The ethereal abode of Goddess Vaishno Devi
|State||: Jammu and Kashmir|
|Type of Tourism||: Pilgrimage|
|Population||: 7569 (As per Indian census- 2001)|
|Altitude||: 754 meters|
|Best Tourist Season||: March to July|
|Clothing recommended||: Light woolen in summer, heavy woolen in winter|
|Languages spoken||: Urdu, Kashmiri, Hindi|
|Telephone Code||: India (01991), International (+91)|
|Pin Code||: 182301|
|What to buy||: Holy Prashad, Dry Fruits (walnuts, figs and almonds), Kashmiri Shawls, Woolen Items, other handicrafts from the State Handicraft Emporium|
|Food Specialties||: Rajma Chawal, Chole Bhature, Puri Bhaji, Parantha, Shahi Paneer, Pulaav, Dum Aaloo, other vegetarian Kashmiri food, Kashmiri Kahwa, etc.|
|Local transportation||: Walk, Pony, Pitthu, Electric Vans, Palki, Helicopter|
Katra, positioned at the distance of about 42 kilometers from Jammu and nested at the footings of the ‘Trikuta Mountains’ at the elevation of 754 meters above the sea level, is a modest township of Udhampur District in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir that has earned an international repute as a highly aggrandized Hindu pilgrim destination due to its world famous temple dedicated to Goddess Vaishno Devi. The Vaishno Devi Temple of Katra that enshrines the ostentatiously ornamented stone silhouettes of Goddess ‘Vaishnavi’ (also revered as Mata Rani) happens to be the second most visited place of worship in India and over 8 million devotees perform a pilgrimage of the Vaishno Devi Temple every year. Katra, a prime stopover for the devotees and tourists on the way to the Vaishno Devi Temple acts as a gateway to the empyreal abode of the Goddess Shakti; i.e. the female manifestation of power in the Hindu mythology. Katra is the threshold where the pilgrims register themselves and get insurance before initiating the 12 kilometer long and treacherous expedition to the Vaishno Devi Shrine.
Some of the devotees opt for the trek on foot and walk all the way up to the temple singing the praise of Goddess Vaishnavi and hailing Her saying ‘Jai Mata Di’! From Katra, tourists can also hire ponies, palkis, pitthus, electric vans or helicopters for reaching the temple easily and smoothly. The Katra town; the base camp of the Vaishno Devi passage provides bounteous accommodation and lodging options for the pilgrims arrived here from different corners of the globe. Moreover, Katra is also an ideal place for shopping where tourists can buy the souvenirs of the auspicious Vaishno Devi Pilgrimage such as Prashad, offerings to the Goddess, handicrafts, jewellery, dry fruits, Kashmiri shawls, jackets, and other woolen and handcrafted material. Walnuts, figs and almonds are the must buy dry fruits from Katra. Owing to the ever increasing glory and fame of Goddess Vaishno Devi as the wish fulfilling Mother, Katra is also burgeoning as a leading tourist destination of Jammu and Kashmir attributable to its flourishing tourism industry and its incessantly escalating intake of pilgrims.
History Of Katra
The geological analysis of the holy caves of Vaishno Devi suggests that they have been in existence for past million years. The Trikuta Mountain on whose foothills Katra is sited finds citation in Rigveda. The tradition of worshipping power in the form of ‘Goddess Shakti’ is as old as Puranic Era and the earliest mention of the Mother Goddess Shakti can be found in the Mahabharata. At the time of the battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna saluted the Mother Goddess saying, ‘the one who perpetually resides in the temple atop the Mount Jamboo’ wherein ‘Jamboo’ is now interpreted as ‘Jammu’. The Vaishno Devi Temple is believed to have consecrated by the five Pandava brothers. It is supposed that Guru Gobind Singh; the 10th Guru of Sikhism visited Katra via Purmandal. Katra, formerly a division of the Reasi State was a part of the erstwhile state of Bhimgarh that was established by Raja Bhim Dev in 8th century AD. The modern history of Katra indicates that in 1822 AD the then sovereign of Jammu; Maharaja Gulab Singh annexed different parts of Bhimgarh with various small princely states of the Jammu region when Katra was allocated to the Reasi State. Later, post 1948 AD Katra was constituted in the Udhampur District during the Administrative Reorganization of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Several distinct mythological anecdotes and various traditional and legendary fables strive to elucidate the origins of Goddess Vaishnavi. Some of the myths assert that Vaishno Devi Shrine of Katra happens to be the holiest of all the Shaktipeethas as the skull of Sati had fallen here, while some other allegories state that the right arm of Sati and not the skull had dropped here. It is also said that the remains of a human hand had discovered in the sacred cave of Goddess Vaishnavi which is popularly venerated as the ‘Varad Hast’. As per the prevailing parable, Goddess Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati collectively produced a young girl out of their blaze and sent her on the earth for the preservation of righteousness. The girl took birth in Southern India in the house of Ratnakar who named her Vaishnavi. As she grew up, she sought knowledge, learned meditation in order to perform penance and pursued her greater objective of merging into Lord Vishnu.
She renounced all the worldly pleasures and went into deep forests for performing austerity. One day Vaishnavi came across Lord Ram who was spending life in exile and immediately recognized Him as Lord Vishnu. On her request of assimilating her into him, Lord Ram said it was not the right time and he would meet her again at the end of his exile. However, he laid a condition that only if Vaishnavi recognizes him again, she will be united with Lord Vishnu. Even though, when Lord Ram met Vaishnavi the second time, she couldn’t identify him as he was disguised as an old man. Later, Lord Ram consoled Vaishnavi that she will join Lord Vishnu in His tenth incarnation i.e. Kalki Incarnation in Kali Yuga. Since then Vaishnavi has been waiting for Lord Kalki and performing penance to achieve higher level of spirituality. With the passage of time, the fame and eminence of Vaishnavi spread worldwide and people started deifying and venerating her.
One day, a Tantrik named Gorakh Nath appointed his ardent disciple Bhairon Nath to test her purity and adherence who secretly observed Vaishnavi from distance. Although, it so happened that Bhairon Nath enamored by her heavenly beauty was attracted towards her and tried to pursue her to marry him. Vaishnavi fled away into the woods to continue her Tapas and reached to the present day location of Vaishno Devi cave. Nevertheless, Bhairon Nath followed her there as well. This enraged Vaishnavi and she beheaded him right outside the Vaishno Devi Cave. After his annihilation Bhairon Nath realized the futility of his chase and asked Goddess Vaishnavi to have mercy upon him. Appeased Vaishno Devi granted him a boon that the Yatra or pilgrimage of Vaishno Devi Shrine will not be fulfilled unless the devotees also take the darshana of the Bhairon Nath. Later, Vaishnavi parting with her human form assumed the form of a rock and took to the perpetual meditation. Thus, the Vaishno Devi icons worshipped near Katra in the form of rock represent the Goddess Vaishnavi meditating for the upholding of the goodness and justice and waiting for Lord Vishnu to assume His Kalki incarnation.