Vaishno Devi: The Holy Cave Shrine
This site is one of the most important for Shaktas, worshippers of the Goddess.
This is a cave temple where three major goddesses are worshipped. It is dedicated to the goddesses Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati. This is the only temple in India where all three goddesses are worshipped together.
This cave is 5,200 feet above sea level and is 93 feet long and just 5 feet high. There is a lamp here that is never extinguished. Before entering the cave, pilgrims take a bath in the water coming out of the lake.
The story about Vaishno Devi (Durga) is as follows: About seven hundred years ago, there was a devotee of the goddess named Baba Shridar in the village of Hansali, about one mile from Katra. He was busy arranging Kanya Puja at his home when a divine young girl appeared and asked him to arrange bhandara (a collective meal). She then disappeared.
He could not understand how he was going to do this, as he was very poor but he went to the villages and invited people. Along the way he met a guru with his 360 disciples and invited them as well.
When all the guests arrived, the divine girl appeared and started serving all the guests. Everyone received the food of their choice. One of the guests started to harass the goddess by asking her for meat and wine. The goddess refused, stating that meat and wine is not allowed in a pious Vaishnava brahmana’s home.
The guest then chased the girl and eventually she entered the cave and meditated there for some time. The guest continued to chase her and was eventually killed by the goddess.
Over two million pilgrims visit this temple every year. On the full moon day in Kartika (October/November) the queue to enter the cave is up to two miles long.
Vaishno Devi is 38 miles north of Jammu and a hard four-hour (8 miles) climb from Katra. At Katra the Kalka Mata Mandir has been put under the care of ISKCON (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness). The deities are said to be self-manifested. A large temple and guesthouse is being constructed there.