Katra Town, lying in the foot of Trikuta Mountains, 48 kms. from Jammu, serves as the base camp for visiting the famous shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi, which is approachable on foot along a 13 kms long well laid footpath. Every year, more than 4.5 million pilgrims pass through Katra on their way to the holy shrine.
The cave shrine of Mata Vasihnodeviji or Trikuta Bhagwati (alt: 5,200 ft.) has been a beacon of faith and fulfilment to millions of devotees from all over the world. The pilgrimage to the Shrine holds great significance for the pilgrims.
The Legend of Mata Vaishnodeviji:
Everyday of the year throngs of people surge up the steep pathways that cut across the Trikuta hillsides for mile after mile. This show of faith is finely interwoven with the cultural strands of the Indian subcontinent, and these pathways have been trod on for many centuries now. Popular belief holds that anybody who walks the Himalayan trail to the goddesses’s abode to ask for a boon rarely goes back disappointed. Whatever be it, a new enterprise or a forthcoming examination, marriage or birth, the devout look up to the Mata For blessings and guidance. There are many who journey year after year to pay obeisance regardless of their faith or belief, creed or class, caste or religion.
The Yatra to the holy shrine is as fascinating as the legend associated with it. It goes that thousands of years ago, a comely maiden called “Vaishnavi” have been created by the three lords attained human form and was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Having taken a vow of celibacy, she spent almost all her life in meditation and prayers. In time she attained enormous spiritual powers and is believed to have extracted an assurance from Lord Rama that he will marry her in Kali-Yug if she persisted in her spiritual quest. This is why she is also known as Adh Kanwari or the “eternal virgin”.
Mata Vaishno Devi established an ashram in the foothills of the Trikuta Mountain 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.
On the way the goddess felt thirsty at Banganga and shot an arrow into the earth from where water gushed out. Charan Paduka, which is marked by the imprints of her feet, is the place where she rested.
The Goddess then meditated in the cave at Adh Kanwari. It took Bhairon nine months to locate her, which is why the cave is known as Garbh Joon. When the demon found her, Mata Vaishno Devi blasted an opening at the other end of the cave with her trident and fled to the Holy cave at Darbar (temple). However, Bhairon was persistent and followed her there to harass her. Then goddess became very angry and assuming the form of Mata Kali, beheaded Bhairon outside the cave with the aid of the flying disc gifted to her by Lord Krishna. The severed head of Bhairon fell at a distant hilltop. In his dying moments, Bhairon begged and received divine forgiveness from the goddess. Today, it is believed that the Yatra is not complete unless the pilgrim has been to Bhairon ka Mandir (2.6 km from the main sanctum) as well, after the darshan of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi.
The goddess herself took up permanent abode in a cave in the Trikuta Mountains by metamorphosing herself in to three pindis (Rock). This holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is unique as it contains the holiest of holy Pindis manifesting the Mata in her three forms – Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati – each form representing a particular attribute. Maha Kali represents Tamas Guna, Tamas meaning darkness. In her manifestation of Kali the omnipotent, absolute and all pervasive, she is said to be beyond fear and finite existence and is therefore able to protect her devotees against fear and to give them limitless peace. Maha Lakshmi represents Rajas Guna, Rajas meaning prosperity. In this manifestation, the goddess blesses her devotees with wealth and prosperity for living a better life. Maha Saraswati represents Sattav Guna, Sattav meaning wisdom and knowledge. This manifestation enables her devotees to distinguish between good and bad and helps them to adopt the right path in life. The combination of these three attributes in a single Shakti is a unique combination, which is what makes it, revered all over the world.
Air : Nearest Airport is at Jammu (56kms). Indian Airlines operates scheduled services between Jammu & Delhi and Jammu & Srinagar/Leh. Select One Flight Schedules Seat Availability Arrival/ Departure PNR Status Fares. Jet Airways also operates regular services between Jammu & Delhi and Jammu & Srinagar.
Rail : Jammu Tawi (Nearest Railhead) is an important railhead of the Northern India.
Road : Jammu is on National Highway 1-A and is connected by the highway network to all parts of the country. Besides the J&K State Road Transport Corporation (J&K SRTC) the road transport corporations of Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Chandigarh. Some important road distances from Jammu are: Amritsar (243 kms), Chandigarh (436 kms), Delhi (586 kms), Katra (48 kms), Srinagar (305 kms), Manali (428 kms), Patnitop (108 kms), Mansar (62 kms).
Local Transport :
The distance from Katra town to Vaishno Devi (Durbar) is 13 kms, which has to be traversed by pony, ‘dandi’ or on foot. ‘Pithus’ (coolies) are also available.
Helicopter Service :
Pawan Hans operates two flights daily from Jammu and 5 flights from Katra to Shrine. Capacity: 6 persons per flight.
SIGHT SEEING & EXCURSION :
Aghar Jitto : Just 5 km away from Katra is Aghar Jitto, the Shrine of Baba Jitto, a devotee of Mata Vaishno Devi and a revolutionary who led a campaign against the feudal order. According to legends, a dip in the holy spring water, flowing in front of the shrine, does miracles to pre-natal women for safe delivery of children. A path from here leads to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi.
Dera Baba Banda : At about 30 kms from Katra lies this major Hindu-Sikh pilgrimage centre. Baba Banda Bairaagi was Guru Gobind Singh’s favourite ‘Saint-soldier’, who had the gurudwara constructed on the banks of river Chenab, where he spent his last days.
Baba Dhansar : Located 10 kms from Katra (1 km on foot) is Baba Dhansar, a beautiful and cool picnic spot. Here, a huge spring gushes out of the mountainside in a thick grove of trees and forms a number of small waterfalls before flowing into the holy Banganga. Next to the spring in a small grove in the rock face is a naturally formed ‘Shivling’ on which droplets of water fall naturally all the year round. A major ‘mela’ (fair) is held here during Shivratri.
Shiv Khori : This holy cave is nearly a kilometre long and houses a 4 ft high, naturally formed ‘Shivling’. It is considered second only to the shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi in religious importance. There are stalactites & stalagmites dripping milky limestone water from the ceiling. Situated at a distance of about 100 kms from Jammu and about 75 kms from Katra, Shiv Khori hosts a major fair on Shivratri day every year.
WHAT TO REMEMBER –
Obtain a yatra slip only from the yatra registration counter at the Tourist Reception Centre at the Katra bus stand and nowhere else. Without an authentic yatra slip, crossing of the Ban Ganga check post is not permitted.
Fellow pilgrims are bound to you by their faith in the Mata. Avoid playing transistors or tape recorders too loudly or creating blockage or hindrances in the passages meant for circulation of the yatris.
Qualified doctors are available at the Primary Health Centre, Katra and at the dispensaries at Adhkawari and Bhawan, round the clock. They are also available at the evening clinic at Katra bus stand; open 2 p.m to 8 p.m. Medical Aid Centres run by the SMV Shrine Board provide necessary assistance to the pilgrims at the Katra bus stand, Banganga and Sanji Chhat.
The Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMV Shrine Board) runs a large number of cafeterias and viewing points along the trail between Katra and the shrine where snacks, coffee and cold drinks are provided to the yatris on a no-profit-no-loss basis. The Shrine Board also runs ‘bhojanalyas’ at Katra, Adhkawari, Sanji Chhat and at the Bhawan / shrine for providing hygienically prepared food to the yatris on a no-profit-no-loss basis.
Upon reaching the Bhawan, a group number is allotted to the pilgrims at the slip (‘parchi’) counter against the yatra slip issued at Katra. The yatri is required to stand in queue at Gate Number 2 till the announcement of the group’s number is made to proceed to the sanctum sanctorum.