The story of Maa Vaishno Devi
(Prof Madabhushi Sridhar)
Matha Vaishno Devi in Jammu is worshipped in ‘pindi’ form, in a cave on the hills called Trikuta. Devotees generally think that these Pindis or pindikas, or Saligrams. (Saligram is the fossil ammonite stone type formation, only obtained from the Gandaki river in Nepal, which is considered as aniconic representation of Sri Vishnu). But, these three are the tops of a rock, which is part of the mountain.
The Trikuta near Katra of Jammu is the beginning of Shivalik range of Himalayas. According to a geological study this cave’s age is about a million years. It is said that Trikuta is referred in Vedic literature.
The legend goes to say that the Arjun, as advised by Sri Krishna; prayed the Mother Goddess seeking victory in Mahabharat war. The mantra is ‘Jambookatak Chityaishu Nityam Sannihitalaye’, (= ‘you who always dwell in the temple on the slope of the mountain in Jamboo’ (could be Jammu).
There are five stone-heads, which are regarded as five Pandava brothers, located adjacent to the Trikuta Mountain and overlooking the Holy Cave. It is believed that Pandavas, after winning the war, have built a temple here.
Photo: Madabhushi Sridhar
Daughter of devotee Ratnakar
There are many stories about Vaishno Devi. Once Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Saraswati have created with their collective Tejas, a brilliant girl. When the girl asked why was she created, three mothers told her to establish Dharma on the earth. Three Devis advised her to take birth to devotee couple of Ratnakar, who resided in southern part of India, do tapas and attain enlightenment which takes her to the height of merging with Vishnu. Accordingly, she was born in Ratnakar’s house, who named her Shri Vaishnavi. The girl was learning very fast, looked into herself for knowledge and started meditating and doing Tapasya. She was above these material luxuries.
A tunnel way to Katra, to reach Vaishno Devi temple, Photo: Madabhushi Sridhar
Vaishnavi seeks to marry Ram
During the exile, Rama, has visited Vaishnavi and she instantly recognized him as incarnation of Lord Vishnu, appealed Him to merge (or marry) her. Sri Rama who was on Eka Patni Vrata, (+vow to confine to single wife, throughout life). He assures her that he would visit again. As promised Rama goes to her place after killing Ravana, but in disguise as an old man. She does not recognize him. Sometime after He left, she realizes and repents for not recognizing Him. Looking at her agony, Rama assures that he would accept her at an appropriate time, during Kaliyug, in his incarnation as Kalki. She was advised to meditate at the foot of Trikuta Hills, which she continued with desire to merge with Vishnu. She reached there with great difficulty and established herself in an Ashram to meditate for a long time. People started thronging into her Ashram for darshan and blessings. Maha Yogi Guru Goraksh Nath heard the glory of Mata and sent his disciple ‘Bhairon Nath’ to test her spiritual growth. Bhairon Nath reached the place and saw her as ‘Sadhvi’ carrying bow and arrows with her, surrounded by langoors (apes) and a ferocious lion. After seeing beautiful Vaishnavi, Bhairon Nath lost good sense and began to pester her to marry him.
Bhaironath, the villain
Another narration is that one simple devotee called Shridhar, an elderly pious brahmin of the locality, was ordained by the God in dream to organize a feast called Bhandara -as a community meal under the supervision of Vaishnavi. He arranged Bhandara and invited the whole village, MahaYogi Guru Goraksh Nath ji along with all his followers including Bhairon. Vaishnavi was supervising the services. Bhairon sought meat to be served while it was a strictly vegetarian feast. Vaishnavi refused Bhairon Nath who attempted to grab her. Vaishnavi decided escape him and ran into the mountains. Bhairon Nath continued to chase her.
After crossing Baan Ganga, Charan Paduka and Ardh Kuwari places (known at present day) she entered present holy cave Shrine. He was still chasing. Then she decided confront him. Took Chandi form and beheaded him outside the mouth of the cave: severed head of Bhairon fell at a hilltop a couple of miles away. (Baan ganga is the place where she extracted water by shooting an arrow into earth to quench her thirst. A place where she stopped & rested is Charan Paduka, and Ardh Kuwari is at the beginning of the cave).
The legend explains that a little before death Bhairon realised his mistake and sought to forgive him. She granted a recognition and place on the hilltop along with a promise that unless devotees visit Bhairon, the pilgrimage is not completed.
Then Vaishnavi decided to withdraw her human form. She assumed the face of a rock and immersed herself into meditation forever.
Photos: Official Website of Maa VaishnoDevi temple
Three rock tops as the Goddesses in three shades
Thus, it is a five and a half feet tall rock with three heads, Pindies worshipped as Maa Vaishnodevi within the cave. These three rock tops – Pindies- constitute the Sanctum Sanctorum of the holy cave – the shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji, attracting millions of the people every year. This cave at the height of 5200 feet is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimage places for Hindus in north India. The three sacred ‘pindis’ are considered as stone representations of three energy forms. Though they are tops of a single rock, they differ in colour and texture. The pale white rock at left is said to represent Maa Saraswati, in the middle lies the light yellow-red rock denoting Maa Lakshmi, and last on right is black in colour representing Maa Kali.
There is an alternative narration of the story, saying that Vashnavi took vow of celibacy but Bhaironath wanted to marry her. He was chasing her to the cave, where she asked Hanuman to guard the cave and prevent Bhaironath. He did it, while she was meditating in the cave for nine months. As he was still waiting at the entry for her, she killed Bhaironth.
Ram names her as Vaishnavi
Many believe that the boulder at the mouth of the cave is the petrified torso of Bhairon. Some believe that Vaishno Devi was initially called Trikuta, At her age of nine years, she was performing penance on a seashore by praying Rama. Rama saw her while passing the shore to reach Lanka for Sita abducted by Ravana. Trikuta (Vaishnavi) expressed desire to marry Ram, which he could not do because of his vow of one wife in life. However, he gave her the name Vaishnavi and promised that in kaliyuga, he would marry her in an avatar of Kalki. He also told her to meditate in a cave in the Trikuta range and gave her a bow and arrow, a lion and a small army of monkeys for her protection.
Entire route to Temple-cave (with red roof on left side) Photo: Madabhushi Sridhar
Story of Shridhar
Pandit Shridhar was a staunch devotee of Maa residing in village Hansali situated at the foot of Trikuta, adjacent to Katra town. He was asked in dream to organize a Bhandara by God. She does not have enough resources to do so. He goes round in village door to door for the provisions. He does not have even enough space in his hut to accommodate the guests. He invites almost all villagers including Vaishnavi and Bhaironath, etc. But all his efforts to collect provisions and cook fail. He was worried for a long time and then gave up, deciding that he would pray Maa to help her. He woke on the day fixed for Bhandaraa and started his pooja with all devotion. To his surprise, the large number guests arrived, they could get accommodated and they were being served with food. There is still space to accommodate more guests and food was abundant. He wonders and goes around to know how it happened. Then he saw young Tapasvi Vaishnavi, arranging everything in his small hut. Then the story of Bhaironath seeking meat that was refused and that he chased Vaishnavi to the cave etc, happens. Shridhar was upset and worried about the problems Vaishnavi faced when she was helping him with her spiritual powers.
He did not know what happened to her, where was she, what Bhairon did. Then she gets a message in dream. In that dream she gave him the vision of cave and guided him to see. Shridhar is the first to discover the cave and the pindis, the manifestation of Goddess, becomes the first priest and his hereditary devotees are worshipping Shri Vaishnodevi.
A new golden gate at the entry of the cave.
Marble made cave entry, prior to new Golden Entry made in 2019. Photo: Official Website of Maa VaishnoDevi temple
(Author is Dean at Mahindra Law University, Hyderabad)