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February - March 2008
Homage to the Almighty Goddess Vaishno Devi
For a very long time my wife Sharda and I have been thinking of going to pay our homage to the Almighty Vaishno Devi. But how could we, as it is a popular belief that it is only when SHE calls that plans for the pilgrimage fall into place. So, we were fortunate to have her blessings in September 2007.
STRENGTHS AND CHARACTERISTICS: The great goddess Vaishno Devi, nicknamed Matarani, Mother or just Maa, is considered to be the incarnation of three of the most powerful, energetic and radiant goddesses i.e. Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. They are in fact the consorts of the almighty ‘Hindu Trinity’ known by the popular names of Lord Bramah – the Creator, Lord Vishnu – Protector and provider, and Lord Shiva – Destroyer respectively.
Saraswati also known as Sharda, is the deity of knowledge, wisdom, learning, art, literature, music and speech. She sits on a lotus, rides a swan or peacock and plays the musical instrument – Veena. Lakshmi is not only the goddess of fortune, wealth and good luck but also an embodiment of beauty, loveliness, grace and charm. It is said that Lakshmi was reborn as consort each time Vishnu was incarnated e.g. Sita for Ram and Radha later Rukmani for Krishna. Parvati is also known by a few other names such as Uma, Shakti, Durga and Kali. Therefore Vaishno Devi combines and possesses all virtues and characteristics of these Devies.
There are four pillars of civilisation according to the Hindu scriptures i.e. righteousness, material pursuits, contentment and enlightenment. It is a belief that the pilgrims who go to the shrine of Vaishno Devi are granted these four boons including any other wish or desire they may have.
FRUITFUL AND PLEASANT JOURNEY: Jammu city connects the shrine to the rest of India by road rail and air. However the base town is Katra which is 50 km away from Jammu. The work is in progress to bring a rail link up to Katra. A short distance away from the main square – chowk of Katra, is the main gateway which welcomes the pilgrims and marks the beginning of the holy place, the enchanting journey – yatra starts in earnest from here. Many pilgrims bathe in Banganga before starting the 13 kms trek to reach Mata’s abode –the Darbar. The new trek is wide, paved and illuminated all the way. The maintenance and the facilities along the difficult, winding steep road are excellent. There are many covered shelters en route for pilgrims to rest, with the provision of free drinking water, conveniences for male and female, mini markets selling food beverages, souvenirs and offerings for the goddess. We also joined other families and groups of Yatris, and whilst climbing, often chanted - Glory to Mata ‘Jai Mata dee’.
Yatris, who are unable to complete the strenuous journey on foot, ride ponies and a few old and sick folk take a chair – palki, which is carried by four men. The entire route is picturesque with beautiful panoramic views of green lush valley and of wonderful rock formation at most of the turns of the trek. There is also a helicopter service from Katra to the shrine. The helipad is located at Sanjhichhat and passengers then have to walk down some two kms to reach the shrine.
THE HOME: The heavenly abode of Vaishno Devi is at a 100 feet long cave situated high up (5200 feet above the sea level) on the Trikuta Mountain, with three peaks (hence the name). These mountains are part of the lower Himalayas in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. An original long passage inside the cave leads to the main Sanctum, where there is a unique rock formation with three heads called as ‘Pindies’. These Pindies are different from each other in colour and texture. They are adored with scarlet coloured embroidered dresses (Saree, Chola and Chuni) and garlands of flowers.
The first Pindi, is black representing Mata Mahakali who is supposed to give strength to devotees to conquer the forces of darkness. The central rock is with yellow and red tint and symbolizes Mata Lakshmi who is worshiped as being the source of wealth, prosperity and material gains and above all the quality of life. The third Head is with white tinge and is the manifestation of Maha Saraswati, a supreme energy of creation.
There are no statues, pictures or idols in the main Sanctum. The shrine is open 24 hours all the year round. Aarti is performed twice a day, first in the morning and second time in the evening. Darshans are suspended during the Aarti which takes two hours to perform.
ORIGINAL CAVE AND NEW TUNNEL: The original cave is narrow. It takes several minutes for one person to go through to reach the shrine. In view of the number of pilgrims, recently two new tunnels have been constructed. One tunnel is used as an entrance and the other to exit. However on the ritualistic occasions or when the number of pilgrims is low, the old cave is opened and this provides a very different experience of Devi’s Darshan.
A CALL FROM MAA - ‘Mata Ka Bulawa Ayahey Hay’: It is worth reiterating the popular belief that anybody who reaches the home of Vaishno Deviji and asks for a boon – ‘a mannat’ most of them return with their wishes fulfilled, ‘Moouh Maangi Muradein Miltey Hain’.