Inarguably, one of the most popular Hindu pilgrimage destinations in India, Mata Vaishno Devi Cave Temple nestles in the Trikuta Hills in Katra, Jammu & Kashmir. This famed religious site where the Mother Goddess is believed to have merged her human form with the astral form of her creators, the three supreme energies. The Mother Goddess is said to fulfil the wishes of her devotees who throng to seek her blessings.
It is believed the first step of this holy yatra is the Call of Mata. There is a widespread belief - Maa aap bulandi, which translates to The Mother Goddess Herself Calls. A 13-km trek from Katra town in Jammu Region leads to Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrimage site where the goddess manifests herself in the natural rock formation (holy pindies) in the sanctum sanctorum (cave). A helicopter service from Katra to Sanjhichatt, from where the shrine is just 2.5 km away. A tunnel was used by the devotees to reach the sanctum sanctorum of this holy site in Jammu. However, due to its narrowness, two new tunnels are built that help in the swift movement of pilgrims who come in queues here.
This religious place is considered the most important Shaktipeeth as it is believed, here the skull of the Goddess Sati fell. However, there are beliefs that the arm of Sati fell at Vaishno Devi whereas, it is said Ganderbal in Kashmir is the place where her hand fell. Nevertheless, there is a stone remain of a human hand, also known as Varad Hast (the hand that grants boons and blessings) in the holy cave of Mata Vaishno Devi. The goddess is in the form of a five and a half feet tall rock with three heads or the Pindies where the devotees perform a pilgrimage. Pilgrims make traditional offerings to Mata of Chunri (a red coloured drape), Sarees, Dry Fruits, Silver or Gold ornaments, Cholas, Flowers etc.
The Mother Goddess first finds its mention in the epic of Mahabharata. It is said Arjuna, one of the Pandavas meditated to seek the blessings of Mata Vaishno Devi to become victorious in their battle against Kauravas. Arjuna addressed 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.’ It is also believed that the Pandavas built the temples at Kol Kandoli and Bhawan for the Mother Goddess. In fact, on a mountain, adjacent to the Trikuta Mountain are five stone structures that symbolize the five Pandavas.
Mata Vaishno Devi was created by the three main manifestations, namely, Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Saraswati who pooled their collective spiritual strength (Tejas). As ordered by the three goddesses, Mata Vaishno Devi in the form of Vaishnavi was born in the house of a devotee named Ratnakar in South India.
She was created by the goddesses to live on earth and spend her time in upholding righteousness and evolve spiritually and reach higher levels of consciousness. Once attained the appropriate level of consciousness, she was asked to merge into Vishnu and unite with him as one. While she was growing up, she had an encounter with Lord Rama, who she instantly recognized as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. She requested him to merge into him, but Lord Rama knowing it was not the appropriate time, dissuaded her and said he would revisit her after the end of his exile. He said if she succeeded in recognizing him, then, he would fulfill her wish. Unfortunately, Vaishnavi (Mata Vaishno Devi) wasn’t able to recognize Lord Rama, who kept his words but came disguised as an old man. She was then directed by Lord Rama to set up an Ashram at the base of Trikuta Hills, meditate and elevate spirituality level; she did as she was directed.
Her fame started to spread and to the extent that it reached Mahayogi Guru Goraksh Nathji who sent his disciple, Bhairon Nath to test if the goddess had attained the higher level of spirituality yet. However, Bhairon Nath gradually lost the sense of purpose and fell in love with Vaishnavi, and started to annoy her to marry him. To continue her Tapasya/meditation undisturbed, Vaishnavi flees to the mountains but was chased by Bhairon Nath there as well and eventually was killed by her. Upon dying, Bhairon Nath realized his mistake, and thus, asked for forgiveness. Mata Vaishno Devi/Vaishnavi not only forgave him but also granted him a boon. Each devotee performing a pilgrimage needs to have the Darshan of Bhairon after the goddess’; and only then would the Mata Vaishno Devi Yatra will be complete.