Vaishno_devi

Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Temple

About

Introduction

A pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimages of our times. Popular the world over as Moonh Maangi Muradein Poori Karne Wali Mata, which means, the Mother who fulfills whatever Her children wish for, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji resides in a Holy Cave located in the folds of the three peaked mountain named Trikuta (pronounced as Trikoot). The Holy Cave attracts millions of devotees every year. In fact, the number of Yatris visiting the Holy Shrine annually now exceeds one crore. This is due to the unflinching faith of the devotees who throng the Shrine from all parts of India and abroad.

The Holy Cave of the Mother is situated at an altitude of 5200 ft. The Yatris have to undertake a trek of nearly 12 km from the base camp at Katra. At the culmination of their pilgrimage, the yatries are blessed with the Darshans of the Mother Goddess inside the Sanctum Sanctorum- the Holy Cave. These Darshans are in the shape of three natural rock formations called the Pindies. There are no statues or idols inside the Cave.

Since the year 1986, when the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (commonly called Shrine Board) was formed, the management of the Shrine and regulation of the Yatra has been vested in the Board. The Board has undertaken a number of developmental activities aimed at making the Yatra a comfortable and satisfying experience for the Yatris. The Board continues to reinvest the offerings and donations received in carying out improvements in various kinds of Yatri facilities

The Call of Mata

The journey to the Holy Shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji starts with the Call of Mata. It is not only a belief but also a strong experience of one and all that the Divine Mother sends a call to her children. And once a person receives it, wherever he is, is bound to visit the Mother to receive Her unbounded love and blessings. A popular slogan in the local folklore beautifully expresses it- Maan Aap Bulandi – which means that The Mother Herself Calls! It is also a matter of experience by almost all those who visit the Holy Shrine that upon the Call of Mata, a person needs to just take one step and leave the rest to Her and his journey gets completed with Her divine blessings.

Simultaneously, it is also believed that unless there is a call orBulawa no one can visit the Shrine or have Her blessings, howsoever high or mighty one may be

Like with most old Shrines, it is not possible to ascertain when exactly the pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine started. A geological study of the Holy Cave has indicated its age to be nearly a million years. Vedic literature gives no reference to the worship of any female deity, although the mountain Trikuta does find its mention in Rigveda, the oldest of the four Vedas The practice of worshipping Shakti, largely started in the Puranic period.

The first mention of the Mother Goddess is in the epic Mahabharat. When the armies of Pandavs and Kaurvas were arrayed in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjun, the chief warrior of Pandavs upon advice of Sri Krishna; meditated upon the Mother Goddess and sought Her blessings for victory. This is when Arjun addresses the Mother Goddess as ‘Jambookatak Chityaishu Nityam Sannihitalaye’, which means ‘you who always dwell in the temple on the slope of the mountain in Jamboo’ (probably referring to the present day Jammu).

It is also generally believed that the Pandavs were the first to build the temples at Kol Kandoli and Bhawan in reverence and gratitude for the Mother Goddess. On a mountain, just adjacent to the Trikuta Mountain and overlooking the Holy Cave are five stone structures, which are believed to be the rock symbols of the five Pandavs.

Perhaps the oldest reference of the visit of a historical figure to the Holy Cave is that of Guru Gobind Singh who is said to have gone there via Purmandal. The old foot track to the Holy Cave passed through this well-known pilgrimage centre.

Some traditions believe this Shrine to be the holiest of allShaktipeeths (a place where the Mother Goddess, the Eternal Energy has Her abode) since the skull of Mata Sati fell here. Others believe that her right arm had fallen here. But some scriptures do not agree with it. They do agree that at a place called Gandarbal in Kashmir, the right arm of Sati had fallen. Nevertheless, in the Holy Cave of Shri Mata Vaishno Deviji, one does find stone remains of a human hand, popularly known as Varad Hast (the hand that grants boons and blessings).

Discovery of The Shrine

While various versions of the origin and legend of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji are prevalent, there seems to be unanimity on the discovery of Shrine around 700 years back by the same Pandit Shridhar, at whose place Mata had helped organize a Bhandaara. When she left amidst the Bhandaara to escape Bhairon Nath, Pandit Shridhar is said to have felt as if he had lost everything in his life. He felt immense grief and gave up the intake of food or even water and closed himself in a room of his house, fervently praying for Vaishnavi to reappear.

It is then that Mata Vaishnavi appeared in his vision (dream) and told him to search for her at the Holy Cave situated amidst the folds of the Trikuta Mountain. She showed him the way to the Holy Cave and insisted him to break his fast. Pandit Shridhar then went on to discover the Holy Cave in the mountains. Every time he seemed to lose the way, the vision of his dreams reappeared before his eyes and finally he reached his destination. Upon entering the Cave he found a rock form with three heads atop it. At that moment Mata Vaishno Devi appeared before him in all her glory (another version says that the Supreme Energies of Mata Maha Saraswati, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Kali appeared in the Holy Cave) and introduced him to the three heads (now known as the Holy Pindies) of the rock form along with various other identification marks in the Holy Cave. She blessed him with a boon of four sons and a right to worship her manifestation and asked him to spread the glory of the Holy Shrine all over. Pandit Shridhar then spent his remaining life in the service of Mata at the Holy Cave.

Mata Vaishno Devi Ji

As per the legend, during the period when the Goddess was busy in annihiliting the Asuras, Her three main manifestations viz. Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Saraswati got together one day and pooled their collective Tejas or spiritual strength. A stunningly bright light emanated from the place where the Tejas of the three manifestations coalesced and a beautiful young girl emerged out of this Tejas. The young girl asked them, “Why have I been created?” The Devis explained to her that they had created her so that she would live on earth and spend her time in upholding righteousness.

The Devis added, “Now, go and take birth in the house of Ratankar and his wife who reside in the southern part of India, and who are great devotees of ours. Live on earth. Uphold righteousness and evolve yourself spiritually so that you reach higher levels of consciousness. Once you have attained the appropriate level of consciousness you will merge into Vishnu and become one with him.” So saying they blessed the girl. Sometimes later a very beautiful girl child was born to Ratankar and his wife. The couple named the child Vaishnavi. The girl right from her childhood displayed a hunger for knowledge which was like a vortex and which no amount of teaching and learning could sufficiently satiate. Subsequently, Vaishnavi started looking into her inner self for knowledge, and soon learned the art of meditation and realized that meditation and penance only could bring her close to her greater objective. Vaishnavi thus relinquished all household comforts and went deep into the forest for Tapasaya (meditation). Meanwhile, Lord Rama, during his fourteen years of exile happened to visit Vaishnavi who recognized him immediately as no ordinary being but the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and immediately asked him to merge her into himself so that she could become one with the supreme creator.

However Lord Rama, knowing that it was not the appropriate time, dissuaded her by saying that he would visit her again after the end of his exile, and at that time if she succeeded in recognizing him, he would fulfill her wish. True to his words, Rama visited her again after being victorious in the battle, but this time he did so in the disguise of an old man. Unfortunately, Vaishnavi was unable to recognize him this time and was distraught. Upon this, Lord Rama consoled her that the appropriate time for her being one with the creator had not come, and that time would come eventually in ‘Kaliyug’ when He (Rama) would be in his incarnation of ‘Kalki’. Rama also directed her to meditate, and set up an Ashram at the base of Trikuta hills, to elevate her level of spirituality so as to bless mankind and rid the poor and destitute of their sufferings.Only then would ‘Vishnu’ merge her into himself. Vaishnavi, immediately set off for the northern part and after immense hardships, reached the foot of the Trikuta Hills. After reaching there she set up her ashram there and began to meditate.

As predicted by Lord Rama, her glory spread far and wide, and people began to flock to her Ashram to seek her blessings. As time passed, MahaYogi Guru Goraksh Nath ji who had a vision of the episode between Lord Rama and Vaishnavi in the retrospective time frame, became curious to find out whether Vaishnavi has been able to attain a high level of spirituality or not. He, therefore, sent his most able disciple ‘Bhairon Nath’ to find out the truth. Bhairon Nath on locating the ashram started observing Vaishnavi secretly, and realised that though a ‘Sadhvi’ she always carried bow and arrows with her, and was always surrounded by langoors (apes) and a ferocious looking lion. Bhairon Nath was enamored by Vaishnavi’s extraordinary beauty, and losing all good sense he began to pester Vaishnavi to marry him. Meanwhile a staunch devotee of Vaiashnavi, Mata Sridhar organised a Bhandara (Community meal) in which the whole village and MahaYogi Guru Goraksh Nath ji along with all his followers including Bhairon were invited. During the course of Bhandara Bhairon Nath attempted to grab Vaishnavi but she tried her best to daunt him. On failing to do so, Vaishnavi decided to flee away into the mountains to continue her Tapasaya undisturbed. Bhairon Nath however chased her to her destination.

The goddess after halting at (present day) Banganga, Charan Paduka, and Adhkwari, finally reached the holy cave Shrine. When Bhairon Nath continued to follow her despite the goddess trying to avoid a confrontation, the goddess was compelled to kill him. Bhairon Nath met his ultimate fate when the goddess, just outside the mouth of the cave, beheaded him. The severed head of Bhairon fell with a force at a distant hilltop. Bhairon Nath upon death realised the futility of his mission and prayed to the deity to forgive him. The almighty Mata ( Mother Goddess) had mercy on Bhairon and gave him a boon that every devotee of the goddess would have to have the Darshans of Bhairon after having the Darshans of the Goddess and only then would the yatra of a devotee be complete. Meanwhile, Vaishnavi decided to shed off her human form and assuming the face of a rock she immersed her self into meditation forever. Thus Vaishnavi, in the form of a five and a half feet tall rock with three heads or thePindies on the top is the ultimate destination of a devotee. These Pindies constitute the Sanctum Sanctorum of the holy cave known as the shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji, which is revered by one and all.

The Story of Pandit Sridhar

Amongst the many legends associated with the Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi, is that of Lord Rama’s encounter with Vaishnavi during the period of his exile when he (Lord Rama) directed the Goddess towards the holy cave situated in Trikoot Parbat. There are other legends too, like that of the Pandavas, who are said to have visited the holy abode and are also believed to have built a temple here. Prahalad, the legendary son of the atheist king Hirankashayap, is also believed to have undertaken a pilgrimage to the holy shrine. However, the most popular and well known legend is that of Sridhar Brahmin who used to live in village Hansali situated at the foot of Trikoot Parbat, adjacent to modern day Katra Town.

Shridhar was a staunch devotee of Shakti. Even though he was a very poor man, with the inspiration and assurance from Goddess Vaishanavi who appeared one day in his dream in Kanayaroop, Sridhar undertook the organizing of a grand Bhandara. An auspicious date for the Bhandhara was selected and Shridhar invited all the people living in nearby villages to the Bhandara. Thereafter, Sridhar went from door to door requesting his neighbours and acquaintances to give him raw provisions which could be cooked and served to the guests on the day of Bhandara. Though a few of them obliged but many others turned down his request. They in fact taunted him for having the audacity to hold a Bhandara without having the wherewithal for organizing. As the day of Bhandara drew nearer, Shridhar’s worries about feeding the guests invited for Bhandhara also increased.

On the night preceding the day of Bhandara, Shridhar could not sleep a wink. He had spent the entire night grappling with the problem of how to feed his guests with the limited provisions and to accommodate them in the inadequate space that he had. When he was unable to come up with a satisfactory solution to his problems till morning, he resigned himself to fate and got up to face the day. He sat down for puja outside his hut. By midday, his guests started arriving. Finding him deeply involved in puja, they began to make themselves comfortable wherever they could find place. Strangely enough, a very large number of guests were able to comfortably have their space inside Sridhar’s small hut and still a lot of space was unutilized. When the puja was over, Shridhar looked around and saw huge number of guests who had arrived. While he was wondering how to tell his guests that he would not be able feed them, he saw Vaishnavi coming out of his hut. With the grace of Goddess Vaishanvi, all guests were offered food of their own choice and the Bhandhara turned out to be very successful despite some problems raised by Bhairon, a disciple of Guru Gorakhnath who too was invited in the Bhandhara.

After the Bhandhara, Sridhar was curious to get to the bottom of the mystery shrouding the magical powers of Vaishanavi. He began asking young Vaishnavi for an explanation for the mysterious developments of the day. He called out to her but the Vaishanavi was not there to reply. He called out again and again but with the same result. Vaishnavi was no where to be seen. A feeling of emptiness engulfed Sridhar. Then one day, he had a dream of the same girl who told him that she was Vaishno Devi. The Goddess showed him the vision of her cave and also blessed him with the boon of four sons. Sridhar, happy once again, set out in search of the cave, and after finding it he decided to spend rest of his life in worship of the deity. Soon fame of the holy cave spread, and the devotees began to flock it to pay their homage to the mighty Goddess.

The Story of Madhu & Kaithab

At the beginning of time there was only the primeal ocean all around. Vishnu lay on Sheshnag in deep slumber under the influence of Yog Nidra. While Vishnu slept a lotus stalk grew out of his navel. At the upper end of the stalk was a lotus flower. Brahma was born in the lotus flower and was in deep meditation at the time of his birth. As Brahma lay in deep meditation in the lotus flower reciting the Vedas, ear wax flowed out of both ears of Vishnu.

Two Asuras known as Madhu and Kaitabh were born out of the ear wax. These Asuras Performed great penance for thousands of years. The Goddess was pleased with their devotion, appeared before them and granted them the boon that death would come to them only when they desired it. Being conscious of their immense strength, both the Asuras became arrogant. They attacked Brahma and stole away from him the four Vedas. Brahma though furious, was helpless in the face of great might of the Asuras. Hence he rushed in great consternation to Vishnu to seek his protection.

Vishnu, however, was in deep sleep under the influence of Yog Nidra and did not wake up inspite of the best efforts of Brahma. When Brahma realised that he could not wake up Vishnu in the normal course as he was sleeping under the influence of Yog Nidra. He then beseeched and praised ‘Yoga Nidra to help him awaken Vishnu. . The fervent prayers of Brahma pleased Yog Nidra. She took pity on Brahma’s plight and left Vishnu’s body . As soon as Yog Nidra left his body, Vishnu woke up. Brahma told him about the murderous intent of Madhu and Kaitabh and entreated him to destroy them. Thus Lord Vishnu engaged in a fierce and long battle with the two Asuras at the end of which he killed them. In the episode of Madhu and Kaitabh, Goddess Durga has been portrayed as the ‘Yoga Nidra’ whose powerful influence renders even Lord Vishnu helpless.

The Story of Mahishasur

Mahishasura the demon was born as a union of Rambha and a she buffalo (Mahishi) and consequently was a half man and half buffalo. The mighty demon was rendered more powerful as a result of a boon from God Agni, according to which he could be killed by a woman only. He managed to wreak havoc in heaven by chasing away all Gods from there. All the Gods then approached lord Vishnu and lord Shiva who were aware that only a woman could kill Mahishasura. They decided to create a Goddess out of the collective powers or ‘Tejas’ of all the God’s and so was born a Goddess who combined in herself all that was mighty and powerful in each God. She was armed by a trident from Shiva, Chakra from Vishnu, a Lion from Himalayas and bows and arrows from Vayu. The Goddess filled with combined power and anger of all the Gods was fierce to behold and her very sight scared the demons.

Mahishasura on the other hand, waged a valiant fight against her and assumed the form of a buffalo, a lion, a man carrying a sword, an elephant and lastly again as a buffalo. The battle raged for ten thousand years and finally the Goddess was able to pin down Mahishasura and chop off his head. The Gods, rid of the demon, showered the Goddess with innumerable praises and with reverence prayed her to appear every time they were in need of her. Granting the same to the Gods, she disappeared to appear again when called with devotion.

The Story of Vritrasura

As per the ancient literatures and as contained in Shrimad Bhagwat and other religious books, there was once a ‘Prajapati’ named Tvashta, who had a devout and pious son named Vishwarupa. Vishwarupa, blessed with three heads, was a sage having immense spiritual strengths, which evoked a sense of insecurity and fear in the mind of Lord Indra, the king of the Inderlok (Paradise) and in a fit of rage Indra killed the good sage. When Prajapati Tvashta came to know of the incident, he became furious and performed a Yagya with the purpose of avenging the death of his dear son. From the holy fire was born another son of Tvashta, whom he named as Vritrasura and whose sole aim in life was to avenge his brother’s death by destroying Indra.

Vritrasura then meditated and undertook a penance as the result of which he was granted a supreme boon. As per this boon no weapon known till then, could kill him, and he would not even die of anything that was either wet or dry or any weapon made of wood or metal. The boon also ensured that his power would go on increasing during the battle. Upon being granted this boon, Vritra waged a battle against Indra and his forces and managed to give a crushing defeat to him as a result of which Indra had to flee from the battle scene leaving behind his elephant Airawat. Vritrasura then took over Inderlok, forcing Indra to flee to Lord Shankar for help. Shankar along with Brahma went to lord Vishnu to seek his help. Vishnu advised them that they should first win the confidence of Vritrasura, befriend him and then kill him when he may not be on his guards. Vishnu also advised them that they should pray to the Goddess so that through her ‘Yogmaya’ she may render Vritrasura incapable of intelligent thought. Indra did as advised and was consequently blessed by the Goddess.

After this Indra managed to befriend Vritrasura and once when Vritrasura was asleep on sea shore, Indra collected sea-foam as it was neither wet nor dry, neither wood nor any metal and it certainly could not be categorized as a weapon. With the intention of using the sea foam as a weapon to kill Vritrasura, Indra summoned the Goddess to enter the foam. When the Goddess entered the foam, Indra wrapped it around his Vajra (a deadly fierce and favourite weapon of lord Indra, made out of the bones donated by Dadhichi ‘ Rishi’) and with this Vajra he killed Vritrasura there and then. The Devtas, rid of the menace of Vritrasura, praised the Goddess for keeping her promise of helping them in their hour of need.

The Story of Indra’s Penance

After Vritrasura had been killed all the saints and sages feeling guilty of their dubious deed of having killed a Brahmin left for forests for meditation and peace. When Tvashta, Vritrasur’s father, heard that his son had been killed by Indra through nefarious designs, he cursed Indra that he too would have to face similar mortification. Whispers of Indra’s act started to spread all over and all his lustre began to fade. With each passing day, Indra started becoming more remorseful of his sin of killing a Brahmin. One day he left his palace for lake Mansarovar and immersed himself in the stem of a lotus so as to be found by none. He was so over wrought by his sinful conduct that in his despair he forgot the necessary duties he was supposed to perform. Indra’s sudden disappearance caused a chaos among the Devas as clouds stopped raining, wind stopped blowing and the lands became infertile. As a functionary of Indra, the Devas thought of placing some one in his seat to smoothly carry on with the celestial order till the time Indra would be located. All the Devas decided to place the sage Nahush in his throne . Although Nahush was a saintly person but as soon as he ascended to the office of Indra, his outlook towards life took a complete transformation and he started partaking in the pleasures. One day he demanded that Indra’s wife Indrani should be called to please him. Indrani turned for help to Brihaspati the guru of all Devas. Brihaspati advised her to gain time by telling Nahush that she is willing to serve him but after knowing whether her husband is alive or not. Brihaspati also advised to pray to Vishnu. Lord Vishnu, on getting pleased, suggested to indrani worshipping the Goddess and performing an Ashwamedha Yagya for seeking forgiveness from the Goddess about Indra’s sin of killing a Brahmin, to accelerate the process of Indra’s power restoration and the end of Nahush’s era.

Indrani started praying the goddess with vigour and devotion. The goddess was happy and appeared before her to grant her the boon. Indrani requested for reunion with her husband also the restoration of his powers besides saving her from Nahush. The goddess granted her the boons desired. On locating Indra, Indrani apprised him of Nahush’s dubious demands. As a strategy to tackle the unacceptable demands of Nahush, Indrani went to him and told him that she was ready to please him provided he was able to locate Indra and also if he comes to her in a unique carriage, the cart driven by the great sages. By this time the Maya of the Goddess over-powered Nahush. He ordered the sages for pulling his chariot. They were too amused but agreed to it. The chariot driven by the sages left for Brihaspati’s Ashram. The thought of possessing Indrani excited Nahush so much that he began to urge the sages to move faster by repeatedly saying ‘Sarp’. ‘Sarp’ in Sanskrit means to move faster but it also means ‘snake’. Finally, when the anger of the saints could not be contained, they cursed Nahush to become a snake for a thousand years till he would meet Yudhisther, the Pandav, who would release him of the curse. Brihaspati and the other Devas then went to lake Mansarovar and requested Indra to come out of the place of his hiding and retake his position as the king of Devloka.

The Story of Asura Hyagriva

Hayagriva, meaning one with the horse’s neck, was the son of ‘Kashyap Prajapati’. Through his great penance he had managed to obtain boon from the Goddess that he could only be killed by another “Hayagriva”. The boon instilled in him a sense of being invincible and as a result he started harassing the Devas realising that they could not kill him. The Devas asked for Vishnu’s help but a long battle with Haygriva bore no fruit and it only left Vishnu tired and drained. Vishnu then proceeded to Vaikuntha Dham to rejuvenate himself and once there he went into meditation in padamaasna (a yoga posture) with his head supported by the upper end of his taught bow. The Devas meanwhile aggrieved by Haygriva again approached Vishnu for help but were unable to rouse him from the state of deep meditation. The Devas then took the help of the Termites in rousing Vishnu who gnawed away the string of the bow upon which Vishnu was resting. The snapping of the string of the bow produced such a resonant sound that the whole universe trembled and the string on being snapped, lashed out with such force at the head of Vishnu that it was severed from the rest of its body.

The sight of beheaded, Vishnu filled the Devas with horror and mortification and out of sheer panic they started praying to the Goddess for help. Goddess pleased with their prayers told the Devas that they need not fear as no incident in this universe is without some purpose. She then told them of her boon to Asura Haygriva and asked them to attach the head of a horse to Vishnu so that he in the guise of “Haygriva” could kill the Asura Hayagriva.

Thus, Vishnu Taking the form of the “one with the head of a horse” entered into a battle with the Asura and eventually killed him with the grace of the goddess.

The Story of Shumbha & Nishumbha

As per the known stories derived from the Shrimad Devi Bhagwat Puran, Shumbha and Nishumbha were the two Asura (evil forces) brothers who managed to obtain a boon from lord Brahma that they will not be killed by any male whether human being or animal / bird etc. but by a woman only. They desired this boon thinking that they will live for ever as they did not know of a lady who was so powerful as to kill them both in a war. Thus empowered, these demons started disturbing the prayers of the saints torturing them and asking them to worship the duo rather than any other deity. The Devtas realising that they cannot defeat the two brothers recapitulated the promise of the Goddess to come to their help whenever asked for. Gods then together praised the deity by saying that she was omnipotent, resided in each and every emotion and sensation of all beings in this universe.

While the Gods were thus engaged, the Goddess Parvati happened to pass through and when the prayers of the Gods fell into her ears, she was moved to pity and thus she created another Goddess from her own being who came to be known as “Kaushiki”. After the emergence of the Goddess, Parvati turned black thus giving the name ‘Kalika’ also to the goddess. The Goddess thus born was supremely beautiful and when Chanda and Munda, the disciples of the demon brothers Shumbha and Nishumbha set eyes upon her they at once reported of her beauty to their masters. Upon hearing of her beauty, the two brothers sent a marriage proposal to the goddess. The Goddess told them that she has taken a vow to marry the one who can vanquish her in battle and take her forcibly. Thus incited into a battle by the Goddess, Shumbha and Nishumbha first send a large army and their able Generals to beat this beautiful lady, but on being defeated, they sent Chanda and Munda whom also the Goddess defeated assuming the form of Maha Kali and thus the goddess was also named ‘Chamunda’, the one who beheaded the Asuras Chanda And Munda.

As the battle became more and more fierce, seven more Goddesses or Shaktis emerged from the bodies of seven Devtas to assist the Goddess in this battle. At that time was sent to the battlefield, the all powerful demon Raktabija who had been granted the strange boon that wherever his blood fell on the ground it would take the form of a ‘Bija’ or seed and from it will sprout another Raktabija. To slay him the Goddess asked Kali to lick the blood of the Raktabija before it fell on the ground. The goddess in the meantime beheaded the demons. All the Shaktis then together killed Nishumbha and his army leaving just Shumbha. When Shumbha realised that he has been outnumbered, he taunted the Goddess that she alone cannot defeat him and needed the help of seven other Goddesses to do so. The Goddess got infuriated and merged all the Shaktis into herself and single handedly killed Shumbha thus freeing the world of evil.

The War between Devas and Asuras

The Devas and Asuras were engaged in continuous war with each other with no signs of its abetting till a time came that the positions of Devas became strong and Asuras, threatened, had to flee and seek shelter with Shukracharya, the Guru of Asuras, who decided to undertake penance to gain spiritual powers to defeat the Devas and in the mean time asked the Asuras to lie low and abstain from war with the Devas. Shukracharya then approached lord Shankar on mount Kailash to seek his blessings to carry out his desired penance successfully.

Lord Shankar aware of the motive behind Shukracharya’s penance delineated an extremely severe fast for Shukracharya to follow in order to gain the desired spiritual strength. In the meantime, the Devas learning of Shukracharya’s penance decided to finish the Asuras before his return but were dissuaded in their task by the mother of Shukracharya who put them under the spell of ‘Nidra’ the Goddess of unconsciousness. Only Indra managed to escape it with the help of Lord Vishnu, who then beheaded the mother of Shukracharya who was the wife of famous Sage ‘Bhrigu’. When Saint ‘Bhrigu’ heard of this incident, he got furious and cursed Vishnu to take birth on earth again and again. Bhrigu with his powers also put life back into his wife’s body. Indra was at once overpowered by awe and fear to see the spiritual power of sage Bhrigu and fearing for the safety of the Devas, he sent his daughter Jayanti to serve Shukracharya and live with him. Jayanti did so with full devotion and patience till one day pleased by her, Shukracharya took her as his wife for ten years and created such an illusion that though they lived together, no one could see them with the result that in this period of 10 years, not even the Asuras could locate him.

In the meantime, Brihaspati on Indra’s beseeching, assumed the form of Shukracharya and began to dwell with the Asuras. When after 10 years, the real Shukracharya returned the Asuras were unable to recognize him and thinking of him as an imposter, sent him away. Shukracharya, argued and put a curse upon the Asuras that they will be defeated by the Devas. The Devas then waged a war against the Asuras confidant of their victory. The Asuras realizing their mistake begged Shukracharya to forgive them. They succeeded in appeasing Shukracharya who agreed to help them but added that he had learned a great truth of the universe according to which what has to happen will happen. The war between the Asuras and Devas continued for hundreds of years till the Devas called the Goddess for their help. Asuras were frightened by the very sight of the Goddess and begged for her mercy upon which the goddess told them to shun the path of war and live peacefully in Patal Lok and wait for the wheel of time to turn in their favour. Thereafter there was peace in the universe and the Devas and the Asuras lived in their respective places peacefully.

Darshan

The Trikuta Mountain where the Shrine is located and the Holy Cave are the gateway to the dimension of Super Consciousness. And just like the Trikuta Mountain, which is one at the base but has three peaks (hence the name Trikoot), the revelation of the Mother Goddess in the Holy Cave is in a natural rock form which is one at the base but has three heads at the top. These three heads in a natural rock form are known as the Holy Pindies and are worshipped as the revelation of the Mother Goddess. The entire rock body is immersed in water, and a marble platform has now been constructed all around. The main Darshans remain to be of the three heads called the Holy Pindies. The uniqueness of the Holy Pindies is that although they emanate from one single rock form, each one is distinctly different from the other two in colour and texture.

MAHA KALI

Towards the right of the devotee is the Holy Pindi of Mata Maha Kali (the Supreme Energy of Dissolution) in the colour associated with Her i.e. black. The Supreme Energy of dissolution is Mata Maha Kali. She represents the Tam Guna- the quality associated with the darker and unknown realms of life. Tam stands for darkness. Psychology and science state that only a very small per cent of the Universe is conscious. The remaining is still subconscious or unconscious. These unknown realms contain all the mysteries of life. Creation is a phenomenon, which exists within a specific time. However the Energy that transcends the barriers of time is the Eternal Time or Maha Kali. Since man’s knowledge about life is very limited and he remains in the dark about most of it, it is represented by the colour black which is associated with Mata Maha Kali. She is the basic source of all that is mystical and unknown to man. In her attribute of Maha Kali, the Mother Goddess constantly guides her devotees to conquer the forces of darkness.

MAHA LAKSHMI

In the centre is the Holy Pindi of Mata Maha Lakshmi (the Supreme Energy of Maintenance) with a yellowish-red tinge, the colour associated with Mata Maha Lakshmi. Mata Maha Lakshmi is the Supreme Energy of Maintenance. She represents Rajas Guna- the quality of inspiration and effort, and is considered to be the basic source of wealth, prosperity, material gains, quality of life etc. Wealth and prosperity are better represented by the colour of gold, which is yellow, and hence associated with Mata Maha Lakshmi.

MAHA SARASWATI

The Pindi to the extreme left of the viewer is worshipped as the Holy Pindi of Mata Maha Saraswati (the Supreme Energy of Creation). It has a whitish tinge when looked at attentively. White has also been considered the colour associated with Mata Maha Saraswati. Being the Supreme force of Creation, Mata Maha Saraswati is considered to be the basic source of all Creation, Knowledge, Wisdom, Righteousness, Art, Spiritualism, Piousness etc. Since white is a colour that denotes piousness and purity, hence it is associated with Mata Maha Saraswati. She represents the Satva Guna- the quality of purity.

Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is considered to be an incarnation of the three Supreme Energies.

All Human beings contain attributes of the three above mentioned Guns (qualities) and their behavior is determined by the Guna which is predominant in their nature. But, in order to lead a meaningful life, a proper balance among these three is necessary. The Holy Cave is charged with such energy that it helps in creating this vital but rare balance in a person. This is what makes the Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji unique in the entire world.

Darshan

Other Darshans in the Holy Cave

The Holy Cave is around 98 feet long. Besides the main Darshans of the Pindies inside the Cave, there are various other Darshans, outside and inside the Holy Cave and around the Holy Pindies. It is believed that the Darshans of 33 crore (330 million) Gods and Goddesses are present in the Holy Cave. It is believed that at some given point of time, each of the 330 million gods and goddesses have worshipped the Mother Goddess in the Holy Cave and have left their symbolical marks inside. It is also believed that during Poojan and Aarti in the morning and evening, all these Gods and Goddesses arrive at the Holy Cave to pay their obeisance to the Mother.

At the entry of the Holy Cave, towards the left hand side, is the symbol of Vakra Tund Ganesh. Adjacent to the symbol of Lord Ganesh are the symbols of Surya and Chandra Dev. Once inside the Holy Cave, one crosses over the Dadh (torso) of Bhairon Nath, which is around 14 feet long. Due to the impact of the mighty blow of the Divine Mother, while the head of Bhairon Nath fell atop an adjacent mountain a couple of kilometers away from the Holy Cave, his body lay lifeless at the entrance of the Holy Cave.

After the Dadh (torso) of Bhairon is the symbol of Lord Hanuman known as Launkra Beer. Thereafter one comes across Charan Ganga, the legendary river flowing from the feet of Mata. Those having Darhans through the old Cave have to wade through water beyond this point. Around 23 feet beyond Launkra Beer, on the left upper hand side, the roof of the cave flares out and the entire weight of this cave appears to rest on the innumerable heads of Shesh Nag. Immediately below Shesh Nag is the Havan Kund of Mata and adjacent to it are the symbols of Shankh, Chakra, Gada and Padam.

Above, almost touching the ceiling of the cave are the symbols of five Pandavs, Sapt rishis, Than (udders or breast) of the divine cow Kamdhenu, symbols of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh and Shiv-Parvati. 3 feet further ahead, on an elevation can be seen the Khamba that was gripped by the legendary worshipper Prahlad. Diagonally below this, at the water level is the Yantra with innumerable mystical signs and symbols inscribed on it. 22 feet beyond this point is located the Sher Ka Panja, symbolizing the lion which is the mount of the Mata Vaishno Devi Ji. The distance from the entry point to the Sher Ka Panja is 59 feet. 13 feet beyond this, immediately above the head of the worshipper, is located the symbol of the Primary Hood of Shesh Nag which appears to be bearing the weight of the roof of the Cave at this point. 6 feet further ahead, on the left hand side, are the symbols of Shankar and Gauri.

13 feet beyond this are the Holy Pindies of Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi Vaishno Devi and Mata Maha Saraswati. To the right of the Holy Pindies on the upper side can be seen the symbols of Lord Ganesh, Surya Dev, Chandra Dev and Goddess Annapurna. Slightly behind the Holy Pindies, on the right hand side can be seen the symbol of the seated Sinh Raj (Lion). A little ahead of it is the full hand of the Mother Goddess, raised in the Varad Hast mode, granting boons to the world. An interesting corollary to the Varad Hast of Mata lies in the story of the sacrifice of Sati. The Scriptures say that the hand of Mother Sati fell in the region of Kashmir creating a Shaktipeeth. There are a few sources, however, which believe that it was at this place i.e. the Holy Cave at Trikuta Mountain that the hand of Sati fell and the Varad Hast in the Holy Cave provides some link to the tale of Sati. Immediately opposite the Holy Pindies is the natural symbol of Lord Pashupati Nath.

Yatris may however note that most of these Darshans are possible only if the original cave is used. However, owing to the heavy rush, usually the new tunnels are used and the original cave is opened only during the lean seasons. Yatries desirous of having all the Darshans are advised to formulate their programme to correspond with the lean seasons.

After this can be seen the symbol of Lord Hanuman called Launkra. Water gushes out of the base of the holy Pindies and flows out of the holy Cave. This gush of Holy water is known as Charan Ganga and the water of this stream is collected in small containers by the devotees and taken home. The same water is also channelised to the bathing ghat and the devotees take a bath in this water before they join the queue for Darshan of the holy Pindies.

Bhairon Temple – Darshan

Other Darshans at Bhawan

There are other Darshans in the Bhawan area as well. These include Darshans of Lord Shiva’s Shivling in a cave, Mata Durga, Lord Shiv, Shri Ram with Sita and Lakshman, Lord Hanuman etc. These Darshans are in temples situated at different point of the Bhawan complex. Signboards have been put up at Bhawan to guide the yatries as to the location of these temples. In addition, there are Yagyashalas in the Bhawan complex where Yagyas and Havans are preformed round the year and especially during the Navratras. The main Yagyashala is situated at Saraswati Bhawan.

Aarti

The ‘Aarti’ of the Goddess is performed twice a day first time in the morning just before the sunrise and second time in the evening immediately after the sunset.

The procedure of ‘Aarti’ is a very sacred and lengthy one. The Pujaris perform ‘Aarti’ before the holy deity first inside the sanctum- sanctorum and than outside the cave. Before the commencement of ‘Aarti’, the Pujaris perform ‘Aatam pujan’ i,e self-purification. Then the Goddess is bathed in water, milk, ghee (Clarified butter), honey and sugar. Thereafter the goddess is dressed-up in a saree, chola and chuni and ornaments are endowed upon her. The whole process takes place amidst the enchantment of various shlokas and Mantras. Thereafter Tilak is placed on the forehead of the deity and Navied (prashad) is offered to her. The Pujaris perform puja of various Gods and Goddesses, as it is a believed that during the Aarti time, all the Gods and Goddesses are present inside the sanctum Sanctorum. The Jyoti (divine lamp) is lightened and then the ‘Aarti’ of the goddess is performed. After the whole procedure, the thaal which contains the lamp and various other items used in the ‘Aarti’, is brought outside the mouth of the holy cave, where ‘Aarti’ of the goddess is performed in the presence of yatris. The yatris who remain seated outside the holy cave during the time when the Aarti is performed inside the Sanctum Sanctorum, keep listening to the Pravachans of head Pandit. After the Aarti outside the holy cave is over, the pujari distributes Prasadam and the charanamrit ( the holy water) to the devotees.

This whole procedure of ‘Aarti’ takes nearly two hours during which time the darshans remain suspended. All the maintenance works required inside the cave are carried out during this time only.

Devotees can also opt for  SHRADDHA SUMAN VISHESH POOJA, a Special Pooja.

Shradha Suman Vishesh Pooja

Keeping in view the persistent demand and religious sentiments of the Yatries and taking into account the shraddha of the Yatries in the Individual Poojan started last year,  another poojan facility named “SHRADHA SUMAN VISHESH POOJA” has been introduced for the devotees desirous of attending Aarti Darshan of the Holy Goddess.

The details of the Poojan are as under:

Category A (Rs.16000)

No of Persons Allowed:  One

Facilities Entitled under the Package: 

Aarti Darshan for one Person.

One two bedded AC Room in Niharika free of cost.

One two bedded room at Bhavan free of cost.

Maximum of three meals for one person free to cost at Katra/Bhavan.

Prashad.

Category B  (Rs.31000)

No of Persons Allowed:  Two

Facilities Entitled under the Package:

Aarti Darshan for two Persons.

One two bedded AC Room in Niharika free of cost.

One two bedded room at Bhavan free of cost.

Maximum of three meals for two person free to cost at Katra/Bhavan.

Prashad.

Category C   (Rs.46000)

No of Persons Allowed:  Three

Facilities Entitled under the Package:

Aarti Darshan for three Persons.

One four bedded AC Room in Niharika free of cost.

One four bedded room at Bhavan free of cost.

Maximum of three meals for three persons free to cost at Katra/Bhavan.

Prashad.

Category D  (Rs.75000)

No of Persons Allowed:  Five

Facilities Entitled under the Package:

Aarti Darshan for five Persons.

One four bedded AC Room and one two bedded AC Room in Niharika free of cost.

One Four Bedded and One Two Bedded room at Bhavan free of cost.

Maximum of three meals for five persons free to cost at Katra/Bhavan.

Prashad.

On persistent demand from yatries and taking into consideration the sentiments involved, a system of individual Poojan has been introduced. This new Poojan system accommodates the religious sentiments associated with the pilgrimage and is in line with the system being followed at some other revered places of worship.

Under this Poojan Scheme, every morning, a Hawan/Poojan is performed in the Yagyashalla. Desirous Yatries are allowed to participate in this Havan and their name(s), gotra etc. are then chanted and prayers offered for their welfare and prosperity.

A variant of this Poojan is also allowed whereby the devotee need not be physically present. The Poojan is performed in his name and the Prashad is sent to him by post.

Category A: Poojan of Rs. 1100/- Devotee need not be physically present

Poojan is performed in the name of the person(s) for/by whom Pooja has been registered even while the devotee(s) is not present in the Pooja. The Poojan Prashad is sent through courier to the given address.

Poojan can be booked for any day. The facility remains open for whole of the year and the Poojan can be booked in advance or on current basis subject to availability of slots.

A maximum of five names from a family can be given for the purpose. These are then chanted during the course of Havan/Poojan.

Category B: Poojan of Rs. 5100/-

Under this Poojan scheme, the devotee has to be physically present in the Poojan. He/She can attend the Havan/Poojan himself/herself along with a maximum of four (total five) of his/her family members.

Report Room no.8 at Bhawan before 08:00 am about the timings of the Poojan and in case he/she fails to reach by the time, he/she forfeits his/her claim.

Advance booking is allowed for this category of Poojan. Spot booking is also allowed subject to availability of slots.

Donation Policy

Offerings and donations are the mainstay of the income of the Shrine Board. The donations offered by the pilgrims are utilized for the creation of infrastructural facilities for the visiting pilgrims as well as for general upkeep and maintenance of the Holy Shrine. The Board does not receive any significant financial assistance from the State or Central governments. Therefore, most of the facilities created for the benefit of the pilgrims have been created through the central pool of donations.

In addition to the central pool of donations (which is nothing but the sum total of all donations and offerings received in a year) there are also specific donation and poojan schemes in which devotees can participate directly. These have been formulated based on suggestions received from pilgrims and devotees from time to time. Most of these pertain to the creation of infrastructural and other facilities like Yatri Sarais, Shelter Sheds and other welfare activities. Such direct schemes not only help in identifying areas that need growth but also bring to the donors the satisfaction of knowing where and how their donations have been utilized.

Another initiative in this direction has been acknowledging the valuable material and moral contribution of the devotees by providing them with various benefits. Donors may choose the scheme of donation for which they wish to contribute. Donating under specifically formulated schemes helps the devotees to become Registered Donors of the Shrine Board and enables them to avail of various privileges and facilities. They are also issued a Donors Identity Card for their convenience and reference. While participation under some schemes entitles the donors to free residence in various guest houses of the Board, other schemes carry other priveleges.

How & Where to Donate

Offerings towards the Shrine can be made either in cash or through demand drafts or cheques. Various counters have been set up by the Shrine Board, so as to facilitate the pilgrims to make donations. These counters are available at Bhawan, Sanjichhat, Adkuwari, Enquiry and Reservation section at Niharika, Katra and also at the Central Office of the Shrine Board at Katra. All these donation counters are fully computerized and are manned by trained staff of the Shrine Board. Computerized donation receipts bearing the First photograph of the Gold Ornamentation of Holy Pindies are issued to the devotees who make an offering or donation at these counters. These donation receipts can be preserved as a souvenir by the devotees. It also enables the devotees to clam Income Tax exemption on the donations made by them towards the Shrine. The details of these counters are given below :

Three Donation Counters at Bhawan

One Donation Counter at Sanjichatt

One Donation Counter at Adhkuwari

One Donation Counter at Enquiry & Reservation Office, Niharika Complex, Katra

One Donation Counter at Central Office of Shrine Board, Katra
Donations in cash can also be dropped in the various danpatras located both inside and outside the Holy Cave, but in that case the devotee is unable to get a donation receipt. More than 100 danpatras have been placed at various locations at Katra, en-route and at the Holy Bhawan. These boxes are regularly opened and counting of the contents is organized under careful watch of the senior functionaries of the Board.

Donations towards Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board can also be made through Cheques/Demand Draft. The instrument of payment is to be made in favour of”Chief Executive Officer, Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board, Katra”. The Cheques/ demand draft may be of any bank.Devotees are requested to provide full address detail alongwith Pincode, email id and Phone number(s) etc for despatching Donation Receipt.

Donation

In addition to donations through cash or kind, there are also specific donation and poojan schemes in which devotees can participate directly. These have been formulated based on suggestions received from pilgrims and devotees from time to time. Most of these pertain to the creation of infrastructural and other facilities like Yatri Sarais, Shelter Sheds and other welfare activities. Such direct schemes not only help in identifying areas that need growth but also bring to the donors the satisfaction of knowing where and how their donations have been utilized.

Donation in Kind

Donation in kind broadly comprise two types. The first type consist of jewellery, precious stones, chunnies, saries and cholas, which are donated by the devotees after having darshans.

All such offerings viz. ornaments and jewelry offerings are to be deposited in the jewelry boxes kept in the Sanctum Sanctorum. Saries, Cholas, Chunris, etc. are also accepted here. Devotees who wish to offer larger ornaments can also deposit the same at the Office of the Asstt. Chief Executive Officer, Room No.8, Kalika Bhawan at Bhawan or the Office of the Chief Executive Officer, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Central Office, Katra. The larger ornaments are preserved and offered at the feet of Holy Goddess on a rotational basis.

The second kind of donations in kind include items of various kinds which are used in large quantities in different developmental and other works. These include civil items like cement, bricks and tiles, electrical items like bulbs, tubes, inverters, catering items like atta, rice, daals of various kinds, refined oil, housekeeping items like blankets, mattresses, beds and bedcovers etc. etc.

Devotees who desire to made donation contributions in kind can do so at any of the Donation counters of Shrine Board. Alternatively, they can send the Donations in kind to the Non-Engineering Stores of Shrine Board located at Banganga or at Vaishnavi Dham, near Railway Station Jammu.

Eaching Bhawan

Bhawan: Legend The Holy Bhawan houses the Sanctum Sanctorum – the Holy cave which is the ultimate destination of the yatries. Inside the Holy Cave the Goddess has revealed herself in the form of Holy Pindies manifesting Mata in her three forms Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Mata Saraswati.
A pilgrim can get the first glimpse of Bhawan around 1.5 Kms before he actually reaches there. The first sight of the Holy Bhawan brings a sudden upsurge of energy and all the tiredness of the strenuous climb evaporates immediately as if by a magic wave of some mystic wand. The fact that the last 1.5 km of the Yatra are either level or gently sloping downwards is a big relief to those tired muscles. The feeling of having almost reached there fills the devotees with extra fervor and devotion. The last 1.5 kms. are then covered on wings, as it were, and in no time, the yatri reaches Bhawan.

It is believed that after leaving the Garbh Joon cave at Adhkawari, where Bhairon Nath had located her, Vaishnavi started ascending uphill till the time She reached the Holy Cave. Bhairon Nath who was pursuing Her, located her again inside the cave and started challenging her. So, finally the Goddess assumed Her Divine Form and severed the head of Bhairon Nath. There was so much power behind the blow of Her sword, that Bhairon Nath’s head flew away and fell on another spur of the mountain about One & a half Kilometer away, (the site of modern day Bhairon Temple) while his torso was left lying at the Mouth of the Holy Cave. The Goddess then immersed Herself into deep meditation inside the Sanctum Sanctorum where lies Her manifestation in the petrified form.

The Holy Bhawan, is the main centre of reverence for the devotees. It is also the key location in the entire Yatra circuit. Therefore adequate arrangements and facilities have been created by the Shrine Board for the convenience of the devotees. These include free & rented accommodation; Toilet Blocks; Bhojanalayas; Post Office; Banks; Communication (STD/PCO); Announcement Centres; Blanket Stores; Cloak Rooms; Medical Dispensary (with a ICU); General Stores; Bhaint Shops; Police Station, etc.

Obtaining a Group Number

Yatries would recollect that prior to the commencement of their yatra, they had obtained a Yatra Registration Slip or Parchi from the Yatra Registration Counter (YRC) located at Katra. This slip had been checked and stamped at Banganga. The most important role of the slip is at Bhawan, where the slip is revalidated and used to issue a group number. The group number is allotted at the Yatra Slip Counter located on the left hand side immediately after the luggage check post. This group number would then determine the sequence in which the yatries would have the Holy Darshan and the time for which they would have to wait before obtaining Darshans.

As has already been mentioned, the Holy Darshans in the Cave of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji are in the form of natural rock formation called Pindies with no idols or statues. Due to the narrowness of the Cave and restriction on the number of people being able to pray inside the Cave at any given point of time, Darshans are regulated through a continuously moving queue. Yatries are grouped into batches of 200 each depending on their time of arrival at the grouping counter at Bhawan and each group is called one by one to enter into the Darshan Queue.

The group which is having Darshans at any given point of time is called the current group and the number of groups in between the current group and the group number allotted to the yatri will determine the time for which the yatries shall have to wait before having Darshans. On ordinary days or days of moderate rush, yatries can have Darshans almost immediately after reaching Bhawan. However, on days of heavy rush, especially during the peak months, one may have to wake for 9-10 hours before one’s group number is called out for Darshans.

In any case, irrespective of the rush, one must obtain the group number immediately after reaching Bhawan and only then proceed to carry out any other task.

Facilities Available at Bhawan

The Shrine Board has provided various facilities for the yatries at Bhawan, to facilitate comfortable Darshans.

Accommodation

Self contained and furnished rooms are available on rent for the yatries at the Main Bhawan complex as well as Gauri and Vaishnavi Bhawan complexes. Dormitory accommodation is also available at Manokamna Bhawan complex. This accommodation can be booked through our official website www.maavaishnodevi.org .
The facility of on line booking is  available through our online services module. In case of availability spot booking is also possible at the reception counters of the respective Bhawans.

Free accommodation

In addition to the facility of rented rooms, there are a number of large halls which are available for the yatries. This accommodation is free of cost and is made available on a first-come-first-served basis. No booking or permission is required for using these premises since they are kept open round the clock and yatries can just go and occupy them subject to availability.

Food and Refreshment

Refreshments like biscuits, cold-drinks tea, coffee, milk, mineral water, etc. are available along the way at refreshment Units of the Shrine Board. Nearly all of these units are located at carefully selected locations from where one can have a panoramic view of the valley. Therefore, they are also known as View Points. There are a total of 12 such view points. 9 of these refreshment units (or view points) are located on the old track while 3 are located on the alternate track to Bhawan. All the items offered at these view points are on a no-profit basis thus ensuring proper quality and value for the money paid by the pilgrims.

The larger viewpoints serve meals, bread, buns also, while the smaller ones only serve packed snacks and beverages. In addition, oxygen cylinders, cassettes, milk for infants is also available at these viewpoints.

Most of the viewpoints are located at or near Vishram Sthals (resting points). The Vishram Sthals are so called because track is covered with sheds here and benches or resting places are provided. In addition, toilets and drinking water points are also located nearby. In brief, there are adequate opportunities for rest, rejuvenation and eat and drink in and around the viewpoints and the Vishram Sthals.

Bhojanalayas

While the 12 viewpoints or refreshment units cater to the refreshment and light snack needs of the yatries, the Shrine Board also runs full-fledged Bhojanalyas to provide wholesome and hygienic food to the pilgrims on no-profit basis. Because of the Board’s policy of running all its units on a no-profit basis all the items are available at very cheap and affordable rates.

The Shrine Board runs five Bhojanalyas in all, one each at Adkuwari and Sanjichhat and three at main Bhawan. The Bhojanalyas at Bhawan run round the clock and serve a varied but traditional menu. There is in addition, a catering cell at Katra to cater to the needs of pilgrims utilizing accommodation facilities at the Niharika Complex.

There are a number of private establishments available on the track but yatries are advised to assure themselves about the fair price and quality of the goods being offered. In particular, Yatries are advised to strongly desist from paying anything over the retail price printed on the packaged products.

Preparing for Darshans

Most pilgrims prefer to take a bath before proceeding for Darshans. In the olden days pilgrims used to take a bath at the Bathing Ghat, with the water that flows from the feet of Mata. With the passage of time, and particularly after the vesting of the management in the Shrine Board, new Bathing ghats and many toilets and bathrooms have been constructed. Attempts have been made to channelise the water from the Holy Cave to all these new Bathing areas, so that irrespective of where the pilgrim takes a bath, he receives the cleansing effect of the Holy Water. The traditional Bathing ghats have also been enlarged and developed and notwithstanding many constructions, many pilgrims would still like to take a bath at the original ghats.

Pilgrims are required to deposit all their belonging in the free cloakrooms, as nothing except cash and selected offerings (please read the section on Bhaints) are allowed inside the Holy Cave. All articles of general use like belts, wrist watches with leather belts, combs, pen, pencil, purses, handbags, etc. are prohibited. For the convenience of the yatries, Shrine Board has organized free cloak room facilities at many points in the Bhawan complex. In particular, a shoes/bags cloak room has been made operational just outside Gate No.1 which is the entrance to the queue complex. This cloak room can be used for depositing all leather and other goods which are prohibited inside the Holy Cave.

No sweets are allowed either. After taking a bath at the Bathing Ghat or elsewhere, pilgrims can reach Gate No.1 where upon announcement (and/or display on the display board) of the group number, they are allowed inside the queue which would lead them eventually to one of the greatest moments of their lives, a Darshan of the Divine Mother inside the Holy Cave in the natural rock form i.e. the Holy Pindies.

Waiting in Queue

Immediately after a pilgrim’s group number is called or displayed, he/she is ushered in through Gate No.1 into the queue complex. The queue complex is a long corridor which opens first into two large waiting halls, one after the other and finally opens at the mouth of the Holy Cave.

During ordinary days a pilgrim can enter Gate No.1 and upon crossing the required distance can reach the Sanctum Sanctorum in no time. But on days of heavy rush, one may have to wait inside the railings or the waiting room for some time before the queue ahead gets cleared. The Shrine Board has installed coloured Television sets all along the queue corridor. These television sets relay a direct telecast of the Holy Cave and the Holy Pindies. Pre recorded messages explaining the procedure of Darshans are also relayed Since the time available for Darshans inside the Holy Cave is limited, yatries are advised to carefully watch the television sets and hear the pre-recorded messages. This will help them in having proper Darshans inside the Cave.

In addition to the television sets, large backlit coloured photos of the Holy Pindies have been installed at various important locations. These are also meant to familiarize the pilgrims with the Darshans inside the cave. Provision of urinals and drinking water has also been made in the waiting corridors.

Coconut Prasad Counter

The traditional offering to the Goddess invariably comprises a coconut. However for reasons of time and security, coconut offerings are not allowed to be carried by the pilgrims beyond a designated point.

Instead, at a designated point in the main waiting hall, pilgrims have to deposit their coconuts to the temple priests who then take responsibility for the rituals. The pilgrim is handed over a token and the offered coconuts can be reclaimed after Darshans upon producing the token at the Coconut Prashad Counter.

The Original Cave and New Tunnel

While on the way to the Sanctum Sanctorum, one crosses a small patio type of structure on the right hand side of which is a Cave opening. This is the original Cave leading to the Holy Pindies. In the olden days, the yatries used to reach the Sanctum Sanctorum through this cave only. Nowadays, this cave is kept closed for a large part of the year. Since this cave is quite narrow, it takes several minutes for a single person to cross it and reach the Sanctum Sanctorum.

Therefore, two new tunnels have been utilised to facilitate a larger number of pilgrims to have Darshans. One tunnel is used for the entrance and leads directly to the Sanctum Sanctorum. The other tunnel is used for exit. The original cave is opened during the lean periods or on traditional festivals or for ritualistic occasions. Obtaining Darshans through this Cave is a different experience altogether and pilgrims desirous of enjoying this Divine Bliss are well advised to plan their trip during the lean periods only.

When one crosses the portion where the original Cave is located, one walks further through a corridor on which numerous bells stand suspended from the ceiling. After walking a few yards, one reaches a broad platform where statues of the Lions, the mount of the Mother Goddess and a life size statue of the Mother Goddess are enshrined. This is the entrance of the new tunnels.

Upon entering the tunnel, one should observe silence and carefully move in the queue. At the end of the tunnel is a raised marble platform on which the Divine Mother has revealed Herself in a natural rock form known as the Holy Pindies. Pilgrims should refrain from shouting slogans of praises inside the tunnel and around the Sanctum Sanctorum. This disturbs other pilgrims who may be interested in concentrating on the Darshans and on the description given by the priests.

The priest sitting on the platform, informs the pilgrims about these Pindies, however since the time for Darshans is limited, one only gets a glimpse of the Holy Pindies and has to move further in order to keep the queue moving. It is reiterated that Darshans inside the Holy Cave are in the form of natural rock formations called Pindies. There are no statues, pictures or idols inside. All along the track and at the Bhawan, there are many photographs explaining the nature of Darshans inside the Holy Cave. Yatries should observe these carefully since these are meant to guide them towards the final Darshans in the Holy Cave.

Ornamentation

The ornamentation of the Holy Pindies was done gradually over a period of time since the discovery of the Holy Shrine. Various devotees offered jewelry, crowns, Chhatras, idols etc, for the ornamentation of the Holy Pindies. The same ornamentation continued all these years and everything was kept practically untouched. Various idols and statues donated by the Kings and placed in the Sanctum Sanctorum were also visible immediately behind the Pindies. This resulted in a cluttering of the Sanctum Sanctorum and many pilgrims complained that the decorations and ornamentations tended to overshadow the Holy Pindies themselves.

With the inception of the Shrine Board, it was decided to use a curtain behind the Holy Pindies and use fewer flowers for day to day ornamentation and decoration, in order to enable the pilgrims to have more visibility and better Darshans of the Holy Pindies. The use of curtains and fewer flowers coupled with efforts to inform and educate the pilgrims regarding the main Darshans brought in positive results and yatries reported to having more satisfying and complete Darshans.

Then, in 2000-01, on the persistent requests of many devotees and with the efforts of the Shrine Board, the entire ornamentation of the Holy Pindies was redone in 52 kgs of pure gold, besides diamonds and precious stones. The platform around the Holy Pindies and the patio type structure just outside the Holy Cave, popularly known as Atka were also renovated with white marble. The work was completed on 31st January 2001 and after Poojan and Havan, the items of the ornamentation were presented at the lotus feet of the Divine Mother.

There are continuing requests from devotees who wish to offer ornaments, chatters or other similar offerings in the Holy Cave. While smaller ornaments can be put into the jewelry box placed on the platform in the Holy Cave, larger ornaments may be deposited with the Board’s Office at Katra or Holy Bhawan under proper receipt. The larger ornaments are then carefully stored in the Strong Room and used for ornamentation and decoration of the Pindies on a rotational basis

Amrit Kund & Charan Ganga

Just outside the exit tunnel, towards the left hand side of the Cave is the Amrit Kund. This comprises the water taps through which flows the water of the Charan Ganga, the sacred water flowing from the feet of Mata. Pilgrims prefer to fill the Holy Water called Charanamrit in bottles and take it along with them for purification of their residences and cure of various ailments. Empty bottles and containers are available at the Bhaint Shops run by the Shrine Board.

Prasad

Outside the exit tunnel and just beyond the Amrit Kund lies the Prashad counter. The blessings of the Mother Goddess in the form of Prashad pouches are handed over to the devotees by the temple priests. Each Prashad pouch comprises the Mishri Prashad plus a blessed coin, carrying the image of the Holy Pindies. In addition, Khazaana (coins) are given to the devotees. This Khazaana Prashad is believed to be a good luck coin(s) and devotees would do well to keep it in their cash boxes, temples or other important places in their homes or establishments. It is not only a belief but a fact that the Khazaana Prashad wherever kept has brought in prosperity and luck.

There are other blessed items too, especially the chunnis and the cholas which are used for Shringar of the Holy Pindies. Since the Vastras of the Pindies are changed twice a day during Aarti, the Vastras which have been used once but are subsequently changed are offered as Aashirwad (blessings) to the devotees. These are readily available at the Souvenir shops run by the Shrine Board at Katra, Adkuwari, Sanjichhat and Bhawan. Gold and Silver coins of the Holy Goddess are also available. One may contact the officials of the Shrine Board for more details.

Coconut Reclaim Counter

Yatries would recollect that Coconut Prashad had been handed over by them to the temple priests in the Waiting Hall and a token had been received in lieu of it. This token is now exchange for the blessed coconut at the Coconut Prashad counter. This counter is located on the right of the exit route.

Other Darshans Inside Cave

The Holy Cave is around 98 feet long. Besides the main Darshans of the Pindies inside the Cave, there are various other Darshans, outside and inside the Holy Cave and around the Holy Pindies. It is believed that the Darshans of 33 crore (330 million) Gods and Goddesses are present in the Holy Cave. It is believed that at some given point of time, each of the 330 million gods and goddesses have worshipped the Mother Goddess in the Holy Cave and have left their symbolical marks inside. It is also believed that during Poojan and Aarti in the morning and evening, all these Gods and Goddesses arrive at the Holy Cave to pay their obeisance to the Mother.

At the entry of the Holy Cave, towards the left hand side, is the symbol of Vakra Tund Ganesh. Adjacent to the symbol of Lord Ganesh are the symbols of Surya and Chandra Dev. Once inside the Holy Cave, one crosses over the Dadh (torso) of Bhairon Nath, which is around 14 feet long. Due to the impact of the mighty blow of the Divine Mother, while the head of Bhairon Nath fell atop an adjacent mountain a couple of kilometers away from the Holy Cave, his body lay lifeless at the entrance of the Holy Cave.

After the Dadh (torso) of Bhairon is the symbol of Lord Hanuman known as Launkra Beer. Thereafter one comes across Charan Ganga, the legendary river flowing from the feet of Mata. Those having Darhans through the old Cave have to wade through water beyond this point. Around 23 feet beyond Launkra Beer, on the left upper hand side, the roof of the cave flares out and the entire weight of this cave appears to rest on the innumerable heads of Shesh Nag. Immediately below Shesh Nag is the Havan Kund of Mata and adjacent to it are the symbols of Shankh, Chakra, Gada and Padam.

Above, almost touching the ceiling of the cave are the symbols of five Pandavs, Sapt rishis, Than (udders or breast) of the divine cow Kamdhenu, symbols of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh and Shiv-Parvati. 3 feet further ahead, on an elevation can be seen the Khamba that was gripped by the legendary worshipper Prahlad. Diagonally below this, at the water level is the Yantra with innumerable mystical signs and symbols inscribed on it. 22 feet beyond this point is located the Sher Ka Panja, symbolizing the lion which is the mount of the Mata Vaishno Devi Ji. The distance from the entry point to the Sher Ka Panja is 59 feet. 13 feet beyond this, immediately above the head of the worshipper, is located the symbol of the Primary Hood of Shesh Nag which appears to be bearing the weight of the roof of the Cave at this point. 6 feet further ahead, on the left hand side, are the symbols of Shankar and Gauri.

13 feet beyond this are the Holy Pindies of Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi Vaishno Devi and Mata Maha Saraswati. To the right of the Holy Pindies on the upper side can be seen the symbols of Lord Ganesh, Surya Dev, Chandra Dev and Goddess Annapurna. Slightly behind the Holy Pindies, on the right hand side can be seen the symbol of the seated Sinh Raj (Lion). A little ahead of it is the full hand of the Mother Goddess, raised in the Varad Hast mode, granting boons to the world. An interesting corollary to the Varad Hast of Mata lies in the story of the sacrifice of Sati. The Scriptures say that the hand of Mother Sati fell in the region of Kashmir creating a Shaktipeeth. There are a few sources, however, which believe that it was at this place i.e. the Holy Cave at Trikuta Mountain that the hand of Sati fell and the Varad Hast in the Holy Cave provides some link to the tale of Sati. Immediately opposite the Holy Pindies is the natural symbol of Lord Pashupati Nath.

Yatris may however note that most of these Darshans are possible only if the original cave is used. However, owing to the heavy rush, usually the new tunnels are used and the original cave is opened only during the lean seasons. Yatries desirous of having all the Darshans are advised to formulate their programme to correspond with the lean seasons.

After this can be seen the symbol of Lord Hanuman called Launkra. Water gushes out of the base of the holy Pindies and flows out of the holy Cave. This gush of Holy water is known as Charan Ganga and the water of this stream is collected in small containers by the devotees and taken home. The same water is also channelised to the bathing ghat and the devotees take a bath in this water before they join the queue for Darshan of the holy Pindies.

Other Darshans at Bhawan

There are other Darshans in the Bhawan area as well. These include Darshans of Lord Shiva’s Shivling in a cave, Mata Durga, Lord Shiv, Shri Ram with Sita and Lakshman, Lord Hanuman etc. These Darshans are in temples situated at different point of the Bhawan complex. Signboards have been put up at Bhawan to guide the yatries as to the location of these temples. In addition, there are Yagyashalas in the Bhawan complex where Yagyas and Havans are preformed round the year and especially during the Navratras. The main Yagyashala is situated at Saraswati Bhawan.

Bhaint, Prasad & Offerings

The traditional offerings to Mata include Chunri (a red coloured drape), Saries,Cholas, Silver or Gold ornaments, Dry Fruits, Flowers etc. No sweets, sweet dishes, food stuffs etc. are allowed inside the Holy Cave and pilgrims should refrain from buying such offerings. Coconuts are also not permitted due to security considerations and hence no Coconuts are allowed to be broken anywhere near the Holy Cave, as is the practice at other temples. But being so intimately connected with the traditional offerings they are not refused either. Pilgrims are required to deposit the Coconuts at a counter in the Main Waiting Hall, before entering the Holy Cave and are given a token in return. They can reclaim their coconuts from a separate counter, once they are out of the Holy Cave after having Darshans.

Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board has its own no profit no loss shops at Bhawan known as Bhaint Shops where Prashad/Bhaints offerings are available at a fair price. Hence the pilgrims are not required to buy offerings at Katra and carry them all the way to Bhawan.

If the budget is on the higher side, one can always donate in cash or in kind and obtain a proper receipt for the same.  The Shrine Board is a non profit organization and donations always help to create more and better facilities for all the visitors and are used in larger public interest

All offerings in cash are required to be put into the sealed donation boxes kept at various places and no donations in cash or kind are allowed to be handed over to any temple priest or anyone else. Computerised donation counters have been set up at various points at Katra and at Bhawan and devotees can offer cach/cheques/drafts and obtain computerised receipts on the spot.

All ornaments and jewelry offerings are to be deposited in the jewelry boxes kept in the Sanctum Sanctorum. Saries, Cholas, Chunris, etc. are also accepted here. Devotees who wish to offer larger ornaments can also deposit the same at the Office of the Sub Divisional Magistrate, Room No.8, Kalika Bhawan at Bhawan or the Office of the Chief Executive Officer, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Central Office, Katra. The larger ornaments are preserved and offered at the feet of Holy Goddess on a rotational basis.

Prasad & Souvenirs

For yatries who wish to carry with them mementos of the great pilgrimage, the Shrine Board operates Souvenir Shops at Bhawan, Sanjichhat, Adkuwari, Katra bus stand and at Vaishnavi Dham (Jammu). Chunris, Cholas, Saris, shawls which have been offered to the Holy Goddess are available at these Souvenir Shops at nominal prices. Pilgrims can obtain them and preserve them as souvenirs or can place them at the place of worship inside their houses.

Besides, other exclusive items available at the Souvenir Shops include, audio cassettes, CDs, various publications of Shrine Board, laminated photos of the Holy Pindies, Jute Bags, Bangle Chura etc. Yatries may take notice that all these items are exclusively available at the Souvenir Shops of Shrine Board and are not available at any of the private shops.

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Timing

Darshans are open round the clock throughout the year.For More:

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Distance

 LOCATION  DISTANCE  ALTITUDES
 Katra 00 KM 2500
 Banganga 01 KM 2800
 Charan Paduka 02.5 KM 3380
 Adhkuwari  06 KM  4800
 Himkoti 08.5 KM 5120
Sanjichhat   09.5 KM 6200
 Bhawan 13.0 KM 5200
Bhairon Ghati   14.5 KM  6619

Location

Riyashi District,

Jammu & Kashmir – 182301.