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Mata Vaishno Devi (Vaishnodevi), near Jammu is one of the holiest pilgrimages in Jammu & Kashmir state of India.

Mata Vaishno Devi

Location: The town of Katra is approximately 50 km from Jammu
Dedicated to: Incarnations of Goddess Durga
How to Reach: The nearest airport is Jammu, while the nearest railhead is Katra. Regular bus services are available from the Katra bus stand.
Highlights: Natural rock formations of Ma Laxmi, Ma Kali and Ma Saraswati
Time of Yatra: Anytime of the Year

Vaishno Devi Temple in KashmirMata Vaishno Devi shrine is located near the Katra district at a height of 5200 ft. The Devi resides inside a cave on Trikuta, a three-peaked mountain. After reaching Katra, one has to undertake a trek of approximately 12 km to reach the cave of Mata Vaishno Devi. After the trek is over, the yatris (devotees) are blessed with the darshan (a view) of the goddess inside her holy cave. The cave does not contain any statues or photos. The cave houses three natural rock formations, called the Pindies that represent the three goddesses. The pindi in the middle represents Laxmi Mata, on the right is Kali Mata and on the left is Saraswati Mata. Vaishnodevi pilgrimage tour is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimages in India.

The Mahabharata epic was the first one to mention the Mother Goddess. At the time when the armies of Pandavs and Kaurvas were ready to fight in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Lord Krishna advised Arjun, the chief warrior of Pandavas, to seek the blessings of the Mother Goddess for victory. Another belief is that the Pandavs were the first to build the temples of Devi at Kol Kandoli and her Bhawan as mark of their respect and gratitude for her. Standing as the living proof of this belief are five stone structures, assumed to be the rock symbols of the five Pandavs, on a mountain adjacent to the Trikuta Mountain. There is also a mention of Guru Gobind Singh, a Sikh Guru, visiting the shrine.

Legends of Mata Vaishno Devi
There are numerous legends associated with the Mata. It is believed that the Goddess is a combination of Tejas or spiritual strength of her three main manifestations, Mata Kali, Mata Lakshmi and Mata Saraswati. From the union of the Tejas of the three Goddesses emerged a beautiful girl. She was created to live on earth and uphold virtue and morality. Later, she took birth in the house of a Ratnakar in the southern part of India and named Vaishnavi. But, she was not supposed to be a common human being. She renounced the world and went to forests to meditate and lead an austere life.

During her stay in the forest, she met Lord Rama, who was undergoing his exile. He advised her to meditate, and set up an Ashram at the base of Trikuta hills, to elevate her level of spirituality. She followed suit and solely and gradually her fame and glory spread far and wide. Thereafter, Bhairo Nath started harassing Mata Vaishno Devi, forcing her to move to the mountains to continue her meditation undisturbed. However, undaunted, he followed her there also. Ultimately, Mata Vaishno Devi lost her patience and beheaded him outside the mouth of the holy cave. Ultimately, Mata left her human form and assuming the face of a rock went into meditation forever.