One of the oldest and holiest temples in India is the Vaishno Devi Temple. It is actually a cave temple, located on the Trikut mountain on the foothills of the Himalayas in Jammu. Interestingly, there are no idols in this temple, but a rock formation which is five-and-a-half feet tall, with three ‘heads’ or pindis, which is worshipped. Devotees believe that Vaishno Devi is a manifestation of Goddess Parvathi, or Shakti.
According to legend, a young girl, Vaishno, a devotee of Lord Ram, took a vow never to get married so that she could continue to worship him. Lord Ram promised she would be revered. Hearing of Vaishno’s power, a man named Bhairon Nath started pestering her to marry him. She hid in caves to meditate on Lord Ram, but Bhairon Nath tracked her down using his magic powers. She killed Bhairon Nath, although not before forgiving him. She then took the form of a rock so that she could continue her meditations without interruption.
The cave is located on a steep mountain slope, over 5000 feet above sea level. It is not easy to reach. There are horses to carry pilgrims over the last stretch of 13 kms, but many prefer to trek up on foot. That’s because devotees believe that no prayer goes unanswered by Vaishno Devi.
A temple has also been built on the spot where Bhairon Nath was killed, and according to tradition, the pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi Temple is not complete without a visit to the Bhairon Temple too.
An estimated 10 million pilgrims, called Yatris, who come from all over the world, visit the Temple each year. It is the second most visited temple in India, the most visited one being the Lord Venkateshwara Temple at Tirupati.