Thursday, December 04, 2014

Trip to Mata Vaishno Devi - Part III (Finishing the trek with Mata Rani & Bhairon Baba Darshan)




The holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is one of the most revered shaktipeeth of Mother Goddess. Infact, this is the second most visited temple in India after Tirupati Balaji in southern part of the country. We completed our trek till Adhkuwari in our last post, which is the half way mark of the ~13 Km trek to Main Bhawan of Mata Rani. As we have read in our second post, there is an alternate way (referred to as new track) for the devotees to undertake the balance track to Main Bhawan, which is 1 Km shorter and relatively less steep than the older way. This new track is located just 500 meters before Adhkuwari at Inderprastha.

It is important to note that the newer track via Himkoti bypasses Adhkuwari and thus, devotees desirous to have darshan of temple and Garbh Gufa at Adhkuwari before going to Bhawan may not take this trek; they can take the Adhkuwari route while coming back from Bhawan. However, one can go to Adhkuwari, take darshan there and reconnect to this new track (there is an option for the devotees to re-connect to this new track from Adhkuwari too).

The first two posts covered our trek till Adhkuwari and the present post will take us till Main Bhawan for Mata Rani darshan and also to Bhairon Ghaati.

Trekking further from Adhkuwari – Via Sanjhi Chhat or Via Himkoti. . .

Just as from Inderprastha, at Adhkuwari too devotees have two options to go to Main Bhawan – one from the old track via Haathi Mattha and Sanjhi Chhat & other from new track via Himkoti.

~ Two ways to go to Bhawan from Adhkuwari
First Route via Haathi Mattha and Sanjhi Chhat
First route to go to Main Bhawan is via Haathi Mattha and Sanjhi Chhat which is the older or traditional route. The length of this trek is about 6 Km and is relatively steep.  The first 3Km to 4 Km of this trek through Haathi Mattha have sharp gradient and can prove tiring for the devotees. The name Haathi Mattha means the forehead of the elephant (Haathi being elephant and Mattha being the forehead), suggesting the steep nature of the climb. Hence, this stretch of the trek is relatively difficult as compared to the rest of the trek and also to the corresponding similar stretch at newer track. The devotees, however, have the option to avail the services of Palanquins, Porters and Ponies on this way.

* Sanjhi Chhat - The Highest Point on the Vaishno Devi Trek
The next station, Sanjhi Chhat, is the highest point in the whole trek from Katra to Main Bhawan of Mata Vaishno Devi. The distance from Sanjhi Chhat to Main Bhawan is about 2Km and is gentle & descending providing much needed respite to the devotees during the last and final stretch of the trek. There is a big halting platform prepared at Sanjhi Chhat wherein devotees can halt and take respite before carrying on the final stretch of the trek. The helipad for the landing of helicopter from Katra is also situated at Sanjhi Chhat.

Second Route via Himkoti
The second (new) route to Bhawan goes via Himkoti and bypasses Haathi Mattha & Sanjhi Chhat and also the steeper terrain thereof. This is located at Inderprastha, about 500 meters before Adhkuwari. However, devotees from Adhkuwari can also re-connect to the new track through a passage available at Adhkuwari.

~ New Route to Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan - Shorter & Less Steep
Himkoti is situated at a distance of 2.75 Km from Adhkuwari on the new track. Himkoti is considered as one of most beautiful halting points in whole trek owing the breath-taking scenic view of valley it offers to the devotees. It throws a splendid display of mountains, plantation and pure blue sky & the complete aura of such a scintillating show of nature’s show leaves one mesmerizing. There is no religious or spiritual importance of this place but (I think) it has been created basis its topographical location and imagery it throws to the onlookers.

~ Majestic view of the valley at Himkoti
While climbing up the trek, we also chose the second newer route via Himkoti which did proved soothing and refreshing to both, the body and the eyes. The stretch seems to be prone to landslide in bad weather (perhaps as it has been carved out by cutting the mountains) as there were many signage on the way for the warning of landslide prone area.

~ Check Post at Himkoti
The Shrine Board has developed a view point, restaurant and a dosa counter at Himkoti giving adequate place to rest, relax and enjoy nature’s beauty and also provide some respite to empty stomach. As mentioned above, this route is short and less gradient as compared to older route and also no ponies are allowed to come on this track. There is also a check post at Himkoti where devotees are frisked and checked for security purposes. Devotees can also avail the services of the battery cars from the start of this new track. The battery cars are normally available for senior citizens & sick and handicap devotees but other devotees can also be accommodated there in depending upon the availability of the seats.

Glimpse of the divine Bhawan

~ Divine view of Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan just before reaching the Bhawan
As devotees continue their trek on the newer route chanting Mata’s name in their heart, after about 4.5 Km of walking the divine Bhawan of Mata Rani becomes visible. I can assure you that the sight of the Main Bhawan instills new enthusiasm and excitement in devotee’s heart with an assurance in the heart that all his patience and labour of last 6-7 hours would finally yield fruits. And consequently, the final few meters are walked with renewed exuberance and devotion.

Many members of our group were tired & exhausted and every milestone showing the proximity to the Bhawan acted as a booster. And the moment we saw the divine glimpse of the Bhawan, each of us was speechless and perplexed over the aura and radiance with which the marble white Bhawan nestled amidst the range of mountains wearing green sheet. Those amber beams of setting sun provided the perfect backdrop with imagery of these touching the white surface of the Bhawan, making it glitter like never before. One just couldn’t hold himself but to halt for some moments to relish and cherish the mere look of Mata Rani’s abode of peace and tranquillity.

* Bhaint Shop established by the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board for Prashaad
As one continue to walk further, the devotees reach Bhaint Prashaad Shop (offering to goddess), established by Shrine Board, on the left side of the track. Please note that this is the last prashaad shop of Shrine Board on this trek so it is advisable for the devotees to halt and take prashaad as per their requirement from here. Though there are private shops selling prashaad further too, devotees normally prefer to take the same from the Shrine Board designated outlets. The prashaad here are available in three denominations:
  • INR 10 comprising a packet of fulli prashaad, one mauli (sacred thread) and one chunni (sacred red coloured cloth of net to be offered to Mata Rani).
  • INR 25 comprising a coconut and a cloth bag in addition to INR 10 prashaad items.
  • INR 40 comprising a coconut and a jute bag in addition to INR 10 prashaad items.

Just after the bhaint shop on the right hand side, there is an accommodation facility (Manokamna Bhawan) established by Shrine Board for the devotees desirous to take rest before proceeding with the darshan at Main Bhawan. The booking of the same can be done from Shrine Board website or Shrine Board office at Katra; spot booking is also allowed subject to availability of the rooms.

As devotees walk further from the Bhaint shop and Manokamna Bhawan, they come across a Yatra Slip counter wherein they need to show their Yatra Parchi (slip) which they have got at the start of the trek. The person at the counter validates the slip and allots group number for darshan. The group number assumes importance as it determines when the devotees can have the darshan of Mata Rani and how much time they will have to wait for their turn. At the start of the Bhawan, where the darshan queue starts, devotees can see which group is currently undergoing the darshan from the group number reflected just before the start of the darshan queue. On ordinary and lean days, devotees can have darshan immediately after reaching the Bhawan but on the days of heavy rush one may have to wait for hours for their turn. In our case, there was moderate rush and we were fortunate to find that the group number allotted to us was actually the one running on at that time.

Main Bhawan – The Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi

The Main Bhawan houses the sanctum sanctorum – the Holy cave which is the ultimate destination of the devotees undertaking the trek. This is the cave wherein the Goddess has revealed herself in the form of Holy Pindies manifesting Mata in her three forms Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Mata Saraswati.

It is believed that after leaving the Garbh Joon cave at Adhkuwari, where Bhairon Nath had located her, Mata started ascending uphill till the time She reached the Holy Cave. Bhairon Nath who was pursuing Her, located her again inside the cave and started challenging her. So, finally the Goddess assumed Her Divine Form and severed the head of Bhairon Nath. There was so much power behind the blow of Her sword, that Bhairon Nath's head flew away and fell on another spur of the mountain about two Kilometer away, (the site of modern day Bhairon Temple) while his torso was left lying at the Mouth of the Holy Cave. The Goddess then immersed Herself into deep meditation inside the Sanctum Sanctorum wherein lies Her manifestation in the petrified form.
~ Information for devotees regarding Pindi

Just at the start of the Bhawan, many sign boards have been placed by the Shrine Board both in Hindi and English informing devotees to focus their attention on the Pindis (rock form) when inside the cave.

Many devotees prefer to have a bath before going to the darshan while others may prefer to wash hands and feet. The Shrine Board has established bathing Ghats at the extreme end of the Bhawan for the benefit of the devotees to take shower. One has to cross the entire Bhawan complex till the extreme end where these Ghats are located. There are separate bathing Ghats for ladies and gents with many taps being installed from which ice cold water comes at high speed – sure to give you shivers and chill. One can go to these bathing Ghats once he has obtained the group number for darshan.

After the refreshing (and chilling) bathing experience, it is advisable go directly to the cloak rooms and lockers available at multiple locations at Bhawan for depositing the luggage. During rush, there can be huge line at the lockers which may take hour or so. Following should be taken care of while depositing luggage in lockers and cloak rooms:
  • Make sure that along-with the shoes, the gadgets like mobile phones, camera etc. are deposited as these are not allowed inside the holy cave.
  • Further, all the leather items like belts, wallets, purses etc. are also prohibited inside the holy cave.
  • Devotees are allowed to carry their Prashaad material with them inside the holy cave.

With the deposition of the luggage in the clock room / locker, we are now ready to be in the darshan queue for the Holy Cave darshan. Once the group number is displayed, devotees can enter the darshan queue which after taking into two waiting halls gradually culminates at the mount of the holy cave.

For security reasons of time and security, the coconut offerings are not allowed to be carried by the devotees beyond a designated point. Hence, the coconuts are to be deposited at this point and in return a token is issued to the devotees which can be used to reclaim the coconut after darshan upon producing the token at the Coconut Prashaad Counter.

Aarti at the Holy Cave of Mata
There is a ritual of performing a daily aarti at the holy cave twice the day – in the morning at sunrise and in the evening at sunset. Also, during the aarti time which perhaps lasts for nearly 2 hours, the darshan remain suspended and one has to wait in queues at their respective places. The procedure of 'Aarti' is a very sacred and lengthy one. The Pujaris perform 'Aarti' before the holy deity first inside the sanctum- sanctorum and then outside the cave. Before the commencement of 'Aarti', the Pujaris perform 'Aatam pujan' i,e self-purification. Then the Goddess is bathed in water, milk, ghee (Clarified butter), honey and sugar. Thereafter the goddess is dressed-up in a saree, chola and chuni and ornaments are endowed upon her. The whole process takes place amidst the enchantment of various shlokas and Mantras. Thereafter Tilak is placed on the forehead of the deity and Navied (prashad) is offered to her. The Pujaris perform puja of various Gods and Goddesses, as it is a believed that during the Aarti time, all the Gods and Goddesses are present inside the sanctum Sanctorum. The Jyoti (divine lamp) is lightened and then the 'Aarti' of the goddess is performed. After the whole procedure, the thaal which contains the lamp and various other items used in the 'Aarti', is brought outside the mouth of the holy cave, where 'Aarti' of the goddess is performed in the presence of yatris. The yatris who remain seated outside the holy cave during the time when the Aarti is performed inside the Sanctum Sanctorum, keep listening to the Pravachans of head Pandit. After the Aarti outside the holy cave is over, the pujari distributes Prasadam and the charanamrit (the holy water) to the devotees.

For the benefit of devotees desirous of taking part in the aarti, there is a provision for availing SHRADDHA SUMAN VISHESH POOJA, details of which can be read here.

When we reached Bhawan, we were informed that the daily evening aarti at the holy cave was about to begin in some time. As the aarti time was approaching, we hurriedly rushed to deposit the luggage in the cloak room and washed our hands, face & feet (we couldn’t take bath due to paucity of time). Finally we merged ourselves in the queue of the aspiring devotees chanting mata’s name and waiting the grace of her darshan shower on us.

Holy Cave of Mata

* Original Holy Cave of Mata Vaishno Devi
The original holy cave of Mata has now been closed due to rush of the devotees. Earlier people used to actually pass from this narrow cave to have the darshan of the Pindis. After crossing the portion where the original Cave is located, one walks further through a corridor on which numerous bells stand suspended from the ceiling. After walking a few yards, one reaches a broad platform where statues of the Lions, the mount of the Mother Goddess and a life size statue of the Mother Goddess are enshrined. This is the entrance of the new tunnels. These two marble tunnels take devotees to their ultimate destination – the three Pindis.

Since the rush was less, we were able to clear the queues quite quickly and were soon standing outside the tunnel for the eventual entry to Holy Cave. The stretch within tunnel is sure to give you goose-bumps and it’s difficult to hold the turf in anticipation of the divine mystics that’s encompassing the whole surrounding there. Devotees everywhere were chanting JAI MATA DI...BOL SAACHE DARBAR KI JAI… When reached in the middle of the tunnel, one of the Priests came and anointed each of the devotee’s foreheads with the sandal tilak. And then finally the magical moment of Mata Rani’s darshan arrived and we were standing just before her manifestation in the form Pindis. There was a white marble platform at the end of the cave on which stood those divine rock formations (Pindis) beautifully ornamented with jewels and lal chunri (red piece of cloth). Due to lower rush, the Priest showed and explained each of the Pindi to us in a calm and composed manner. I, later, recalled one of my earlier visits when there was huge rush we were not able to see the Pindis clearly, leave aside the Priest explaining them.

As mentioned above, there are no idols or statues in the cave so do focus your attention to the three Pindis in the cave. The three Pindis represents Mata Kali (on the right), Mata Saraswati (on the left) and Mata Lakshmi (in the centre). The uniqueness of the Holy Pindies is that although they emanate from one single rock form, each one is distinctly different from the other two in colour and texture.


* Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi & Mata Maha Saraswati
MAHA KALI: Towards the right of the devotee is the Holy Pindi of Mata Maha Kali (the Supreme Energy of Dissolution) in the colour associated with Her i.e. black. The Supreme Energy of dissolution is Mata Maha Kali. She represents the Tam Guna- the quality associated with the darker and unknown realms of life (Tam stands for darkness). Since man’s knowledge about life is very limited and he remains in the dark about most of it, it is represented by the colour black which is associated with Mata Maha Kali. She is the basic source of all that is mystical and unknown to man. In her attribute of Maha Kali, the Mother Goddess constantly guides her devotees to conquer the forces of darkness.

MAHA LAKSHMI: In the center is the Holy Pindi of Mata Maha Lakshmi (the Supreme Energy of Maintenance) with a yellowish-red tinge, the colour associated with Mata Maha Lakshmi. Mata Maha Lakshmi is the Supreme Energy of Maintenance. She represents Rajas Guna- the quality of inspiration and effort, and is considered to be the basic source of wealth, prosperity, material gains, quality of life etc. Wealth and prosperity are better represented by the colour of gold, which is yellow, and hence associated with Mata Maha Lakshmi.

MAHA SARASWATI: The Pindi to the extreme left of the viewer is worshipped as the Holy Pindi of Mata Maha Saraswati (the Supreme Energy of Creation). It has a whitish tinge when looked at attentively. White has also been considered the colour associated with Mata Maha Saraswati. Being the Supreme force of Creation, Mata Maha Saraswati is considered to be the basic source of all Creation, Knowledge, Wisdom, Righteousness, Art, Spiritualism, Piousness etc. Since white is a colour that denotes piousness and purity, hence it is associated with Mata Maha Saraswati. She represents the Satva Guna- the quality of purity.

Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is considered to be an incarnation of the three Supreme Energies.

* Divine darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi in Pindi form

Other darshan outside the Holy Cave

* Golden statue of Mata just outside the Holy Cave of Vaishno Devi
Golden Statue of Mata: Just when one comes out from the tunnel after taking the darshan of Mata Rani in the Holy Cave, devotees can see a golden statute of the Devi installed just outside the tunnel, covered with glass from all sides.

* Amrit Kund & Charan Ganga
Amrit Kund & Charan Ganga: Just outside the exit tunnel, towards the left hand side of the Cave is the Amrit Kund. This comprises the water taps through which flows the water of the Charan Ganga, the sacred water flowing from the feet of Mata. Pilgrims prefer to fill the Holy Water called Charanamrit in bottles and take it along with them for purification of their residences and cure of various ailments. Empty bottles and containers are available at the Bhaint Shops run by the Shrine Board

Shiv Gufa (cave): Moving further from the Holy Cave, devotees come across a small prashaad counter on the left side which gives a small packet of prashaad to the devotees. Each Prashaad pouch comprises the Mishri Prashad (pieces of sugar) plus a blessed coin, carrying the image of the Holy Pindies given by the Shrine Board as souvenirs to the devotees. On the right hand side, just slightly ahead of the prashaad counter, there is a coconut reclaim counter from where the devotees can get their coconut back by giving back the token they got at the time of depositing the coconuts just after entering the darshan queue.

As one moves further, there are stairs going down available on the right hand side which takes the devotees to a small gufa (cave) wherein a Shiva-linga is installed. If I can correctly recall, there are about 90 stairs which devotee has to descend to have a darshan. We went down and had the blessed darshan of the Shiva-linga. The devotees should go have the darshan and feel blessed as the stairs are not more than 100 and thus it doesn’t take much time.

In addition, there are Yagyashalas in the Bhawan complex where Yagyas and Havans are preformed round the year and especially during the auspicious Navratras.
Once through with these darshan, devotees can decide for themselves about the further course of action, as to whether they want to take luggage and head to Bhairon Temple or stay at Bhawan for some rest or put up at accommodation facility available there or simple head back to Katra.

~ Beautiful scenery amidst the mountains of the setting sun

Bhawan to Bhairon Ghaati (Valley). . .

When Mata Vaishnavi beheaded Bhairon Nath, he realised the futility of his mission and prayed to the deity to forgive him. The almighty Mata (Mother Goddess) had mercy on Bhairon and gave him a boon that the Vaishno Devi Yatra of a devotee would be complete only when he has the darshan of Bhairon after having the Mata Rani’s darshan.

After the darshan we collected our luggage, we had some light dinner and straight away headed to Bhairon Temple situated about 2 Km further to Main Bhawan. The trek to Bhairon Temple is far too arduous and steep than the trek till Bhawan. Additionally, the track is comparatively narrow as wide as compared to the track till Bhawan and there is constant movement of Ponies on the way as many devotees prefer to cover this trek on Ponies. This makes the pedestrian movement on the track slightly uneasy. That’s why we all decided to ascend the trek through stairs as the Bhairon Ghaati stretch through stairs and track appears almost similar. We slowly and steadily climbed the stairs, halting at frequent intervals. However, it’s purely devotee’s individual decision to trek on the stairs or through concrete track.

While ascending the Bhairon track, when one sees across the valley, the scenery below is really exquisite. The Bhawan looks very serene illuminated with lights which form an aura around the whole structure which adds to the serenity. The view of Katra town from up above is also very enticing.

* Bhairon Temple approx. 2 Km above Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan
It is worthwhile to note here that Darshan to Bhairon temple is also suspended during the period of Aarti, which is held simultaneously with the Aarti at Bhawan, twice a day. When we finally reached Bhairon temple it was around 1900 Hours in the evening and there was still time (about an hour or so) for the temple to re-open & darshan to resume. We didn’t have any choice but to wait up there and as night was approaching it was getting cold, cold and colder. That waiting time of just a little more than an hour (the temple reopened for darshan at about 2010 Hours) was a spine-chilling experience. Finally when the temple re-opened, we took the darshan and started our trek back to Katra.

* Bhairon Baba Darshan at Bhairon Temple
Returning to Katra. . .

While returning from Bhairon Temple, devotees can take two routes to head back to Katra. The first route is via Bhawan descending the track used to climb upto Bhairon Temple from Bhawan. The advantage of this way is that devotees can directly choose the newer way via Himkoti from the Bhawan (this route is sorter by about a Km). There devotees can also avail the services of the battery operated cars to go till Adhkuwari. Alternatively, one can directly descend from Bhairon Temple to Adhkuwari via Sanjhi Chhat and Haathi Matha.  

~ Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan from Bhairon Track
If one is returning from Bhairon Temple via Sanjhichhat in the day time, devotees have a good chance to see the helicopter operations at the Sanjichhat Helipad. We couldn’t see the same as we were descending during the night time. Devotees can also opt for stairs while coming back to Katra to descend at a faster pace. These steps are leading till the Ban Ganga. But one should avoid these stairs while trekking upwards, as they are tiring and exhausting while climbing.

We finally finished down the trek and reached Darshan Darwaaza at the midnight hour at 0000 hours. We had called our hotel reception for the cab and after about 15 minutes of the wait, the cab was there. We culminated the Yatra by again prostrating at the Darshani Darwaaza and also at the trail of the trek visible from the down by way of zig-zag lights in the Trikuta Mounains. In case the hotel is not providing free pick and drop facility from Darshani Darwaaza, one can the avail the services of many autos that are standing outside, though during the odd night hours these have the tendency to charge at higher rates.
With this post we complete our Vaishno Devi Yatra trek, in the last and final post we will have the darshan of the two other darshan of Mother Goddess (which are, though, considered to be the initial darshan of the Mata before Vaishno Devi Holy Cave).

Hope you all had a divine and fulfilling darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi & Bhairon Baba…stay here for a while and feel blessed till we return with the last post of the series wherein we go to two other darshan of Mother Goddess – Kol Kandoli Temple and Deva Mai Temple…Jai Mata Di (Hail Mother Goddess)
Note: Pictures with asterisk (*) are sourced from the internet and rest have been clicked by me from my smartphone. Legend of Mata Rani has been adapted from Shrine Board website.

~ Shubh Life . . . OM Sai Ram 

© 2014 Manish Purohit (Reserved)

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