|Proper name||Vaishno Devi Temple|
|Devanagari||माता वैष्णो देवी मंदिर|
|Sanskrit transliteration||Mata Vaishnodevi Mandir|
|State||Jammu and Kashmir|
|Locale||Katra, Jammu and Kashmir, India|
|Primary deity||Vaishno Devi (Mahalakshmi)|
|Important festivals||Navratri, Durga Puja|
|Architectural styles||Cave Temple|
|History and governance|
Vaishno Devi, also known as Mata Rani, Trikuta and Vaishnavi, is a manifestation of the Hindu Mother Goddess Mahalakshmi. The words "maa" and "mata" are commonly used in India for "mother", and thus are often used in connection with Vaishno Devi. Vaishno Devi Mandir (Hindi: वैष्णोदेवी मन्दिर) is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu Goddess, located at the Trikuta Mountains within the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. More than 10 million pilgrims visit this shrine every year.
 The Vaishno Mata shrine is in the Trikuta mountains is believed to be the abode of 33 crore deities.
It is believed that at some point of time each one of these 33 crore deities have worshipped Goddess Vaishno Mata, and left their symbolic marks inside. It is also believed that during the pooja and Aarti, these Gods and Goddesses arrive at the Holy cave to pay their obeisance to Mata. Hindus believe that one cannot possibly have Darshan of Mata, unless she herself calls the devotees.
‘Chalo bulawa aya hai, Mata ne bulaya hai’. Meaning ‘Let us go to Vaishno Devi as Mata has beckoned us to come for darshan and blessings’.
The town of Katra in Jammu and Kashmir is the base point of the 13 km trek to the Holy Cave, where an elaborate Bhawan exists taking care of every possible need of the devotee. Katra can be reached either by road from Jammu or by the recently started train service by Indian Railways. Katra is approx 50 km from Jammu and can be reached by road in less than two hours.
The Indian Railways have introduced Sree Shakti train that runs from Delhi. One can easily avail the two night package, ‘COMFORT’ offered by IRCTC.
The train journey from Jammu onwards to Katra is not just picturesque but a thrilling adventure that takes you through breathtaking bridges and tunnels. It is indeed an engineering marvel of Indian Railways.
The Katra railway station is a world class railway station having automatic escalators powered by Solar Energy. It also houses shops, Food courts, waiting halls, washrooms and bathrooms. In addition to this there is a hotel where one can stay overnight on prior booking.
Trek Route and means of transport
The trek from the Banganga check post in Katra to Mata’s Bhawan is an arduous 13 km long one.
One can cover the trek by four different methods:
1. By Helicopter.
2. By foot
3. By horses
4. By Palki – human palanquin
Helicopter services are offered by Global Vectra and Himalayan.The booking for availing helicopter service needs to be booked online, 60 days in advance through the official website of the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. Helicopter tickets can also be bought on the spot from Jagjivan Ghat near Katra Bus Stand. But tickets can be bought subject to availability. Also the Helicopter service takes place only in fair weather and often the trips are cancelled.
The Katra helipad is approx 3.5 km from Katra main town. One needs to report at the helipad two hours in advance of the time mentioned on the ticket. The helicopter ride from the Katra helipad to Sanjichhat takes a mere five minutes. The immensely thrilling ride gives a breathtakingly beautiful view of the Trikuta valley. On reaching Sanjichhat, the Bhawan is at a distance of about 3 km. This distance can be covered by a downward trek or by horses. It takes approx 90 minutes to reach the Bhawan by foot. Those going for Mata’s darshan via helicopter are issued VIP passes and are allowed to entry through Gate No 5 of the Bhawan.
If one is going for darshan by the other three means, by foot, by horses or by Palanquin, he/she needs to register his traveling group members at the Katra Vaishno Mata Dev Shrine Board office and get a "travel slip". The office is located near the Katra bus stand. The travel slip is extremely important as it will be checked at several points of the journey, failing which you will not be allowed to trek further.
The trek of 13 km can be completed in about 5 to 8 hours depending on the fitness and whether children are accompanying parents.
The Bhawan is open for darshan 365 days and the Shrine Board, the governing body of the Bhawan has made it possible to do the trek 24 by 7. The entire trekking path is lit up for devotees, some preferring to start the trek in the late evening to avoid the morning sun. The scintillating lit up path is visible from the Katra bus stand.
Throughout the trekking path, there are restaurants, tea stalls, drinking water, medical aid,benches, toilets and police check posts. A major length of the trek is covered providing protection from rain and snow.
At the start of the trek, at Banganga check post, there is massive scanning of luggage and security check.
The trek is divided into two parts. The first part of the trek up to Adkuwari is roughly half way at a distance of 7 km from Banganga starting check post. At Adkuwari the road to the Bhawan bifurcates into two. One road goes via Adkuwari while the second one goes via Himkoti.
The horses are allowed to continue on the Adkuwari trail, but are not allowed to go via the Himkoti road. At the Himkoti road, electric rickshaws are available for senior citizens, people with disability and those with medical conditions.
It must be noted that if traveling with children by foot, as is the case with many devotees, one needs to be very vigilant of the horses plying alongside as the road is narrow.
On reaching the Bhawan one can take a bath at the bathing ghats. Having done so, one needs to deposit all luggage, mobile phones, cameras and leather items in lockers provided by the Shrine Board. Also it is here that a group is provided a number for darshan on showing the "travel slip".
Normal devotees enter through Gate No 3.
The Bhawan provides accommodation for the devotees to stay overnight at the Bhawan. The booking for this needs to be done online, well in advance.
The Bhawan is buzzing with activity at any given time of the day. Devotees irrespective of their class arrive at the Bhawan to receive blessings of Vaishno Mata.
On most days, the queue leading up to the Holy cave keeps moving. Moreover, the whole Bhawan reverberates with the devotees chanting, “Jai Mata Di” and one totally becomes unaware of the fatigue of the long trek.
It is believed that he darshan of Mata is complete only if one visits the Bhairon Mandir, as Mata had given Bhairon a boon that he would be worshipped alongside her. The Bhairon Mandir is approximately 3 km form the Bhawan. It is a steep upward trek and can be done either by foot or by ponies.
The Shrine board has taken immense care to provide all amenities for a comfortable darshan of the devotees. So you will find shops, restaurants like Sagar Ratna, PCOs, Cloak rooms, Prashad shops and police posts.
"BHAINT" The Prasad offered by the devotees to Mata is called BHAINT. There are several shops at Bhawan selling Bhaints. These can also be bought from the office of the Shrine board packed neatly in Eco friendly jute bags, with the logo of the Shrine Board, a souvenir in itself. A typical Bhaint comprises prasad, fuliyan, chunri, mouli, coconut, pooja samagri including itra, bangles and sindoor.
Outside the exit tunnel and just beyond the Amrit Kund lies the PRASAD counter. The blessings of the Mother Goddess in the form of Prasad pouches are handed over to the devotees by the temple priests. Each Prasad pouch comprises the Mishri Prasad plus a blessed coin, carrying the image of Holy Pindies. In addition, Khazana (coins) are given to the devotees. It is believed to be a good luck coins(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 Khazana Prasad wherever kept, has brought in prosperity and luck.
There are other blessed items too, especially the Chunris and 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 Ashirwad (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.
The pull of Mata is such that devotees travel from all corners of the world to receive blessing of Mata. And Mata is said to embrace and bless one and all, from the poorest and the weakest to the richest and the mightiest. Vaishno Devi is the most widely visited shrine in North India and the second most visited shrine in the country after Tirupati Balaji.
It is a pilgrimage to be taken at least once in the life of a Hindu.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Currently[when?] Shri Narinder Nath Vohra in his capacity as Governor of Jammu & Kashmir is the Chairman of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. Members of the Board are Shri E. Sreedharan, Smt. Sudha Murty, Dr. Sudhir S.Bloeria, IAS (Retd.), Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Dr. Ashok Bhan, IPS (Retd.) and Shri H. L. Maini
- "WALK FROM KATRA TO VAISHNO DEVI TEMPLE, BHAWAN - Review of Vaishno Devi, Katra, India - TripAdvisor". www.tripadvisor.in. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
- Vaishno Devi travel guide from Wikivoyage
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