– By Dr. A Pranesh

Navaratri is a festival of nine days, where in the three great mothers of the universe Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga are worshipped. Vijayadashami, the tenth day is to commemorate the blessings showered by these three goddesses.

Durga is worshipped to invoke blessings for health, Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity and Saraswati to invoke Knowledge. All the above goddesses and their blessings are equally important to us, as everyone needs health, wealth and knowledge to enjoy a worthy life.

Hence all the three goddesses are equally placed. But a samsari or a family person place goddess Lakshmi slightly above than other two, as wealth is a must for his daily life. Infact the reason behind Sri or Srimathi being prefixed before a family person’s name, is to denote wealth. However a Sanyasi or a seer place goddess Saraswathi slightly higher and hence their names are suffixed with Saraswathi or Bharati (eg: Dayananda Saraswati, Chandrasekara bharati etc)

All the above three goddesses have various attributes and obviously have different names but they are all one and the same.

This can be observed in Maa Vaishno Devi temple, wherein all the three goddesses are represented in the form of Pindis (circular or ball). Each Pindi represents Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durgaa respectively.

Vaishno Devi Mandir is one of the holiest temples dedicated to Shakti, located in the hills of Trikuta, Jammu and Kashmir, India. In Hinduism, Vaishno Devi a manifestation of the Mother goddess, is also known as Mata Rani and Vaishnavi.

Vaishno Devi temple is near the town of Katra, Reasi district, Jammu and Kashmir. It is one of the most revered places of worship in India. The shrine is at an altitude of 5300 feet and a distance of approximately 12 kilometres from Katra. Approximately 8 million pilgrims visit the temple every year. A rail link from Udhampur to Katra is recently completed and the nearest airport is in Jammu.

According to Hindu epic, Maa Vaishno Devi was born to Ratnakar Sagar who lived in south India. Sagar couple remained childless for a long time. Ratnakar, just a night before the child’s birth took an oath, that he would not interfere with latter’s desires. The divine child was named Trikuta and later called Vaishnavi. When Trikuta was 9 years old, she sought her father’s permission and went to for doing penance on lord Rama an incarnation of Maha Vishnu. When Sri Rama with his army set out in search of Sita, he passed by the seashore where the divine girl was in deep meditation. When enquired, Trikuta told Sri Rama that she was doing penance to marry the lord himself. Sri Rama told that during his present incarnation, he had vowed to be married only to Sita viz Eka patni vratastha. However, pleased with her devotion, Lord Rama called her Vaishnavi, the devotee of Maha Vishnu and assured that in Kaliyuga he would be born as Kalki and would marry her.

He also told Vaishnavi to meditate in the caves of Trikuta range of Manik Mountains situated in the northern part of India. Rama gave her a set of bow and arrows, an army of monkeys and a lion for protection. Ma observed the ‘Navaratri’ for the Victory of Sri Rama against Ravana. Hence even to this day devotees read Ramayana during the nine days of Navaratri, to commemorate the above episode. Sri Rama blessed her that the whole world would sing in praise of Ma Vaishno Devi and she would become immortal forever.

Pandit Shreedhar was an ardent devotee of Ma Vaishno Devi. He resided in a village called Hansali, 2 km. from the present Katra town. Once devi appeared to him in the form of a girl. The girl asked the humble Pandit to hold a ‘Bhandara’ (a feast to feed the mendicants and devotees). The Pandit set out to invite people from the village and nearby places. He also invited ‘Bhairavnath’, a selfish tantrik.

With the blessings of the Devi in the disguise of a girl, the Bhandara was a great success. Bhairavnath was under the impression that the girl had mystic powers.  So he followed her to Trikuta Hills. For nine months Bhairavnath was searching for the mystic girl in the mountains, who he believed was an incarnation of the Mother Goddess. While running away from Bhairav, Devi shot an arrow into the Earth from which water gushed out. The resultant river is known as Baanganga. It is believed that by taking a bath in that river would wash away all his sins. The banks of the river, known as Charan Paduka, are marked by Devi’s foot imprints, which remain intact till date.

Devi then took shelter in a cave known as Garbh Joon near Adhkawari where she meditated for nine months attaining spiritual wisdom and powers. Her meditation was cut short when Bhairav located her. Vaishno Devi was then compelled to take the form of Maha Kali when Bhairav tried to kill her. The manifestation of the Mother Goddess took place at the mouth of the Holy cave at Darbar. The Goddess then beheaded Bhairav with such sheer force that his skull fell at a place known as Bhairav Ghat, 2.5 km from the Holy Cave.

Meanwhile, Pandit Shreedhar became impatient. He started to march towards Trikuta Mountain on the same path that he had witnessed in a dream. He ultimately reached the cave mouth. He made a daily routine of worshiping the ‘pindis’ in several ways. His worship pleased the Goddess. She appeared in front of him and blessed him. Since that day, Shreedhar and his descendants have been worshiping the Goddess Mother Vaishno Devi.

Stay
Mata Vaishnodevi shrine is 14 kms from Katra town. There are plenty of lodges available at Katra, right upto 3 star category. One can book the accommodations on web in advance. Some lodging facilities like guest houses and dharmashalas are available on the uphill also. But one has to explore various ways of booking them, well in advance to get an assured accommodation.
How to reach the shrine
Walk the 14 kms stretch from Katra to Vasihnodevi temple. It takes about 7 to 8 hours to walk up and 6 to 7 hours to descend. Travellers have to carry their photo identity card to pass through the entrance gate at the Katra town itself.
The 14 kms stretch is well illuminated for facilitating piligrims to walk at any point of night. It is quite safe as the whole path is well guarded and always crowded. There are plenty of Shops and Restaurants on the way for pilgrim’s requirement. One can get Tea, coffee to snacks and lunch at any point of time.
Horse or doli for people who cannot walk. They charge about Rs. 2500 to 3000 per horse and the rates are variable depending on the season but one can always negotiate the price. Horse takes about 5 hours to climb up and 4 hours to descend.
Helicopter takes just 10 minutes to reach the top. But still one has to walk about 2 kms from helipad to the holy shrine. It is better to book helicopter through online, as the local tour operators charge about 8 times the actual cost of helicopter ride. But this service is subject to weather conditions.
Once we reach the top, leather purse, belt, mobile phone, hand bags are not allowed from the entry of the shrine itself. Locker facilities are available at the entrance and one can keep their belongings there or can leave them in the hotel room and carry only cash so that entry to the temple would be fast and smooth.

Jai Maata di