The Trinity of Energy
The cult of the Mother Goddess is as old as humanity. The worship of the Mother Goddess is an integral part of the Sanskrit civilization of India and the broad structure of temple worship which evolved through the Indian history. A striking uniformity exists between the forms of worship in the temples of Jammu and Kashmir and temples in India. It appears that the historical sequence which marked the evolution of temple worship in Jammu and Kashmir is identical to the historical sequence of the temple worship in India. The worship of the Mother, in the form of Bhavani, is the basic ground-work of the Hindu temple worship in India. It is definitely the most ancient form of worship in Jammu and Kashmir as well.
The Divine Mother is synonymous with Shakti, the unifying force of existence. Shakti is the Divine Power of creation, sustenance and transformation. In other words Shakti worship is nothing but worshipping the inherent Power of the Supreme Divine. According to a particular view prevalent among both scientists as well as spiritualists everything in the universe is a manifestation of imperishable energy. According to the Shakta this energy is nothing other than the manifestation of the Divine Shakti, which exists in every form of our existence. Since this Shakti (Power or Energy) cannot be worshipped in its essential nature, it is worshipped through various symbolic manifestations that symbolize Shakti in its various phases. Thus truly speaking, all beings of the universe are Shakti worshippers, for there is none in this world who does not love power or energy in some form or the other. An alignment of these energies denotes the culmination of their interplay, leading to a balanced state of mind and individual.
The three energies in the form of the three divinities, Goddesses,
Kali (Kriya Shakti the energy of action)
Lakshmi (Iccha Shakti the energy of will or desire) and
Saraswati (Jnana Shakti the energy of knowledge) are propitiated during Navaratri to enrich lives by the Hindus from time immemorial. This festival is being celebrated, with great devotion, not for a day but for nine nights. All the three divinities are manifested at Cave Temple of Vaishnov Devi.
The Vaishnov Devi shrine is one among the most popular religious shrines of India. Vaishnov Devi in Jammu has been designated as the Elder Sister among the six other Devi shrines in a fairly narrow belt of the Siwailiks between the Yumuna and Chenab rivers. Vaishnov Devi has become much more popular than the other Six Sisters---Mansa Devi, Chintipumi Devi, Naini Devi, Jvala ji (Jvalamukhi), Kangra (Kangrevali Devi or Vajreshvari) and Chamunda Devi.
Vaishno Devi Cave Temple is one of the most popular ancient shrines in India Vaishnov Devi is a unique shrine, it is the dwelling place of Goddess Durga and holds three Pindies that show Her three different forms, each representing a different attribute. She has manifested Herself in all the three forms of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati at the holy shrine. The Goddess in Her manifestation of Maha Kali blesses Her devotees by giving them strength, as Maha Lakshmi, She blesses her devotees with wealth and prosperity. As Maha Saraswati, She blesses Her devotees with high intellect. To lead a full and meaningful life, a balance has to be struck amongst the three. This balance is extremely difficult to achieve. It needs divine blessing and Vaishnov Devi cave temple, is only that such temple, where such blessings are possible simultaneously from a single source of Shakti. This is what makes the holy shrine of Vaishnov Devi unique and important in the whole world. Again, divine spring with divine colours at Spring temple of Maha Rajini and waxing and waning of Shiva linga at Cave temple of Amarnath in Kashmir are another two examples of uniqueness and sacredness of temples of Jammu and Kashmir.
Historicity of the Shrine
There is lack of exact chronological evidences in history as to when the Vaishnov Devi shrine came into existence. It is an ancient shrine whose reference is found in the Vedas and ancient scriptures. Like other highly venerated shrines of India, Vaishnov Devi shrine is an ancient one whose antiquity is pre-Mahabharatan. Lord Krishna is believed to have advised Arjuna to go up in the hills of ‘Jambu’ and seek the blessings of Vaishnov Devi before taking up arms in the battle field. ’Jambu’ is identified with present day Jammu. Arjuna, while worshipping Vaishnov Devi, calls Her the highest Yogin who is free from decrepitude and decay, who is the Mother of the ’Vedas and the science of Vedanta’ and who is giver of ’victory and personification of victory’ itself. It is also believed that Pandavas were the first to construct temple of Goddess adjacent to the Trikoot Mountain and the five stones inside Vaishno Devi temple is said to be symbols of Five Pandavas. The shrine of Vaishnov Devi has a long traditional, spiritual and religious history as a long surviving institution of many years.
The shrine of Vaishnov Devi is a manifestation of the Mother Goddess and it lies nestled in a natural cave located in the Trikuta Mountains towering above Katra, about 50 km. from Jammu, at an altitude of 5,200 feet and a distance of approximately 12 kilometers (7.45 miles) from Katra, the base camp of the shrine. The connection with the Vaishnov Devi shrine is often indicated by its setting among snow capped mountains, particularly among the three peaks of Trikuta mountain. Enroute the pilgrims cross Ban Ganga, Charan Paduka, Adhkwari and Sanji Chhat before one reaches the holy cave temple. There had been only one tunnel, which had been created by nature, which led into the shrine. This tunnel was used for both entering the holy shrine and for coming out of it. Second tunnel was opened for devotees in the year 1977 and the third tunnel in the year 1998.
The journey that the pilgrims take up the mountain follows the footsteps of Vaishnov Devi as She fled up the mountain from the home of the Vaishnavite Brahmin, Pandit Shridhar, in Katra. Using her special powers, She had helped provide the food for a Bhandara, or feast for mendicants, which She had advised Pandit Shridhar would bring him the boon of sons. However, also coming to the feast was Bhairava Nath, the chief disciple of Guru Gorakh Nath, adept of the Shakta sect, who had to be included in the broad invitation. He decided to test the power of Vaishnovi by asking her to serve meat and wine to him, but Vaishnovi told him it was not allowed in a Vaishnava vegetarian household. When she sensed that Bhairava had "evil intentions" towards her, She fled up the mountain. But Bhairava, as he now is called, followed her. The first spot that marks her route is the Bal Ganga, where she struck a rock to bring forth a stream for the monkeys who were now accompanying her, to drink. Further up the mountain she entered a first cave where she remained for "a full nine months, as a child in the womb of her mother." Through his occult powers, Bhairava could see Her going up the Trikuta Mountain and he followed Her. When Bhairava entered the cave, she struck an opening at the other end of the cave with her trident and went on up the mountain to another cave. When Bhairava began to enter this next cave, Langur Vir (Hanuman) attempted to restrain him but was unsuccessful. Therefore, Vaishnov Devi assumed the form of Maha Kali and cut off the head of Bhairava. She did this with such force that his head was flung up the mountainside. As the head of Bhairava flew up the mountain, its voice recognized her and said, "Oh mother, I was not familiar with this form of your holiness. I have met my fate at your sacred hands ….. but if you don’t pardon me, coming generations will hate my name." In response the Devi granted him his own temple, located at the spot where his head had landed, but she stipulated that pilgrims could only go to his temple after visiting her shrine.
After killing Bhairava Nath, Vaishnovi took the form of a rock and went into eternal meditation. She appeared in Pandit Shridhar’s dream and showed him the route of the Holy Cave. Pandit Shridhar accordingly reached the holy cave temple and started regular Puja of Vaishnov Devi at the cave. Later, he was blessed with four sons. She also gave him the boon of being the custodian of the cave. Even today, Pandit Shridhar’s descendants abide by the commitment.
Holy Track to Bhavan
Banganga; Situated on the bank of a small rivulet called Banganga and at a height of 2700 ft., Banganga is the first major station for a devotee when he undertakes his on-foot journey from Katra to Bhavan. As per the legend, the Goddess, accompanied by Langoor-Veer was moving to Her destined abode in the Trikuta Hills, when Langoor-veer felt thirsty. The Goddess shot an arrow into the ground and a spring gushed out in the form of a rivulet. The name of this rivulet comes from two terms, Ban and Ganga. Ban means Arrow and Ganga stands for the sacred river Ganga. It is said that Mata Vaishnov Devi, while on her way to the Holy Cave, created this water body with an arrow from her quiver, hence the name Banganga. It is also said that she had taken a dip in it and had washed her hair here.
Charan Paduka; The ancient temple of Charun Paduka, situated at an altitude of 3380 feet, at a distance of nearly one Kilo-meter from Banganga, is also connected to the legend of Goddess Vaishnov Devi. As per the legend, the Goddess stopped at this place for a while to look back and check whether Bhairon Nath was still chasing her or not. Due to Her standing there for a while, her footprints got engraved there, hence the name Charan Paduka. One pays obeisance at the footprints of Mata engraved on a rock slab and proceeds further. Symbolically, it means touching the feet of Mata and seeking Her blessings at the start of the journey.
Adhkuwari; The word Adhkuwari means Eternal virgin. Adkuwari is the half way mark on the track as it is situated at a distance of nearly 6 kms. from Katra. Adkuwari is one of the most important Darshans on the visit, second only to the main Darshans at the Holy Cave. According to the legend, when Vaishnavi, in the form of a small girl, disappeared from the Bhandara organized by Pandit Shridhar, she halted at Banganga and Charan Paduka. From there she reached Adkuwari, where, in a small womb shaped cave she meditated and observed Tapasya (spiritual discipline) for nine long months. The exact spot where she is believed to have meditated and worshiped Lord Shiva is located at the right hand side inside the cave and is shaped like a womb. Since Vaishnavi had observed spiritual discipline in a womb shaped cave for a period of nine months, this cave has become popular by the name of Garbh Joon, which has come from the term Garbh Yoni meaning the Womb. It is generally believed that by merely passing through this cave, a devotee’s sins are cleansed and his soul becomes pious again. When during her meditation She realized that Bhairon Nath had approached the cave in Her search, She created an exit at the other end with Her trident and proceeded towards the Holy Cave.
Himkoti; is situated at a distance of 2.75 kms from Adkuwari. Himkoti is one of the most beautiful spots on this track with breathtaking scenic views of the entire valley. Although there is no traditional or religious significance associated with this point, yet the very nature of this spot and its natural splendour envelops the pilgrims in mysterious charm.
Bhairon Ghati; Bhairon temple is the next halt for the pilgrims after visiting the holy Shrine of Mata Vaishnov Devi. This old temple is significant from the point of view of a holy legend associated with the Shrine. After beheading Bhairon Nath and after his profuse repentance, the Almighty Mother Goddess forgave and blessed him and granted him the boon that the Darshans of his temple would be the final link of Her Great Pilgrimage. Thus, for the full blessings of the journey to Mata Vaishnov Devi, Yatries would have to pay obeisance at Bhairon temple on their return.
Topography of the Cave Temple
The entrance to the cave is called Bhavan. At the mouth of the original tunnel to the holy cave is the symbol of Ganesha, on the left hand side of the rock face. Adjacent to it is the symbols of Surya Dev and Chandra Dev. While crawling into the holy cave through the natural tunnel one crosses over the Dhadh of Bhairo Nath who was beheaded by the Goddess at the entry point to the holy cave. The Dhadh is 14 feet long. After this is the symbol of Hanuman called Langur Vir. The pilgrims have to wade through water beyond the Langur Vir point. 23 feet beyond Langur Vir, on the left upper hand side, on the roof of the cave are the innumerable heads of Shesh Nag. Immediately, below Shesh Nag is the Havan Kund of Devi. Adjacent to it are the symbols of Shankh, Chakra, Gada and Padam. Higher up, almost touching the ceiling of the cave are the symbols of the five Pandavas, the Sapt Rishi, the thein of the divine cow, Kamdhenu, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Parvati. 3 feet further ahead, on an elevation is Khamba that was gripped by the devotee Prahlad. Diagonally below this, at the water level is the Yantra with innumerable mystical signs and symbols inscribed on it. 22 feet beyond this point is located the Sher Ka Panja symbolizing the lion, which is the mount of Vaishnov Devi. The distance from the entry point to the Sher Ka Panja is 59 feet. Thirteen feet beyond this, immediately above, is located the symbol of the primary hood of Shesh Nag which appears to be bearing the weight of the roof of the cave at that point.
Mata Vaishnov Devi took the form of a rock
The length of the cave up to the primary hood of Shesh Nag is 70 feet. Six feet further ahead, on the left hand side, are the symbols of Shankar and Gouri. 13 feet beyond the symbols of Shankar and Gouri are located the holiest of the holy Pindies of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi, and Maha Saraswati. Within the temple is the deity in the form of a five and half feet tall rock with three Pindies or heads. The three manifestations of the Goddesses are represented in ‘Pindi’ (Rock) form and are located at the end of a 98 feet long cave. The miracle associated with the Pindies is that they are part of the same rock, but each of them has a different texture and color. Inside the main temple the Holy Pindi of Mata Maha Kali situated on right side, and it is black in color. Right in the center is the Holy Pindi of Mata Maha Lakshmi and rock has a yellowish tinge to it. While the Holy Pindi towards the extreme left is that of Mata Maha Saraswati with a whitish tinge to the rock.
The worship of the Goddess is formalized through Aarti and chanting of various Mantras by the Pujaris. Aarti is performed twice a day, once at sunrise and again at sunset. There is a long process to the Aarti. First, the Pujaris perform ‘Aatam pujan’ or the act of self-purification. Then there is the conventional Aarti inside the temple as well as outside the cave. During the worshipping process the Goddess is bathed in water, milk, ghee, honey and sugar. Then she is adorned with saree, chola and churni and ornaments. Do not miss a moment of this grand Aarti. To the right of the holy Pindies on the upper side again are the symbols of Ganesh, Surya Dev, Chandra Dev and Goddess Annapurna. Slightly behind the holy Pindies, on the right hand side is the symbol of the seated Sinh Raj. A little ahead of it is seen the full hand of the Goddess in the Vard Hast mode granting boons to the world. Invariably the Goddess is riding on her vahana (vehicle), dressed in red wedding attire, with all her jewelry. The image illustrates a benign Goddess virgin, auspiciously dressed as a bride. She wears the victory Mangala garland and in her eight arms she holds several weapons symbolic of Vishnu and Shiva . Also included are the accompanying attendants of Hanuman, the Langur Vir carrying a red flag with Garuda on it, and Bala Bhairava (a child Bhairava), carrying a severed head . Immediately opposite the holy Pindies is the natural symbol of Pashupati Nath.
Water gushes out of the base of the holy Pindies and flows out of the holy Cave. It is known as Charan Ganga and this holy water is collected in small containers by the devotees and taken home. The same water flows to the bathing ghat and the devotees take a bath before they have Darshan of the holy Pindies. Pilgrims from all over the world come to the cave temple to seek the blessings of the Goddess, and crawl through the narrow cave to have Darshan of the holy Pindies. Vaishnov Devi shrine is frequented every year by thousands of pilgrims.
Mata Vaishnov Devi is known by different names. Her most famous names:
Pahadawali - The Goddess who lives upon a mountain.
Jyotawali - The Goddess who shines like an oil lamp and spreads light everywhere.
Sherawali - The Goddess who rides upon a lion or tiger.
Latawali - The Goddess with long locks of hair.
Meherawali - The Goddess who is always merciful.
Myths related to Vaishnov Devi
As per the legend, during the period when the Goddess was busy in annihilating the Asuras, Her three main manifestations viz. Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Saraswati got together one day and pooled their collective Tejas or spiritual strength. A stunningly bright light emanated from the place where the Tejas of the three manifestations coalesced and a beautiful young girl emerged out of this Tejas. The young girl asked them, "Why have I been created?’’ The Devis explained to her that they had created her so that she would live on earth and spend her time in upholding righteousness. The Devis added, "Now, go and take birth in the house of Ratankar and his wife who resides in the southern part of India, and who are great devotees of ours. Live on earth. Uphold righteousness and evolve yourself spiritually so that you reach higher levels of consciousness. Once you have attained the appropriate level of consciousness you will merge into Vishnu and become one with him.’’ So saying they blessed the girl.
Sometimes later a very beautiful girl child was born to Ratankar and his wife. The couple named the child Vaishnavi. The girl right from her childhood displayed a hunger for knowledge which was like a vortex and which no amount of teaching and learning could sufficiently satiate. Subsequently, Vaishnavi started looking into her inner self for knowledge, and soon learned the art of meditation and realized that meditation and penance only could bring her close to her greater objective. Vaishnavi thus relinquished all household comforts and went deep into the forest for Tapasaya (meditation). Meanwhile, Lord Rama, during his fourteen years of exile happened to visit Vaishnavi who recognized him immediately as no ordinary being but the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and immediately asked him to merge her into himself so that she could become one with the supreme creator.
However Lord Rama, knowing that it was not the appropriate time, dissuaded her by saying that he would visit her again after 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 visited her again after being victorious in the battle, but this time he did so in the disguise of an old man. Unfortunately, Vaishnavi was unable to recognize him this time and was distraught. Upon this, Lord Rama consoled her that the appropriate time for her being one with the creator had not come, and that time would come eventually in Kaliyug. Sri Rama also directed her to meditate, and set up an Ashram at the base of Trikuta hills, to elevate her level of spirituality so as to bless mankind and rid the poor and destitute of their sufferings. Only then would ’Vishnu’ merge her into himself. Vaishnavi, immediately set off for the northern part and after immense hardships, reached the foot of the Trikuta Hills. After reaching there she set up her ashram there and began to meditate. As predicted by Lord Rama, her glory spread far and wide, and people began to flock to her Ashram to seek her blessings.
When Bhairon Nath continued to follow her despite the Goddess trying to avoid a confrontation, the Goddess was compelled to kill him. Bhairon Nath met his ultimate fate when the goddess, just outside the mouth of the cave, beheaded him. Meanwhile, Vaishnavi decided to shed off her human form and assuming the face of a rock she immersed her-self into meditation forever. Thus Vaishnavi, in the form of a five and a half feet tall rock with three heads or the Pindies on the top is the ultimate destination of a devotee. These Pindies constitute the Sanctum Sanctorum of the holy cave known as the shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi, which is revered by one and all.
According to another version of legand, Vaishnov Devi is, of course, a local variant on the story of the Devi Mahatyma, wherein all the Gods call upon Devi to kill Mahisha, who is destroying all the sacrifices given to them; and they each give her a weapon with which to do that. They cannot use these weapons themselves because the demon has been given the boon, through austerities, of being killed only by a woman. Destroying many others in the Mahisha army, ultimately cutting off his head, is done for all the gods by the Devi. There are numerous other myths associated with Vaishnov Devi. One of the myths is that of Vaishnov Devi meeting Sri Ram as a child. The popular belief is that Devi was born to a childless couple in South India after several years of penance. The couple while praying to Mother Goddess had promised that they would fulfill all the wishes of the child. A baby girl child was born to the childless couple and she was named Trikuta. From a very young age, Trikuta showed high spiritual inclination and was an ardent devotee of Sri Hari Vishnu. When she reached adulthood, she asked her parents’ permission to meditate by the sea. During this period, Sri Ram was searching for Sita and he reached the seashore where Trikuta was meditating. Vaishnavi told Sri Ram that she had already chosen him as her husband. Sri Ram told her that he was already married and therefore could not marry. Sri Ram could not ignore the austerities undertaken by Trikuta and instructs her to go and dwell in a cave in the Trikuta Mountains and meditate; she will retain the powers she has gained from remaining a virgin, and she will be honoured there. This explains her title, Adikumari, Virgin Forever.
One legend relates the Devi’s protection of poor peasants who were exploited by kings and landlords. One version of this type is found in "The Story of Baba Jittoo" (Kaul 1980). In this long and complex myth, a poor peasant devotee of Vaishnov Devi, Jitmal (Jittoo) had a bountiful crop of grain, due to Vaishnov Devi, who had been incarnated as his daughter. The King Vir Singh, upon seeing this abundant crop, demanded half of the harvest instead of the one-fourth as agreed upon, and sent his men to get it. In despair, Jittoo prayed to the Devi, who tells him to leave the world, and dwell with her, and she will deal with the king. Jittoo takes his own life and lied while bleeding on the grain which polluted it. In the conclusion of the myth, King Vir Singh becomes a leper, his property burns, and he and associates go insane. The association with Jittoo is collaborated by another myth which describes the Jhiri Fair (held west of Jammu city). This fair is held at the height of the pilgrimage season to Vaishnov Devi in honour of the "memory of Baba Jittoo, who died 500 years ago fighting feudal tyranny." At the fair, descendants of the thieves who robbed Jittoo of his grain are compelled to furnish free food for a feast.
The legendary hero Baba Jitto’s temple is situated at village Aghar Jitto, which is just 5 km from Katra town, on the Katra-Reasi Road. Baba Jitto, who was a peasant by profession, was a staunch devotee of the Goddess Vaishnov Devi. He is remembered amongst the peasant class for his revolutionary act of opposing the landlord’s oppression and subsequently laying down his life for this cause. A big fair called ’Jhiri Mela’ is still conducted to commemorate the martyrdom of Baba Jitto at a place called ’Jhiri’, which is 20 km from Jammu.
Another story has Vaishnov Devi protecting a king of Jammu, Maharaja Ranjit Dev, who is her devotee at the time of the reign of Aurangzeb in Delhi. The kingdom of Jammu was a very small hill state at the time; hence the Maharaja was frightened when he was called to Lahore by the regional Moghul governor. According to the story, Maharaja Dev pretended to go hunting, but instead went to seek out Vaishnov Devi. He found her "sitting on the top of Trikuta Mount" (Shri Mala Vaishno Devi:83).He asked for her help. When he went to Lahore, and with the help of Vaishnov Devi, the Maharaja was able to survive by cutting a deal with the Moghul governor, Mir Mannu, to keep Jammu from being swallowed up. It is said that, in his gratitude, Ranjit Dev cleaned and established huts and water along the path to Vaishnov Devi. Every year he went barefoot to Her cave.
Associated with Vaishnov Devi is vegetarianism, an attribute that sets her apart from the other Devis in this region. Even though the shrine to Vaishnov Devi relates to a local Goddess, the name carries the advantage of representing the gentle side of Mahadevi, especially the vegetarian aspect of the Goddess. The name Vaishnov refers to Vishnu, which in India commonly means vegetarianism and hence greater ritual
purity. Although the other Devi temples no longer practice animal sacrifice, but their ritualistic histories are not as "pure" as that of Vaishnov Devi. Consequently, this Goddess shrine developed a reputation for maintaining a high degree of ritual purity and for a high level of efficaciousness. Actually, the shrine is a cave temple, dedicated to Goddess Shakti in the form of three natural rock formations, called the Pindies that represent the three goddesses. In addition, the shrine is regarded as unique because it contains "the holiest of holy Pindies, manifesting Mala in her three forms of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi, and Maha Saraswati". There is no denial that other shrines may have certain distinctive characteristics, but the unsurpassed distinction of combining all the three manifestations of the Goddess furnishes a strong incentive for pilgrimage to this particular shrine.
PLACES IN AND AROUND VAISHNO DEVI CAVE TEMPLE
Charan Paduka Temple
Bhairav Nath Temple is a located at a distance of 3 km from the holy cave. Dedicated to saint turned demon, Bhairav Nath, the temple is the last point of the pilgrimage. According to mythology, in his last breath Bhairav Nath repented for his unholy acts and for the same Goddess forgave him. The shrine of Bhairav Nath is situated atop a hill, which is approachable from Ardh Kuwari.
Banganga Temple is one of the worship centres in the destination, which is about 3 km from Katra. As per scriptures, Goddess Durga on her way to Trikuta Hills from Bhumika Temple made a halt at the site, as Langoor Vir was thirsty. After watching his misery, Goddess shot an arrow into the stone to produce a spring, which is called as Banganga.
Charan Paduka Temple is one of the religious cave sites, which is situated at a distance of 1.5 km from Banganga. According to the scriptures, Goddess Durga made a halt at the site when Bhairav Nath was chasing her. Positioned at an altitude of 3,380 ft, the site of holy footprints is one of the highlights of the destination.
Charan Ganga is a site of the stream of water that runs from the Pindies inside the cave. The same stream is channelized to the bathing ghat at Bhavan. At the bathing ghat, devotees bathe before proceeding to the holy shrine. Owing to religious significance, devotees collect water in containers to take back home.
Deva Mai Temple is about 7km short of Katra town. Many devotees treat it as a very holy site and go there to perform paeans.
Baba Dhansar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located at a distance of about 15km from Katra on way to Salal Dam. Here, a huge spring emerges from the rocks in a thick grove of trees and forms a number of small rapids before flowing into the holy rivulet that merges with the Chenab River.
Pindian is few kilometers away from Katra at the foot of the Trikuta range. This spot is also dedicated to Vaishnov Devi.
Dera Baba Banda Shrine is situated at a distance of 30 km from Katra. It is a major Hindu-Sikh pilgrimage center. According to local legend, Baba Banda Bairaagi was Guru Gobind Singh’s favorite ’Saint Soldier’ who constructed a Gurdwara on the banks of river Chenab, where he spent his last days.
Shrine Board of Mata Vaishnov Devi
The development of the shrine began in the year1846 when Maharaja Gulab Singh took Jammu and Kashmir from the British. He established, Dharmarth Trust, and took over several temples and shrines, including Vaishnov Devi. The Trust continued under the descendants of Gulab Singh, who, along with their kingship, retained the position of sole hereditary trustees. At the time of independence, Karan Singh became responsible for the operation and administration of the shrine. During this time, several physical changes were made to facilitate the arrival and movement of pilgrims. These included improving and changing the approaching road, installing water and food stations along the road, and cutting a new exit into the side of the mountain to allow pilgrims to leave immediately rather than returning through the tunnel. Traditional Dogra Maharajas’ of Jammu and Kashmir provided royal patronage to Dharamarth Trust since its inception. Dogra Maharajas were in control of the trust for performing routine administrative functions by their nominated family priests. This system of the management of the shrine was popularly known as "Baradari System”. In reality the groups of Baradaris, collectively, and privately controlled the major administrative and managerial functions of the trust with the blessings of Maharajas. On 30th August 1986, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Shri Jagmohan initiated the Shri Mata Vaishnov Devi Shrine Act, which was later confirmed by the state legislature. The need to make these changes was cited by Governor Jagmohan because he was appalled at the "material and moral corruption" at the shrine. This act, which changed control of the shrine from the Dharmarth Trust and the hereditary priests to a governing statutory board, resulted into "what appears to be one of the most efficiently run temples in India" The major indication of growing importance of Mata Vaishnov Devi shrine is the increased number of pilgrims especially during Navratras who visit this sacred cave temple . There has been tremendous increase in number of pilgrims into this Shrine ever since proper system was introduced. The annual number of pilgrims has more than tripled and has crossed one crore mark, during the last decade. According to an estimate, the number increased from 13.95 lakhs to 101.15 lakhs in 2011 itself. Certainly this growth far exceeds that to the shrines of Her Sisters in the same region.
Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board
Jammu & Kashmir Tirthas by Chaman Lal Gadoo
(Compiled by Chaman Lal Gadoo)