A pilgrimage to the holy abode of Vaishno Devi in Katra is considered as one of the holiest pilgrimages undertaken by the Hindus. It is believed that the Mother Goddess here resides in a cave, which is located at the folds of a three-peaked mountain called Trikuta.
The shrine is located at an altitude of 5200 feet, and devotees have to undertake a trek of approximately 12 km from the town of Katra. After the trek is completed, the devotees are blessed with the darshan of the Goddess in the shape of three natural rock formations called the Pindies. One cannot find any statues or idols inside the cave shrine.
The three Pindies, each representing Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga, are worshipped here. The journey to the shrine begins only after one gets the Call of the deity. It is not only a belief; but one is said to also have a very strong experience of the Mother's divine call to her children and once a person receives it, they are bound to visit the shrine and receive her unconditional love and blessings.
Best Time To Visit Vaishno Devi
The shrine can be visited anytime throughout the year; however, most people prefer to visit the place during the months of October and November, and also from March to June. The months of October and November are considered to be the peak season at the hill shrine and the months from March to June witness much lesser crowd.
In a very recent announcement, The National Green Tribunal will limit the daily number of piligrims to only 50,000. Piligrims beyond this limit would be stopped at the base town of Katra.
History Of The Shrine
As most ancient shrines around the country, one cannot ascertain when exactly the shrine came into formation. As per a geological study of the cave, it has indicated that the caves are nearly a million years old.
The first reference to the Goddess is found in the epic of Mahabharata, when the Pandavas and Kauravas were preparing themselves for the war at Kurukshetra. On Lord Krishna's advice, Arjun is said to have meditated on the Mother Goddess seeking her blessings for the victory.
PC: Abhishek Chandra
The temple is also believed to be the place where the skull of Sati fell off. Some also believe that the right arm of Sati fell here. The temple has a stone, which is found to be in the shape of a human hand and is known as Varada Hasta, which in translation means the hand which provides blessings.
It is believed that the Pandavas built the temple in reverence and gratitude to the Mother Goddess. Adjacent to the Trikuta mountain, on another mountain, one can find five stone structures which overlook the shrine. These are symbolized as the five Pandava brothers.
Mythology And Legends
PC: Shikha Baranwal
As per legends, the Goddess in her three main manifestations of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati came together as a spiritual energy in the form of a bright light, which emanated at the place and from this energy, a beautiful young girl emerged who was directed by the Devis to head to the southern part of the country and take birth in the household of one Ratankar and his wife.
And when the time came, the energy merged into Lord Vishnu and united with him. As told, the light took birth as a girl child in the household of Ratnakar who named the newborn as Vaishnavi. The girl child grew up to someone who displayed immense knowledge and radiance.
During this time, Rama was in his exile period and had come to visit Vaishnavi, who immediately recognized him to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and asked him to merge her into him.
PC: Shikha Baranwal
However, Rama knew it was not the appropriate time and promised her that he would return at the end of his exile and at that time if she succeeded in recognizing him, he would fulfill her wish. True to his words, Rama came to visit her after winning th battle. But he took the form of an old man and Vaishnavi could not recognize him this time.
Upon which Rama is said to have consoled here and also said to her that he would come to her in the Kaliyuga as Kalki and merge with her. Until he returned, Rama is said to have directed her to meditate at the base of the Trikuta hills.
Vaishnavi gave up her human form and assumed the form of a rock measuring five and a half feet tall with three faces. This came to be known as the Pindies that are worshipped at the sanctum sanctorum at the cave, which later became her holy abode.
The Three Pindies
The rock body is immersed in water and a marble platform has been constructed around it. The specialty of the three Pindies is, although they are formed on a single rock form, each one is distinctly different from the other in their colour and texture.
PC: Raju hardoi
At the right of the devotee is the Pindi dedicated to Maha Kali and the rock formation is black. Kali represents the quality which is associated with the darker and unknown realms of life. At the centre is the Pindi of Maha Lakshmi, which has a yellowish red hue that is commonly associated with Goddess Lakshmi.
At the extreme left is the Pindi of Maha Saraswati, which has a whitish tinge when looked carefully. White is often associated to Saraswati, the goddess of creation, knowledge, wisdom, righteousness, art, etc.