The holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is one of the oldest and most visited shrine of India, located at a height of 5300 feet on the holy Trikuta Hills of the Shivalik Hill Range. The Holy cave is 13 Kms from the Base Camp Katra. The Town Katra is 50 Kms away from Jammu and 35 Kms from District HQ Udhampur and is linked by road. The Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine is one of the most popular Shrines of India.
The Goddess Mata Vaishno Devi’s abode is in 100 feet long cave with a narrow opening. The holy cold and crystal clear water washes the lotus feet of the Mata’s “Pindian”. There are three natural pindies representing Maha Sarswati, Maha Lakshmi, Maha Kali, which represent creative, preservative, and destructive aspects of the Super Power. It is an ancient shrine whose reference is found in the Vedas and ancient scriptures.
Vaishno Devi Cave is situated at an altitude of 5200 feet and a distance of approximately 12 kilometers. The only way to reach the Mata Rani shrine is an arduous walk, which offers breathtaking views of the katra city and the snow clad Himalayan ranges. The endless chanting of JAI MATA DI and the devotional Vaishno Devi Mata Bhajans infuse energy and enthusiasm in the devotees and give them perfect mood to enjoy the visit of the VaishnoMata’s temple. Vaishno Devi Yatra includes visit to numerous other shrines and temples like example Bhumika Temple, Kalika Temple, Shiva Goopha(cave), visit cave at Ardha Kuwari, Bharion Mandir and Ban Ganga Temple. To reach Vaishno Devi temple, devotees can also rent a horse or be carried up from Katra.
Goddess Vaishnavi is the manifestation of the collective spiritual strengths of Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Saraswati. It is described in Durga Sapatshati that the goddess was born as a young girl of extraordinary beauty and strength, out of the collectively pooled ‘Tejas’ of various ‘Devtas’ and three lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shankar. The immediate purpose of the creation of the goddess was the annihilation of Asura (Devil) Mahishasura. However another purpose of her creation was that she might usher on earth an era of pious and ascetic life so that the peace could prevail upon the world and she through her penance could rise to higher levels of spirituality and ultimately merge with Vishnu.
The ‘Goddess’ having been created by the Devtas and the three lords ordained the human form in the house of one Ratnakar as his daughter whom the family named as 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 will visit her again after the end of his exile and at that time if she succeeded in recognizing him, he will 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 guise 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 he will eventually do so in ‘Kaliyug’ 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 the mankind and rid the poor and destitute of their sufferings and only then will ‘Vishnu’ merge her into himself.
Vaishnavi, after immense hardships reached the foot of the Trikuta Hills and after setting up her ashram there she 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 the time passed, a Tantrik named Gorakh Nath 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 realized 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 Mata Sridhar organized a Bhandara (Community meal) in which the whole village and Guru Gorakh Nath 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 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 realized the futility of his mission and prayed to the deity to forgive him. The almighty ‘Mata’ had mercy on Bhairon and gave him a boon that every devotee of the goddess shall have to have the Darshans of Bhairon after having the Darshans of the goddess and only then shall 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 herself into meditation forever.
How to Reach:
In order to visit Mata Vaishno Devi Temple, one has to reach Katra; a small town situated around 50 km from Jammu. Katra is the base camp for Vaishno Devi Yatra. The town is well linked with Jammu by good network of roads. Many deluxe coaches, local buses and private taxis ply from Jammu to Katra . The city of Jammu is well connected to all prime cities of India by Air, Rail and Roads.
By Air: The airport closest to the Vaishno Devi shrine is at Jammu. There are several regular flights to Jammu from all key destinations of India. Indian Airlines and Jet Airways operate daily flights from Delhi to vaishno devi Jammu, mumbai to vaishno devi, and bangalore to vaishno devi. Indian also has two flights weekly from Leh to Jammu. Vaishno Devi helicopter service is also provided to the pilgrims from the airport at Sanjhi Chat in Jammu in the morning.
By Rail: The nearest railhead from Vaishno Devi Katra is Jammu Railway station. Jammu is connected to all parts of the country on broad gauge. Numerous express trains, super fast trains as well as passenger trains connect Jammu to important cities across India including Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bhopal, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. A rail link to Katra from Udhampur is being built to facilitate yatris to Vaishno Devi. During peak season, the railways run special trains to Jammu for the comfort of the devotees.
By Road: A good network of roads connects Jammu and Katra with all major cities of Northern India. The National Highway no 1 passes through Jammu towards Srinagar. Many Standard buses, luxury buses of State Transport Corporation and private buses connect Jammu with all important cities and towns of Northern India
Best Time to Travel to Vaishno Devi:
Round the year except during winter. The pilgrims prefer the months of October and February as the best time for Vaishno Devi Yatra.