This is one of the most popular and world famous Durga temples in the world. Located at the height of 5300ft on the trikuta hills of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it is a very famous pilgrimage destination for Maa Durga's devotees.
A pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimages of our times. Popular the world over as Moonh Maangi Muradein Poori Karne Wali Mata, which means, the Mother who fulfills whatever Her children wish for, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji resides in a Holy Cave located in the folds of the three peaked mountain named Trikuta (pronounced as Trikoot). The Holy Cave attracts millions of devotees every year. In fact, the number of Yatris visiting the Holy Shrine annually now exceeds one crore. This is due to the unflinching faith of the devotees who throng the Shrine from all parts of India and abroad.
The Holy Cave of the Mother is situated at an altitude of 5200 ft. The Yatris have to undertake a trek of nearly 12 km from the base camp at Katra. At the culmination of their pilgrimage, the yatries are blessed with the Darshans of the Mother Goddess inside the Sanctum Sanctorum- the Holy Cave. These Darshans are in the shape of three natural rock formations called the Pindies. There are no statues or idols inside the Cave.
Like with most old Shrines, it is not possible to ascertain when exactly the pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine started. A geological study of the Holy Cave has indicated its age to be nearly a million years. Vedic literature gives no reference to the worship of any female deity, although the mountain Trikuta does find its mention in Rigveda, the oldest of the four Vedas The practice of worshipping Shakti, largely started in the Puranic period.
The first mention of the Mother Goddess is in the epic Mahabharat. When the armies of Pandavs and Kaurvas were arrayed in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjun, the chief warrior of Pandavs upon advice of Sri Krishna; meditated upon the Mother Goddess and sought Her blessings for victory. This is when Arjun addresses the Mother Goddess as ‘Jambookatak Chityaishu Nityam Sannihitalaye’, which means ‘you who always dwell in the temple on the slope of the mountain in Jamboo’ (probably referring to the present day Jammu).
It is also generally believed that the Pandavs were the first to build the temples at Kol Kandoli and Bhawan in reverence and gratitude for the Mother Goddess. On a mountain, just adjacent to the Trikuta Mountain and overlooking the Holy Cave are five stone structures, which are believed to be the rock symbols of the five Pandavs.
Perhaps the oldest reference of the visit of a historical figure to the Holy Cave is that of Guru Gobind Singh who is said to have gone there via Purmandal. The old foot track to the Holy Cave passed through this well-known pilgrimage centre.
Some traditions believe this Shrine to be the holiest of all Shaktipeeths (a place where the Mother Goddess, the Eternal Energy has Her abode) since the skull of Mata Sati fell here. Others believe that her right arm had fallen here. But some scriptures do not agree with it. They do agree that at a place called Gandarbal in Kashmir, the right arm of Sati had fallen. Nevertheless, in the Holy Cave of Shri Mata Vaishno Deviji, one does find stone remains of a human hand, popularly known as Varad Hast (the hand that grants boons and blessings).
How to Reach
Rest of India to Jammu
In order to visit the Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji, one has to reach Katra, a small town situated around 50 kms. from Jammu, the winter capital of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Katra serves as the base camp for the yatra. Katra is well connected to Jammu and Jammu, in turn, is well connected to the rest of the country by Air, Rail, and Road.
Jammu is well connected to the rest of India by air. Both Indian Airlines and Jet Airways operate daily flights to Jammu. The average flying time from New Delhi is about 80 minutes.
One can also reach Katra by rail. Jammu/Katra is connected to other parts of country on broad gauge and numerous passenger trains ply from various parts of the country. In the peak season of summer and other holidays, the Railways introduce special trains for the comfort of the Yatris. Many superfast trains also ply on this route and one can reach Jammu/Katra overnight from New Delhi.
A list of trains, their schedules and booking status could be seen at the Indian Railways website. You can even book tickets online if you are planning to travel in the near future.
Jammu is well connected through road also to rest of India. National Highway No. 1A passes through Jammu towards Srinagar. Regular bus services from all major North Indian cities are available for Jammu as well as Katra. Many standard and deluxe buses of various State Road Transport Corporations as well as private operators connect Jammu with important cities and towns of North India.
Passengers using Air or Rail as a mode of travel have necessarily to break their journey at Jammu and from thereon select an alternative mode of transport. However for passengers traveling by road, either through public or own transport, there is an option of taking a by-pass from Kunjwani, nearly 10 kms. off Jammu and heading straight for the base camp i.e Katra. The option of a halt at Jammu is thus entirely with the yatri although many yatries would like to spend more time in Jammu and visit the temples and other landmarks there.