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In India, there are many temples devoted to various incarnations of Shakti. The Great Divine mother in Hinduism, Shakti is the universal principle of all energy, power or creativity. She is revered as the original force behind the creation and sustenance of the Universe.
Shakti has many names, many facets, and different personalities and is worshipped in several forms. Lakshmi is the energy of Vishnu, Uma or Parvati is the energy of Shiva. As Rajarajeswari or Kamakshi, Shakti is the Universal mother, as Meenakshi, she is the queen of Shiva and as Durga she is the slayer of demon. The Vaishno Devi temple is recognized as one of 'Shakti Peeths' of goddess Durga.
Vaishno Devi Temple
History: Every holy site has a mythological story. The main deity of the temple, Mata Vaishno Devi is considered to be the incarnation of Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Kali. To know the history of Vaishno Devi Temple, we need to rewind to the Treta Yug. A yug when the Asuras tormented the virtuous people. The Gods decided to create a divine personality in the form of a girl to protect the virtuous people. The divine girl was entrusted the responsibility of protecting Dharma and rekindle the spirit of religion.
She was born as the daughter of Ratnakar Sagar and was named Trikuta. Compared to children of her age, Trikuta was unique always aspiring to gain knowledge. Soon Trikuta started looking at her inner self for knowledge through meditation and penance. She renounced all worldly ties and went into deep jungle for meditating. She used to worship Lord Vishnu and on directions of Lord Rama, she built an ashram for meditating at the base of Trikuta range of Manik Mountains, situated in North India. Rama blessed Trikuta that she would become immortal forever and would become famous as 'Vaishno Devi'.
The divine girl continued to meditate and soon her glory spread far and wide and people flocked to seek her blessings. Meanwhile, a tantrik sent his disciple Bhairon Nath to check out on Trikuta's spiritual progress. Bhairon Nath located her in the jungle and observed her secretly. Smitten by her beauty he pestered her to marry him. She evaded him continuously. At the end, she confronted him on the entrance of a cave and beheaded him. Bhaironath's head flung up the mountain by force of the blow and fell at the place where the Bhairon Temple is now built. Bhairon Nath realized his mistake and prayed for forgiveness.
Bhairon Nath was forgiven by the Goddess and was blessed that every devotee who comes to worship her will also have to visit the temple of Bhairon Nath without which the pilgrimage will be incomplete. Vaishnavi then left her human body and merged with the astral form of her creators, the three Supreme Energies.
Vaishno Devi temple significance
According to legends a Brahmin, pundit Sridhar about a thousand years ago, discovered the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. It is believed any boon that devotees sincerely wish for at the holy cave temple, will be granted by Mata Vaishno Devi. The goddess is considered to be an incarnation of the three Supreme Energies, Maha Kali, Maha Saraswati and Maha Lakshmi in a single Shakti form. Each of the three forms represents certain attributes.
Maha Kali: Maha Kali, the supreme energy of dissolution represents Tam Guna, the quality associated with the darker and unknown realms of life. As Maha Kali, the Goddess constantly guides her devotees to conquer the forces of darkness.
Maha Lakshmi: Maha Lakshmi, the supreme energy of maintenance represents Rajas Guna, the quality that defines inspiration and effort. Her divine blessings are absolutely mandatory for wealth, prosperity and material gains.
Maha Saraswathi: Maha Saraswati, the supreme energy of creation represents the Satva guna, the quality of purity. Her divine blessings are essential to acquire knowledge, wisdom, righteousness, spiritualism and piety.
Human beings have these attributes or qualities. The predominant Guna determines their behavior. A proper balance of the three contributes to leading a meaningful life. The holy Vaishno Devi shrine is charged with such energy. Having understood this aspect, millions throng the Vaishno Devi temple to seek the divine blessings of the single source of Shakti, culmination of the strength of all three.
Inside Vaishno Devi Temple
It is a 100 ft long cave with narrow openings in the lower Himalayas. The cave according to geological studies is million years old.The cave is situated at an altitude of 5200 ft above sea level in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. At the entrance of the cave, on the left hand side, is the symbol of Vakratund Ganesha. Adjacent to it are the symbols of Surya and Chandra Dev. Pilgrims have to walk through a running stream of cold water Charan Ganga to get to the sanctum sanctorum.
In the cave there are images of three deities (pindis), the Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati in rock form. The entire rock body is immersed in water and a marble platform has been constructed. The canopies of the idols are made of silver and gold. The main darshan for the pilgrims is that of the three rock forms. Its uniqueness is that though all the three emanate from a single rock, they are distinctively different from each other.
Getting there - Vaishno Devi Temple
To visit the Vaishno Devi Temple, one has to reach Katra. It is a small town situated around 48 km from Jammu, 650 km from Delhi (via Una), 520 km from Udhampur, 410 km from Chandigarh and 80 km from Patnitop Katra serves as the base camp for the yatra. From Katra, one can choose to walk or travel by air, road or train.
On reaching Katra, a yatra slip has to be obtained from the Yatra registration counter at the tourist reception center at the Katra bus stand. The tourist has to register name along with the number of companions. One yatra Slip is issued for a maximum of 9 family members. For more members, more than a yatra slip can be taken. For large groups, a separate yatra slip should be taken for each family. A computerized slip (Yatra slip) will be issued which is a documentary permission to proceed on the journey to the main shrine. Without the yatra slip, crossing of the Ban Ganga check post will not be permitted. The slip must be presented at the Banganga checkpost within 6 hours of being issued.
Online yatra registration is also possible.Visit the official website of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, register on the website as a Devotee and select a Devotee ID and Password. Follow the instructions provided therein.
When to travel and how to travel
The temple can be visited any time during the year except during winter. The best time to visit is between March and July. And the yatra season is between March - April and September - October. It is less crowded after navratri and a week after diwali. Devi's darshan can be had any time. Only during the aarti time, the darshans are not allowed. The Aarti of the Goddess is performed twice a day, once at sun rise and again at sun set.
Walking: The shrine is approachable on foot along a 12 km long well laid footpath. It is a common sight to see pilgrims start the journey around 4.00 am to avoid the heat during the day and enjoy the early morning pleasant weather. It takes about 4 hours to climb up and 3 hours to come down. Palkhi is also available for older people. Pony ride is another option. The route is well laid and features many shortcuts and stairways. The entire route is well lit and well maintained. Utilities such as seating arrangements, shelters, drinking water coolers and toilets are interspersed throughout the route. At many places, one can even find accommodation and subsidized canteens.
By air: The nearest airport is at Jammu. Indian Airlines and Jet Airways operate daily flights from Delhi to vaishno Devi, Jammu, mumbai to Vaishno Devi, and bangalore to Vaishno Devi.Vaishno Devi helicopter service is also provided to the pilgrims from the airport at Sanjhi Chat in Jammu in the morning.
By Rail: The nearest railhead from Vaishno Devi Katra is Jammu Railway station. Express trains, super fast trains as well as passenger trains connect Jammu to important cities across India including Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bhopal, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. During peak season, the railways run special trains to Jammu for the comfort of the devotees.
By road: Jammu is well connected by the Inter State Bus Service and buses leave for Katra every 10 minutes between 5.30 am to 8.30 pm from the main bus stand. Many Standard buses, luxury buses of State Transport Corporation and private buses connect Jammu with all important cities and towns of Northern India. Private taxis are available for hire till Katra from Jammu railway station, airport or the tourist reception center.
Accommodation - Vaishno Devi temple
The shrine board offers free accommodation. Rented accommodation is also available at Jammu (at Vaishnavi Dham and Saraswati Dham near Railway Station), at Katra (at Niharika Yatri Niwas and Shakti Bhawan situated at the Bus stand). Another dormitory accommodation, Trikuta Bhawan, Katra is available at near the 2nd Yatra counter. Accommodation is available at Adkuwari, Sajichatt and at main Bhawan also. To rent rooms or dormitories, pilgrims have to make an advance reservation. The advance reservation of rooms/dormitories is done in the enquiry and reservation section of the board.
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