Jammu & Kashmir Vaishno Devi Ma Mandir
The Vaishno Devi Ma Mandir is one of the most revered holy places of worship dedicated to Ma Shakti, situated in the divine hills of Vaishno Devi, Jammu and Kashmir, India. As one of the most powerful manifestations of Mother Goddess, Vaishno Devi Ma is also known as Mata Rani and Ma Vaishnavi.
Placed in the Reasi district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the temple is near Katra. Towering at an altitude of 5300 ft. and a 12 kilometers stretch from Katra, the Holy Shrine is of one of the most divine place of worship in India. As the second most visited holy temple, after Tirumala Venkateshwara temple, the number of pilgrims (yatris) visiting the holy shrine are close to 8 million every year. The responsibility of the upkeep of the Shrine lies with the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. There is a high flight frequency at the Jammu Airport which is the nearest Airport having all the major domestic airlines rendering flights to it. Also, there is a railway track being put up from Uddhampur to Katra for facilitating smooth and cost effective transitioning of pilgrims to the Holy Shrine.
As one of the most ancient temples in India, it is almost impossible to chalk out when the pilgrims started to visit the Holy Shrine. One of the geographical surveys of the Holy Cave suggested its presence since almost a million years. The holy practice of worshiping Ma Shakti, hails way back to the Puranic period along with the mention of mountain Trikuta in RigVeda, one of the oldest Vedas out of the four major Vedas known to be the most ancient encrypted form of spiritual enlightenment to the mankind. Other than Rigveda, there is no Vedic literature available related to the worship of Ma Shakti, the Mother Goddess confirming the ancient and eternal presence of the Holy Shrine.
Ma Shakti, the Mother Goddess first and foremost mention in the mythological history is in the epic Mahabharata. At the time when Pandavas and Kauravas are pitted against each other in the Kurukshetra battlefield, the main warrior of Pandavas, Arjuna seeks blessings of Ma Shakti at the insistence of Lord Krishna for attaining victory in the fierce war against Kauravas. It is at this instance when Arjuna addresses upon Ma Shakti as “ JAMBOOKATAK CHITYAISHU NITYAM SANNIHITALAYE “, which implies “She is the one who dwells in the temple descending on the slope of mountain in Jamboo” (which denotes the present day abode of Mother Goddess i.e. Jammu).
There is a general belief that the Pandavas were the first to lay the foundation of the temples at Kol Kandoli and Bhawan offering their gratitude for the revered Mother Goddess. This is supported by the existence of five stone structures guarding the Holy Cave on one of the mountains, just adjacent to the Trikuta Mountain symbolizing the five Pandavas.
The most ancient reference of the visit to the Holy Cave is that of the 10th Guru of the Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh Ji who is believed to visit the Holy Shrine through Purmandal. The old foot track to the Holy Cave passed through this much acclaimed pilgrimage center.
There is also a belief that Ma Vaishno Devi temple is the most sacred of all the Shaktipeeths ( a place of Ma Shakti, where the Mother Goddess Abodes) as the skull of Mata Sati fell here. Few also believe that Her right arm fell here though there is a difference of opinion on this in few scriptures stating that the Right Arm of Ma Shakti fell at Gandarbal in Kashmir. Nevertheless, in the precincts of the Holy cave of Mata Vaishno Devi, stone remains of a human hand can still be cited, known as Varad Hast (The eternal Hand granting boons and blessings to the mankind).
While treading towards the Sanctum Sanctorum, one gets to pass through a patio kind of a structure which opens to another Cave to its right which is the original Holy Cave leading to the Holy Pindies. The pilgrims used to reach the Sanctum Sanctorum through this Cave in the old times however this Cave is kept close of late for a major part of the year because of the narrow space and the prolonged time taken to cross it to reach the Sanctum Sanctorum for a single person. Considering the huge number of pilgrims visiting the Holy Shrine on a daily basis, it is not feasible to have the original Cave open for the pilgrims only with an exception when the yatra is for a count of less than 8,000 pilgrims per day.
Therefore, to ensure and facilitate larger count of pilgrims to have the divine darshan , two new tunnels have been utilized, one for the entrance purpose connecting directly to the Sanctum Sanctorum and another for the purpose of smooth exit of pilgrims, to avoid commotion. Only during the lean season or for traditional festivities or while rituals are supposed to be performed at certain specific occasions, the original Holy Cave is opened. While crossing the area where the original Cave is located, one gets to pass through a corridor whereon numerous bells stay suspended from the ceiling. Further ahead, one reaches a broad platform wherein statues of the Lions, the mount of the Mother Goddess and a life size statute of Ma Shakti are enshrined. This is the new tunnel’s entrance which is barely 200 meters long.
The Holy Cave in Mata Vaishnodevi Temple
The Holy Cave is around 98 feet long with the PINDIES and other holy places inside it. It is a spiritual belief that the 330 million Gods and Goddesses dwell inside the Holy Cave and are supposed to leave their indelible marks (symbols) inside the Holy cave while they worshipped the Mother Goddess. At the entrance of the Holy Cave there is a symbol of Vakratund Ganesha on the left hand side. Alongside there is the symbol of Surya and Chandra Deva. Once inside the Holy Cave, one has to cross the 14 feet long torso of Bhairon Nath. The head is touted to have fallen atop an adjacent mountain, where a temple exists.
Post crossing the torso of Bhairon Nath, there is a symbol of Lord Hanuman as Launkra Beer. Further on comes the legendary river Charan Ganga which flows from the divine feet of Mata. The pilgrims doing their yatra through the old Holy Cave have to tread through water after this point. Treading ahead around 23 feet further to Launkra Beer, on the left upper hand side, one gets to witness the entire Cave resting on the multi headed Shesh Nag. Right underneath is a Haven Kund of Mataji and close to it, one gets to see the symbols of Shankh, Chakra, Gada and Padam.
Standing tall touching the ceiling are the towering statutes of the five Pandavas, the Saptarishis, the udders of the divine cow, Kamdhenu, the divine trilogy of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh and the most divine Shiva-Parvati . Further ahead, one gets to witness the Khamba-Pillar that was grip held by the legendary Bhakt (devotee) Prahlad. Diagonally close to the water level lies a Yantra on which many mystical signs and symbols are encrypted. Further 22 feet ahead are inscribed the paw marks of a Lion, symbolizing the carrier mount of Mata Vaishno Devi. Six feet ahead, on the left hand side, are the symbols of Shankar-Gauri.
Here on thirteen feet ahead are the Holy Pindies. Towards the right hand side, one gets to see the symbols of Lord GANESHA, Surya Dev, Chandra Dev and Goddess Annapurna. Close to the back of the Holy Pindies, there is a symbol of a seated Lion on the right hand side. Further ahead, is the Varad hast of Ma Shakti, the raised arm of Mother Goddess to grant boons and blessings to the devotees. Right opposite to the Holy Pindies, dwells the holy symbol of Lord Pashupati Nath. All these divine and rare sites can only be witnessed if one gets to go through the original Holy Cave however due to increasing numbers of devotees visiting the Holy Shrine, the new tunnel is used rendering the original Holy Cave open only during the lean season.
The other divine darshanas in the bhawan include a Shivalinga Cave, Mata Durga, Lord Shiva, Shri Rama with Sita Ma and Lakshman, Lord Hanuman amongst other numerous divine deities. All these temples are situated at several different points. There are Yagyashalas in the Bhawan where Yagyas and Havans are performed round the year and during the revered Navratras. The main Yagyashala is situated in the Saraswati Bhawan.
How to Reach
Vaishno Devi is situated fourteen kilometers ahead from the town of Katra and 52 kilometers from North Jammu. Katra stands at a towering 2800 feet height and it takes close to two hours to reach it from Jammu through bus travel.
The closest airport to the Holy Shrine is located in Jammu which is at a distance of 48 kilometers from Katra. Also there is a helicopter service available wherein the chopper flies from the airport at Sanjichat in Jammu during the morning hours.
The closest railway station is also located in Jammu which is well connected to all the major cities in India.
There is a regular bus service available for the 52 kms. stretch from the Central Bus Stand in Jammu to Katra which is a two hours journey. Further on from Katra, it is a steep tread of 13 kilometers which is a 4 hour climb and a 3 hour down tread in the same day. The pilgrims can rent a horse or get a palanquin ride uphill from Katra. Pilgrims must attain a YATRA SLIP from the Tourist Reception Center (near the Katra Bus Stand) to be eligible to get passes for Bana Ganga . It is quite an exhaustive climb to Vaishno Devi.
One has to trek uphill on mountains to visit the shrine. Considering the huge count of pilgrims visiting the Holy Shrine for Darshan, a new tunnel (200 meters of length ) has been constructed to lessen the number of hours taken to reach the Sanctum Sanctorum and to have a smooth passage to the same. However, the original Holy Cave is open for the devotees during the lean season, traditional festivities or any specific ritualistic occasions.
There is a riveting and amazing view of three rock cut statutes symbolizing the three major manifestations of MA SHAKTI in the 100 feet long Holy Cave inside the Vaishno Devi Temple. The middle one is symbolic of Goddess Lakshmi, the right one symbolizes Goddess KALI, and the left one symbolizes Goddess Saraswati , a true divine personification of MA SHAKTI ‘S various avatars and a marvelous sight.
Significance of the Vaishno Devi Temple
During the time of evasion of evil Asuras, the three major manifestations of MA SHAKTI i.e. MAHAKALI, MAHALAKSHMI and MAHASARASWATI, pooled their divine powers in the form of a holy girl child born to a Ratnakar on earth to uphold righteous honor and attain a higher level of conscious to merge with Lord Vishnu.
A blessed and enlightened soul, the girl child in search of GOD (The Supreme Soul) wandered in a thick forest. Intrigued by her pious and spiritual cause, Gorakhnath ( a tantra Guru) sent one of his disciples Bhairon Nath to look out for her. But instead of safeguarding her honor, Bhairon Nath started invading her privacy and even expressed his intention of marrying her resenting which Vaishnavi, the holy girl child left Trikuta mountains.
While treading through a ravine, she shot an arrow in the earth’s crust where from a gush of water came out in the form of a stream which was named as Bana Ganga and the place she rested was named as Charan Paduka, which borne the imprints of her feet. The holy Goddess then meditated inside a cave at Adhkuwari. It took nine months for Bhairon Nath to locate her for which the cave was named as GARBH JOON. Mata Vaishno Devi then blasted an opening at the other end of the Cave with her TRIDENT when Bhairon Nath found her.
At the time of arriving at the Holy Cave at Darbar, she acquired the form of MAHAKALI and beheaded Bhairon Nath whose head fell atop the mountain wherein the Bhairon Nath temple is located now. The boulder at the mouth of the Holy Cave according to the legend is the horrified torso of Bhairon Nath who in his dying moments was granted divine forgiveness by the benign MA VAISHNO.
Timings and Other Information
- The Temple is opened at 4:00 a.m. and is closed at 11:00 p.m.
- Prior to proceeding for the trek uphill, the devotees are supposed to procure a Yatra slip from Yatra Registration Counter, near Katra bus stand. This is a free of cost slip without which none of the pilgrims are allowed beyond Bana Ganga check post.
- For availing the rented accommodation facility at Katra, Adkuwari, SanjiChhat or Bhawan, one needs to get the room reservation done from the Enquiry and Reservation Counter at Niharika Complex (close to the Katra bus stand).
- It is advisable to the visitors visiting the Holy Shrine to ensure the authenticity of Porters, Ponies and Palanquin bearers by confirming the rates prior to availing their services and checking the validity of their registration cards. It is also strongly recommended to take down their numbers without which one must not entrust them with valuable belongings. They must not be paid more than the approved rates.
- One must arrange for the safe upkeep of electronic gadgets like cameras, mobile phones etc. at Katra itself prior to start trekking on the uphill track as these electronic equipments and their usage is prohibited on the track.
- Unnecessary baggage must be left at Katra itself.All necessary usage items like food, drinks and blankets are readily available so one must travel light to have a sustained and less exhausting yatra.
Weather and Time to Visit
Vaishno Devi Shrine can be visited round the year however best months to visit the Holy Shrine is from March to October.
Summertime ( March – July )
This is a pleasant and an apt period to visit Vaishno Devi and hence most of the devotees frequent the Holy Shrine during this period.
Winter (October to February)
During these months, the temperature dips down to sub zero levels at Vaishno Devi and snowfall is a common sight.
Monsoon (August to September)
It is not advisable to visit the Holy Shrine during the monsoon period as lot of mudslides and landslides happen at this time due to medium to heavy rainfall at the place. Although for the nature lovers , it is a sheer visual delight.
The Holy Shrine of MA VAISHNO DEVI is open to the devotes all round the year however the summertime is the best time for undertaking the pilgrimage as the natural beauty is at its culmination and there is no snowfall to disrupt the smooth transitioning of Yatra for pilgrims. As winter time in the Vaishno Devi region is the sub zero temperature period and excessive snowfall happens during this time, it is an extremely taxing and difficult period for the pilgrims to trek on the steep climb. One can visit the Holy Shrine of Vaishno Devi at any time of the year however planning during the winter season should be generally avoided.
The Vaishno Devi Shrine Board offers the visitors a lot of well maintained and cost effective accommodation facilities including free and rented accommodation options at Niharika Yatri Niwas and the Shakti Bhawan located at the Katra bus stand. There is a 700 bedded accommodation option at Trikuta Bhawan in Katra near the second Yatra Counter (YRC II) in Katra. The tariffs here range from 700 INR for double bed A.C. rooms to 650 INR for four bedded non A.C., non-carpet rooms. The dormitory facility costs 60 INR per bed. There are other premium accommodations options also available at Adkuwari, Sanjichat and Bhawan as in Suites, dormitories and huts. Both air conditioned and regular room options are available at these locations. Other facilities like Cafeteria, Souvenir shops, cloak rooms and free private- vehicle parking are available at all the units of accommodation on the Shrine Board.
Donations and offerings made by the devotees at the Holy Shrine are the main source of income for the Shrine Board which is utilized for creating the infrastructural facilities for the pilgrims visiting the Holy Shrine and also the general maintenance. Pertaining to the fact that the board is not aided by the State or the Central Government of India financially, most of the infrastructural and other facilities created for benefitting the pilgrims only come to life with the central pool of donations.
These offerings and donations could be made either in form of cash,demand drafts or cheques. Various donation counters are put up by the Shrine Board to facilitate the pilgrims to make donations. These donation counters are available at Bhawan, Sanjichat, Adkuwari, Enquiry and Reservation at Niharika, Katra and also at the Central Office of the Shrine Board at Katra. All the counters are computerized and have well trained manpower of the Shrine Board handling them. Devotees making an offering or donation at these donation counters are issued computer generated donation receipts bearing the First photograph of the gold ornamentation of the Holy Pindies which can be preserved as souvenirs by them and also makes them eligible to claim Income Tax Exemption on the donations made by them towards the cause of Holy Shrine. These counter details are mentioned below:
- Three Donation Counters at Bhawan
- One Donation Counter at Sanjichat
- One Donation Counter at Adhkuwari
- One Donation Counter at Enquiry and Reservation Office, Niharika Complex, Katra
- One Donation Counter at Central Office of Shrine Board, Katra
Tips for Devotees :
While on the Track
- Kindly uphold the sanctity of the pilgrimage by avoiding loud talks or dressing or any kind of offensive behavior. The Yatra is a journey of faith so it must be revered with dignity and aimed at attaining spiritual bliss and not in the least seen as a vacation tread or recreation.
- Co- pilgrim’s sentiments must be respected.
- Security checks are for the pilgrim’s safety. Hence one must cooperate with the security agencies at all the check points without fail.
- Resting near areas prone to landslides must be avoided.
- Consumption of liquor, intoxicants and non vegetarian food is strictly prohibited. One must refrain from smoking, chewing tobacco or betel leaves, spitting, playing cards littering around etc. as it is a sacred place of worship and so the sanctity of the place must be maintained.
- One must not throw disposables on the hill slopes and use of plastics must be minimal. Be particular about using dustbins and stay environment friendly.
- One must avoid carrying excessive cash, jewelry or any other valuables. Be vigilant of one’s belongings and beware of pickpockets and thieves.
- Don’t trust strangers with personal belongings rather deposit all excess baggage in the cloak rooms.
- Don’t eat anything offered by strangers.
- Beware of any suspicious individuals and unclaimed or stray articles and report the same to the security personnel immediately once cited.
- Begging is strictly prohibited. Beggars must not be encouraged.
- Cash Receipts must be procured for any cash paid at the Shrine Board outlets.
- Strictly avoid routes closed for repair. This can prove to be extremely dangerous in case of negligence.
- Yatris with high blood pressure, heart or breathing (Asthma) problems must seek clearance from their medical help prior to starting the journey.
- Yatris with any kind of medical problems are strongly advised against using the stairs.
- Sticking posters, writing on the walls, mutilating or damaging the property is a punishable offence with severe legal repercussions like fine and imprisonment.
- Hoarding or crowding must be avoided. Instead keep moving.
- film shooting is prohibited on the route. cameras must be left at Katra itself.
- Self Service is the motto at the all Shrine Boards outlets, therefore no room or table service is provided.
At Bhawan & For Darshans
- At the time of arrival at the Bhawan, one must procure the group number at the Yatra Slip check post to get into the queue for the divine Darshans.
- One must proceed for Darshan only when the group number is announced and must not crowd at Gate Number 1 for Darshan. The common procedure must be abided by everyone and one must not jump the queue rather stay patient and wait for his/her turn for Darshan.
- Usage of soaps, shampoos, oils etc. must be strictly avoided at the bathing Ghats.
- One must freshen up and be dressed in clean clothes before going for the Darshan.
- All belongings except cash and certain selected offerings are supposed to be deposited in the free cloak rooms.
- The coconut offerings must be deposited inside the main waiting hall as against a token.
- At the time of visiting the Sanctum Sanctorum, one must focus on the Holy Pindies of the Mother Goddess to seek divine blessings.
- One must not chant slogans inside the Holy Cave to avoid disturbing co-pilgrims.
- Don’t offer any cash or jewelry in front of the Holy Pindies. Rather deposit the same in the donation/jewelry boxes.
- Donations must only be deposited in the deposit boxes kept at various locations or only at the donation counters as against a proper computerized receipt. No individual is authorized to accept any donation on behalf of the Shrine Board so the aforementioned options must be solely used for the donation purpose.
- Kanya Poojan is strictly prohibited.