tried to embarrass
her by demanding meat and alcohol. When Vaishnavi declined
to provide Bhairon Nath with his desired items, the
rogue sprang to grab Vaishnavi. The Goddess ran away
and the nonchalant tantrik ran after her. There ensued
a long-drawn drama of chase between the two. During
her flight, the Goddess halted at Bana Ganga, Charan
Paduka, and Ardhkwari.
At Ardhkwari, she hid inside a very narrow cave and
remained there meditating for whole nine months. When
she came out, the charlatan Bhairon Nath again commenced
on his chase after her. Finally, both of them reached
the cave entrance of the present-day shrine. It is here
that the Goddess was compelled to behead the tantrik
to end the drama. The severed head of Bhairon fell at
the place where the Bhairon Mandir now stands. The dying
Bhairon Nath realized the power of the Divine Goddess
and begged her of forgiveness. The merciful goddess
forgave him and blessed him with the boon that Bhairon
Nath would have the glory of being visited by every
devotee of the Mother. She ordained that a person's
yatra (journey) would remain fruitless and incomplete
if he/she fails to visit the temple of Bhairon Nath
after having visited the Goddess. Since then, the custom
is to visit the Mata's shrine first and then to visit
the Bhairon Nath temple.
It is believed that Vaishno Devi is still meditating
upon Vishnu and would continue to do so until the Lord
arrives as the Kalki Avatar. She resides in the holy
cave in the form of a five and a half feet tall rock
with three heads or pindies. These pindies constitute
the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine.
WHEN TO VISIT
Although the Vaishno Devi shrine can be visited throughout
the year, the pilgrimage is generally undertaken by
the devotees in the severe cold months of the year,
i.e., from October to February. During the festival
of Navaratri, thousands of diehard followers from all
over the country and even abroad line up the long mountain
roads to worship the deity. Navaratri is the biggest
festival in honor of the Goddess and people have to
stand in lines for hours to have the darshan.
The Journey A deluxe bus from Jammu
takes one to the first halt at Nagrota, 13 km away.
Known as Pehla Darshan (First Sighting), it is said
that Vaishno Devi was first sighted here when she was
barely five years old. The spot is sanctified by a stone
temple believed to have been built by the Pandavas during
The next stop is at the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development
Corporation (JKTDC) Tourist Bungalow at Katra, which
is perched at 900 meters above sea level. The actual
yatra starts at Katra, from where pilgrims are required
to cover an arduous stretch of 13 km either on foot
or by ponies.
The journey begins with the procurement of the yatra
slip from the tourism reception center at the Katra
bus stand. The slip, which comes free of cost, is nevertheless
vital to initiate the pilgrimage.
One can get various assorted items for the yatra such
as caps, canvas shoes, sticks, etc., on hire and purchase.
Pithus (coolies) can be hired for carrying your goods
and small children. In addition, pony and dandi (palanquin)
services are available for those who have problems in
climbing the mountains. However, only registered pithu,
pony and dandis should be hired and their tokens kept
during the period they are engaged.
The 8–10 feet wide, neatly cemented pathway is lined
with drinking water and toilet facilities, and a variety
of tit-bit shops. There emerges an atmosphere of congeniality
as the fellow pilgrims start cheering each other to
undertake the arduous journey. Many people sing in the
praise of the Goddess and assert their faith that the
Divine Mother would help them to reach their destination
up across the difficult path.
One kilometer further up is the Bana Ganga, a gushing
rivulet. It emerged from the spot where Vaishno Devi
struck a bana (arrow) on the bare mountainside to dig
up a water spring for quenching her thirst.
Ardhkwari is at halfway to the Bhavan, the main shrine
spot. It is 1,500 meters above sea level. The venerated
Mother was believed to have vanished into the cave of
Ardhkwari to escape from the pursuing Bhairon Nath.
Many devotees undertake the ordeal of the difficult
narrow cave. It is believed that a sinner cannot pass
through this cave shrine. This place has been developed
on a large scale with the setting up of several dharamshalas
(charitable rest houses), vegetarian restaurants and
The pathway narrows down after this and the climb gets
increasingly steep. Clouds gather around at Sanjhi Chhat,
perched at 2,000 meters above sea level. The atmosphere
gets cold from here and visibility drops to a few feet.
Up at Bhavan, one has to show the yatra slip at the
registration office and take the batch number provided
on the slip. This is necessary only when there are a
large number of yatris assembled for the darshan. Bhavan
is situated in a valley and is literally a small, crowded,
colorful hill station.
Upon reaching Bhavan, it is preferable if not mandatory
to take a bath before going for the darshan. One should
then proceed to buy prasad, chunri and coconuts from
the shops located near the cave shrine. Now comes your
turn to proceed towards the cave shrine. Amidst the
chants of the joyous devotees, as they move in queue
towards the awe-inspiring and venerated place where
the pindies are worshipped, your pilgrimage to the abode
of the Mother is made.
However, an important part of the yatra is still left
after Bhavan. It is the ascent to the Bhairon Temple,
which is located at a higher altitude. As ordained by
the Goddess, it is compulsory to undertake the yatra
of Bhairon Mandir, failing which the pilgrimage is deemed
incomplete. The return journey from the Bhairon Temple
takes one to an even higher height before leading down
the mountains. This route is comparatively shorter.
The following is a list of attractions in the vicinity
of the Vaishno Devi shrine:
7.Bhim Garh Fort
8.Shri Raghunath Temple (Jammu)
11.Bana Ganga Temple and Bridge
12.Charan Paduka Temple
17.Shri Raghunath Temple (Katra)
Hotel Asia Jammu Tawi,
Hotel Hari Niwas Palace, Hotel Jewels are some of the
standard hotels in Jammu. The room rent ranges from
Rs. 300 to Rs. 3,000 per day. Besides, there is the
Yatri Niwas managed by the Shrine Board.
Beside the Yatri Niwas, a number of quality hotels and
rest houses are available at Katra.
HOW TO REACH
The nearest airport is
at Jammu, 48 km from Katra. Regular flights are available
from Delhi and Srinagar. One has to go by bus or private
vehicle to Katra, which is at the base of the Trikuta
The nearest railhead is
the Jammu Tawi railway station, which is connected with
Calcutta, Delhi and Kanyakumari
The interstate bus terminus
at Jammu has bus services to several cities within and
outside the state.
INFORMATION TIT BITS
Devotees can buy the items for worship from the souvenir
shops run by the Shrine Board at Bhavan and Vaishnavi
The following is a list of the items available with
Superior chunris: Rs. 125
Medium chunris: Rs. 65
Other chunris: Rs. 30
Blouse piece: Rs. 6
Sari: Rs. 40, Rs. 75, Rs. 90, Rs. 100, Rs. 130, Rs.
Chola: Rs. 15, Rs. 50, Rs. 100
DO'S AND DON'TS 1.One must take official
receipts for all payments made to the Shri Mata Vaishno
Devi Shrine Board as well as private vendors.
2.One must pay the actual prices of all services. For
the purpose, official rate lists are available.
3.Services of only the registered people—be it pithu,
pony or the dandiwalla—are advised to be taken. One
should also keep their tokens for the period they are
4.Luggage and belongings must not be kept with unknown
and unauthorized persons.
5.One should be also careful against doubtful people,
as such people abound in pilgrimage centers. 6.Sanctity
of the place has to be maintained with abstinence from
indulging in gambling, playing cards, smoking or chewing
paan on the journey.
7.Beware of anti-social elements at Ardhkwari, especially
during the overnight.
8.As for clothing, light woolen garments are required
at night during the summer while heavy woolens are necessary
in the winters.
9.Donations to the Shrine are exempt from Income Tax
under the Income Tax Act.
10.To lodge a complaint, one may contact at the Central
Office of the Shrine Board located at Katra, or the
SDM or Tehsildar in Room No. 8, Kalika Bhawan, Durbar.