Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shri Vaishno Devi

Shri Vaishno Devi, Raghunath Temple and Bawe waali Mata (Jammu)

Shri Maa Vaishno Devi temple is one of the most revered places of pilgrimages in India. Located in Jammu and Kashmir state, it is visited by millions every year. Actually in terms of number of pilgrims visited, it is second only to Venkateshwara temple at Tirumala, Tirupati.

Though Gods have given me oppertunity to visit many blissful places, still the shrine of Shri Maa Vaishno Devi, I had not visited so far. Suddenly one day, with grace of mother divine, I got the message to book tickets.

Chalo Bulawa aaya hai... (move, the mother has called!)

Without asking my parents and in-laws as well as my paternal Uncle and my wife, I booked the tickets to and fro to Jammu from Lucknow and Varanasi respectively and then declared to them. My wife was a bit unhappy as I had not included her for this trip. I had done so keeping in mind my small kids. I promised her as the kids will grow up, we will travel again.

Jammu is very well connected to rest of India through Railways, Road as well as flights.

View of the Temple Complex (Bhawan) from Bhairo Valley
सर्वमङ्गलमाङ्गल्ये शिवे सर्वार्थसाधिके ।
शरण्ये त्र्यम्बके गौरि नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते ॥

Salutations to You O Narayani
Who is the Auspiciousness in All the Auspicious, Auspiciousness Herself and Complete with All the Auspicious Attributes, The Giver of Refuge, With Three Eyes and a Shining Face;
Salutations to You O Narayani

Shri Maa Vaishno Devi Temple is near the town of Katra in the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir. The shrine is at an altitude of about 5300 feet and after covering a distance of approximately 12.5 KMs from Katra through foot or through horse and Paalki one reaches here.

Helicopter service is also available and also for senior citizens and disabled a battery driven car is available from midway at Adhkuwari till near to the shrine.

We reached Jammu at around noon time. Lord Anshumaan welcomed us in his full glory of heat and shine. It was a typical May noon time and temperatures had soared to well around 45 degrees.

Jammu city is situated across the Tawi river. (Hence the name Jammu Tawi). Tawi river originates from the Kali Kundi glacier southwest of Bhadarwah in Doda District of Jammu & Kashmir. The flow of water in the river has been decreasing in recent years as the source glacier has been retreating.After transversing Jammu city, the river crosses into Pakistan's Punjab and joins Chenab river.

A guest house and taxi had been booked in advance by my father-in-law. At Jammu Railway station, the taxis are not allowed to pick passengers only autos can do so. These autos and Taxis are very costly. Local buses are also available just outside the railway station to take pilgrims to Katra.

Katra, the base camp to start the pilgrimage to Shri Maa Vaishno Devi Shrine is about 60 KMs from Jammu.

We did autos to get a drop near our taxi, waiting about a KMs away. For this 1 KM, the autos charged Rs. 250/-.

Anyway we reached the guest house and got ourselves refreshed. Initial plan was to start for Katra after some rest, but we did some changes. As the temperature was high outside, it was decided to trek during night and so we all took rest after a good lunch.

We started Katra at about 6 in evening, reaching Katra at about 730 PM.

First thing that we did was to collect the Travel Slip from Shri Vashno Devi Trust Office. Everybody needs to do it, without which, he/she will not be allowed to take the pilgrimage. One person can take the slip for upto a group of 9 people. Not everybody is required to be in queue, only one person is fine to take the slip.

There are no charges for this.

Then we took a light dinner. I took Rajma Chawal. Kashmiri Rajma is famous the world over and so I had decided to enjoy it during my trip.

After dinner we walked towards the "BaanGanga Gate". Here we need to show the authorities the "Travel Slip" (Yatra Parchi).

Also they will frisk all the passengers. Vedio cameras and any kind of weapon is not allowed enroute.

At the shrine on mountain top, camera, mobiles, bag, pens, belt. shoes nothing is allowed.

Near Baan Ganga gate, we negotiated for the "Paalki" for parents and in-laws. We took four "Paalki". Most of the pilgrims were opting for horses as they were cheaper. One Paalki to and fro to Vaishni Devi Shrine and further upto Bhairo Temple, costed us about Rs 4500/-. This I feel is justifiable for four people carrying a pilgrim on their shoulders.

So at around 10 PM, we were on the way to the shrine of the merciful mother, the subtle energy with which the sun and moon rises, the earth moves and the rain god showers nector on earth.

Soon the experienced "Paalkis" of parents and in-laws sped away from us. Me, my brother and my Chachaji (Paternal Uncle) were on foot.

Baan Ganga gate is near the stream of Baan Ganga, which originated as mother had shot arrow in earth. Nearby is the "Charan Paduka" Temple. we went there and paid our respects.

Initial about half of the distance till Adhkuari we were quite comfortable. But as we crossed adhkuwari, the tiredness took over us and more frequently we started taking rest.

One of the multiple facilities established by the trust board enroute to shrine
The good thing about the trek at Shri Maa Vaishno Devi shrine is that path is very well laid and at regular intervals there are shops, selling all required things. Still we have to face the horses and Paalki on the route. The horses move fast and the people on foot needs to take care.

Just remembering the legend and the lotus feet of mother we covered the distance feet by feet. I was determined to go to the shrine by walk. Mother gave me strength!

Salutations to the merciful mother!

As per legend Maa Vaishno Devi as an incarnation of "Shakti" of Lord Vishnu, was born in the south of India in the home of Ratnakar Sagar. When She was 9 years old, She sought her father's permission for doing penance on the seashore. She prayed to Lord Vishnu in the form of Raam. During Shree Raam's search for Sita, He reached the seashore along with His "Vaanar" army. His eyes fell on this Divine Girl in deep meditation. She told Shree Raam that She had accepted him as Her husband. Shree Raam told her that during this Incarnation He had vowed to be faithful to only one wife (Sita). However pleased with her devotion, Lord Raam her that in Kaliyuga He would manifest as Kalki and would marry Her.

It is said that since then the divine mother is in deep meditation here in the cave, waiting for Lord to manifest as Kalki.

Another legend says that pandit ShreeDhar was an ardent devotee of Ma Vaishno Devi. He resided in a village called Hansali, 2 km away from the present Katra town. Once Ma appeared to him in the form of a young and asked the humble Pandit to hold a feast (Bhandara). The Pandit set out to invite people from the village and near-by places. He also invited 'Bhairav Nath' a saadhu said to be from the sect of Guru Gorakhnath. Bhairav Nath asked Shri-Dhar how he being a poor fellow, was planning to fulfil the requirements. As Panditji was lost in worry, the Divine girl appeared and told him not to be worry as everything had been arranged. True to Her word the Bhandara went smoothly with food and place to spare. Bhairav Nath admitted that the girl had supernatural powers and decided to test Her further. He followed the Divine girl to Trikuta Hills. For 9 months Bhairav Nath was searching for the mystic girl in the mountains, whom 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 Baanganga (Baan: Arrow), a believer of the Mother Goddess can wash away all his sins. The banks of the river, known as Charan Paduka, are marked by Devi's foot imprints, which remains intact till date. Vaishno Devi then went in a cave known as Garbh Joon near Adhkawari where she meditated for 9 months. Her meditation was cut short when Bhairav located her. Vaishno Devi was then compelled to take the form of Maha Kali. The Goddess then beheaded Bhairav with such sheer force, that his skull fell at a place known as Bhairav Ghati, 2.5 km from the Holy Cave.

In his dying moments, Bhairav pleaded for forgiveness. The Goddess knew that Bhairav's main intention in attacking her was to achieve salvation. She not only granted Bhairav liberation from the cycle of life and death, but also granted him a boon, whereby every devotee, in order to ensure completion of the pilgrimage, had to visit Bhairav Nath's temple near the Holy cave after the darshan of the Goddess. Meanwhile Vaishno Devi assumed the shape of a rock with three pindis (heads) and immersed herself into meditation.

Meanwhile, Pandit Shree-Dhar 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, Shree-Dhar and his descendants have been worshiping the Goddess Mother Vaishno Devi.

As we started for the holy shrine, a few important stops come in between. These are Baan Ganga, Charan Paduka, AdhKuwari, Saanjhi Chhat and then finally the Bhawan.

Adhkuwari is almost in midway and here the cave is called "Garbha Joon". There was a big rush there. Only one person can enter into cave at anytime. I took the parchi here, but decided to continue on trek to main shrine, which is also known as "Bhawan".

We decided that we will cover it during the return journey, but we could not do that. Mother's wish!

The mouth of the holy cave is known as "Darbar" and the entire temple complex is known as "Bhawan".

At about 10 KMs from Katra is a place called "Saanjhi Chhat". The helicopters come till here. From here the temple is about 2.5 KMs. From here the trek is not that difficult. Its almost plain and so not much effort required.

When we were approaching Saanjhi Chhat, I got a call from my father. Parents and in-laws were already reached there and were waiting for us. As we were still about 2 hours away, I asked them to have darshan and then wait for us.

After Saanjhi Chhat, at a counter we need to verify our Travel slip again. Further just before entering into main shrine, we need to handover this slip to security personnel there.

Finally at about 4 AM, after trekking for almost 6 hours, we were at Bhawan.

Bhawan, The Shrine Complex
From Katra till Adhkuwari, the ascent is quite steep. From Adhkuwari till Saanjhi Chhat, it is even more steep and from Saanjhi Chhat till Bhawan, it is quite plain.

Stairs are also there in between, but better we remained on well laid our roads. Stairs give more stress and tiredness.
Blissful morning at "Trikuta" mountains, the Shivalik ranges of Himalayas in Jammu & Kashmir
Greeted by our parents and in-laws, we straightaway headed towards the darbar. We handed over all mobiles, camera, shoes etc to my father-in-law, who was waiting for us near the queue gate.

A little skirmish between me and one fellow pilgrim took place there. Finally issue resolved with presence of elders.

So we were in queue, Chachiji wanted to take bath, but I was not in that favour. Bathrooms and toilets were quite dirty and also there was big queue.

या देवी सर्व भुतेसू माँ रूपेण संस्थिता l
नामेस्तास्याई ll नामेस्तास्याई ll नामेस्तास्याई ll नमो नमः

(Who has establised herself as mother of all, salutations to her, salutations to her, salutations to her)
Finally we went into queue for darshan and in next 10 minutes or so, we were in the sacred cave shrine!

The mother is meditating there in the form of three "Pindi" (stone head). These three are Mahakaali, MahaLakshmi and Mahasaraswati.

We paid respect to the divine mother. She granted me the oppertunity to visit this holy place.I felt lucky and blssed.

Salutations to the merciful mother!

Out of the cave complex, my father-in-law was waiting for us. We went with him where rest of the people were there and took rest for some time.

Then my parents and in-laws started for Bhairo Temple. The Paalki carriers were not willing, but as per legend without darshan at Bhairo temple, the yatra will remain incomplete, they were pursuaded to go to Bhairo temple.

Me, my brother and Chachaji, waited there for some time and took tea.

Now the time was to start for Bhairo temple.

Chachaji feeling tired, opted for a horse. Me and my brother took the road on foot.

This 2.5 KM stretch involves quite steep climbing.Taking rest at regular intervals, we reached Bhairo Temple or Bhairo Ghaati (Valley). Midway I met with my parents and in-laws, who were returning back after darshan. I asked them to move on and meet us at Katra.
Shri Bhairo Temple
Chachaji also had reached Bhairo temple and after darshan, was waiting for us. As we brothers reached there, the temple gates got closed for cleaning and "aarti". It reamins close from 6-8 AM. So we need to wait for some time there. A big roof nearby is an ideal place for photography. The view of lush green valley below and also of the Bhawan complex is very beautiful from here.

Finally the wait was over, the temple gates opened, we brothers in queue, waited patiently till our turn came half an hour later.

Inside temple, there are idols of Anjaneya and also the head symbolizing the severed head of Bhairo. The story reminds us that to be divine, we need to cut off our ego.

From Bhairo Temple, there are two routes possible, one way directly takes the pilgrim to Saanjhi Chhat and then to Katra, the other route is the same through which we reached Bhairo Temple, via Bhawan.
Blessed trees, on way to Bhairo Temple
I was just thinking whether we should walk back or should try horse. We three were badly tired by now and my theighs were paining so that there was difficulty in raising my legs.

My father called and asked us to take the battery operated vehicle from Bhawan to Adhkuwari. We returned back to Bhawan, there was a queue for battery operated vehicle ticket. Though it was mentioned that this vehicle was only for senior citizens and disabled, but actually anyone can take the ticket. This costs Rs 300 from Adhkuwari to Bhawan and Rs 200 from Bhawan to Adhkuwari.

This service is from 7 AM till 7 PM.

We went to a restaurant infront of the counter and took some food and juices to satisfy the belly and overcome tiredness.

This restaurant was from Shri Vaishno Devi trust and hence quite reasonably priced.

We went in queue again but unfortunately as our turn came the tickets got over. Next set of vehicle were supposed to start at 1 PM. It was still 10.10 AM so better we decided to take a horse.

With some negotiation we took 3 horses for Rs 600/- each, though later I paid them Rs 700/- each.

Those taking horse should make sure that their knees should remain as close to horse as possible otherwise you may hit other pilgrims or poles/wall etc. Also never try to jump from horse, this will result in injury.

In next about 2-1/2 hours, we were at Baan Ganga Gate. We walked a little further and parents and in-laws were waiting for us in the taxi.

We had done it!

Salutations to the mother divine!

It was a very hot summer afternoon, temperatures must be around 45 degrees or so. We had thought of going to hill resort of Patni Top, but because of tiredness dropped that idea and took the road to Jammu.

In between, we stopped at "Punjabi Haveli" for lunch.

We reached Jammu,late afternoon and took rest. Evening we had plans to visit one of the famous shrines in Jammu, The Raghunath Temple.

Raghunath Temple was built during the period of Maharaja Gulab Singh and his son Maharaja Ranbir Singh. The temple has the presiding deity of Lord Raam. Work on the temple was started by Maharaja Gulab Singh, founder of the Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir in 1835 AD and was completed by his son Maharaja Ranbir Singh 1860 AD.

There are many shrines besides the shrine of Lord Raam. There are shrines to Shiva as well as Ganapati and Anjaneya. There are also memorial to Maharaja Gulab Singh, Ranbir Singh and Amar Singh.

The temple was attacked by terrorists in 2002, so the security was very tight. Nobody is allowed to take any camera, mobile, purse etc inside the shrine.

In one of the shrine there, I saw thousands or may be lakhs of 'Saligrams'

My parents and in-laws did the "Rudra Abhishekam" at the shrine of Lord Shiva.

The complex is vast and very blissful. It was very nice experience to be there.

Getting blessed, we were back and took peaceful rest in the lap of mother divine, in the form of sleep.

Next day was our last day of stay at Jammu. Our train was at night, so we had full day at our disposal.

One of the close relatives had asked my father-in-law to visit his home at Kathua, about 80 KMs south of Jammu. Though we were more willing to visit Patni Top today, because of our tiredness and summer weather conditions, we dropped the idea of Patni Top and took the road to Kathua.

We were there for about 4 hours at his home at Kathua and then returned back to Jammu.

There is a place called Samba in between. It is very close to Pakistan border. In my mobile GPS, I saw the border was as close as less than 2 KMs at some places on road. This road is lifeline to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. I saw the different army installation and felt proud to see the "Carnatic Warriors" board at one of such installtions. These braves from south India are responsible for security at J&K.

In evening, we decided to visit the famous "Baawe Waali Mata" shrine in Bahu fort at Jammu.

Bahu Fort. It houses the Kali Temple, famous as "Baawe Waali Mata", the presiding deity of Jammu.
The Bahu fort is situated on the left bank of the river Tawi. This was constructed originally by Raja Bahulochan over 3,000 years ago. The temple inside is dedicated to the Goddess Kali popularly known as Baawe wali Mata.

The present fort was rebuilt, probably at the same location as the ancient fort, by Autar Dev, the grandson of King Kapoor Dev in 1585. Over the years the fort underwent demolitions and reconstructions from time to time, until Maharaja Gulab Singh reconstructed the present fort in the 19th century, which was further refurbished during the rule of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. They established temple for Mahakali, the idol of which was brought from Ayodhya.

The Mahakali or the Baawe Waali Mata is the presiding diety of Jammu.

Again there is rigorous security check. One has to offload, mobile, cameras, pens etc.

Temple is simple but very powerful. The mother Mahakali is there to protect all of us. There are other shrines also nearby. We visited all of them before moving out of fort.

या देवी सर्व भुतेसू शक्ति रूपेण संस्थिता l
नामेस्तास्याई ll नामेस्तास्याई ll नामेस्तास्याई ll नमो नमः

(Who has establised herself as energy of all, salutations to her, salutations to her, salutations to her)

The Tuesday and Sunday are considered to be more auspicious days to worship the Mahakali here.

Not may parts of fort are open for tourists. I can only saw from distance a structure, which was mentioned as "Baarood Khaana". It was store house for gun powder.

Fort is surrounded by a beautiful terraced garden., which is known as "Bagh-e-Bahu" (The Garden of Bahu). It is a favourite picnic spot of Jammu. We just had a glimpse of it and started for guest house.

In between we stopped at a shop and purchased the wal-nuts as prasad.

After a good dinner, we reached railway station in time. The train was late by about 55 minutes, though it covered the delay and we reached Lucknow (and Varanasi) in time.

Salutation to the mother divine!

1.) Summers are very hot in Jammu, so it is better to start trek for shrine late evening or night.
2.) Katra is about 350 meters above sea level and Shri Maa Vaishno Devi shrine is about 1700 meters above sea level. The Bhairo Temple is futher up.
3.) Jammu to Katra ia about 60 KMs. A lot of buses and taxis are there which can be taken from near to Jammu railway station.
4.) From Katra to Shri Vaishno Devi Shrine (Bhawan) is about 12.5 KMs. Bhairo Temple is further up about 2.5 KMs away.
5.) Remember that without visiting Bhairo Temple, the pilgrimage is not successful. This boon is from mother to Bhairo Nath.
6.) Vedio Camera is not permitted enroute from Katra to the shrine.
7.) Camera, mobiles, purse, bags etc. needs to be deposited in lockers as nothing is allowed inside the shrine.
8.) All need to take the "Yatra Parchi" (travel slip) at Jammu or Katra at Shri Vaishno DEvi Trust office. This has to be shown at the start of trip at Baan Ganga Gate, then further up after crossing the Saanjhi Chhat and then it needs to be deposited just when you are entering the main shrine.
9.) There are plenty of accomodation in Katra as well as at Bhawan (near the main shrine). Shri Vaishno Devi trust accomodation can be booked through
10.) In my view one should plan in such a manner to spend a night at Bhawan.
11.) Adhkuwari cave shrine is small and there is usually long queue there. It is in between of Katra to Bhawan. Bhawan has the main shrine.
12.) For Adhkuwari, one needs to take seperate slip. If queue is large, one can go up and after visiting the shrines of Mother Vaishni Devi and Bhairo, can visit Adkuwari shrine while returning.
13.) Temple is always open.
14.) All kind of facilities are there, enroute the trek from Katra to Bhawan.
15.) Horse and Paalki are available for those who can not walk the distance from Katra to Bhawan.
16.) Be blissful while trek, that mother has called you in her darbaar!


  1. Very nice one but will be able to read it completely only while travelling to this temple..:)

  2. Its always good to read your blog! Again a very good one!

  3. Once again a very informative and niche blog article.

  4. Informative blog..Thanks Alok.

  5. Thanks for sharing this information . Vaishno Devi is sacred place for Hindus . Mansarovar Yatra