Destiny and fate have always been a big puzzle for man. Does man have the power to control either of them?
Famous author, Paulo Coelho says, You can control your destiny, but not your fate. Destiny means there are opportunities to turn right or left, but fate is a one-way street.
Fate means seeing the hand of God move clearly through your life, even with your eyes closed. Looks like, you have to accept your fate. Because Fate leads the willing and drags along the unwilling.
Sometimes, you plan a project meticulously. As you start following the schedule, fate intervenes and forces you to change your plan. At times, it looks like divine intervention.
I experienced it about twenty-five years ago. I and my wife had planned a week-long trip to enchanting hill station, Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh. This was our first trip to this hill station. We had tagged along Khajjiar and Chamba.
We booked our tickets through a private deluxe bus, with video facility. It was a big deal for us during those days. We reached office of the bus company well in time to find to our dismay that bus trip had been cancelled. Reason given for cancellation was technical failure. But we were assured that alternative arrangements are being made. It was a hot summer month and heat was suffocating. Mercifully, after three hours of waiting, a SUV came and eight passengers were shoved inside.
Me and my wife were lucky to get front seat, next to driver. As the vehicle moved, passengers started chanting, Jai Mata di. Our fellow passengers told us that all of them were bound for Katra in Jammu for Darshan of goddess Vaishno Devi.
We were to get down at Pathankot and take a cab for Dalhousie. The journey was quite pleasant. One of co-passengers suggested that we could change our plan and first visit Vaishnodevi shrine, take blessings of goddess mother and then leave for Dalhousie.
He said since this vehicle is going up to Katra, we do not have to make extra plans. I looked at my wife and said Uma, ma is calling. Let us avail this golden opportunity and pay our obeisance to mother.
We can easily drop Chamba from our trip. As always, my wife agreed, and we reached Katra. What would you call it. Firstly, our scheduled bus for Dalhousie was cancelled, then we get a vehicle bound for Katra with all co-passengers going for darshan of ma Vaishnodevi.
Is it fate or is it Divine intervention.
Early next morning, we reached Katra. A young boy, who visited this holy shrine every year tagged along with us. He said, you two are like my parents. Give me opportunity to be your guide for Devi darshan. This boy stayed with us throughout the trip doing all the running about. He managed tickets for darshan and also booked a room for us at a decent hotel. He even helped us with our luggage.
Next day, we reached starting point of Yatra along with this god sent youth, who took good care of us. As we reached the top for darshan of mother goddess, weather was quite chilly.
This boy managed three blankets. He covered us with blankets and advised us to have a nap till the time our turn comes to take ma ‘s blessings. At last, we were face to face with mother. It was divine atmosphere, and we had a feeling Ma is blessing us. We could only chant, Jai Mata di.
Next morning, we were back at our hotel. It was time to catch our minibus for Pathankot. But the boy was nowhere to be seen. We never met him again. Was it divine help sent with blessings of ma. I do not know. But that boy is in our thoughts even today. May mother goddess bless him.
Let now me narrate the story of Ma Vaishno Devi. Vaishno Devi appeared in the form of a young girl to Shridhar, a Brahmin from the village Hansali, next to present day Katra, and asked him to hold a feast (bhandara) for local people near Bhumika stream.
At the time of feast, Bhairav Nath, a tantrik appeared and demanded meat and liquor. But Vaishno Devi told him he would get only vegetarian food since this was a religious function. Bhairav Nath looked at Vaishno Devi with lust in his eyes. Devil had possessed his soul at that moment. He lost all senses of right and wrong. He wanted to possess her at any cost. Tantrik did not realise that girl he is lusting for represents Mother Shakti in many forms. She is Ma Ambe, Durga, Jagdamba, Bhagwati, Laxmi Saraswati and her many more such avatars.
Bhairav Nath was literally chasing his own death. Vaishno Devi ran towards Trikuta hills to escape advances of Bhairnath. she stopped at various places en route before reaching top of the hill. Places where she stopped are worshipped by pilgrims before reaching the cave, her final destination. The first stop on the way to Vaishno Devi shrine is the Banganga River. It is said that Vaishno Devi shot an arrow at the ground and brought forth the Ganges to quench Hanuman's thirst. She asked Hanuman to guard the cave where she meditated.
Vaishno Devi also washed her hair in the water. Pilgrims must have a bath in the Banganga river before Darshan of Vaishno Devi. After Banganga is the Charan Paduka temple. Vaishno Devi stood on a rock to look at Bhairavnath before her escape and this rock supposedly contains her footprints.
Her footprints are worshipped in this temple. After having a darshan of Charan Paduka, Pilgrims come across the Ardha Kunwari Temple. Vaishno Devi meditated in this cave for 9 months, just like a baby stays in its mother's womb for 9 months, to escape Bhairav Nath. After having a darshan of Ardha Kumari, Pilgrims have a darshan of Bhairavnath's head before going to Vaishno Devi shrine, the cave, known as her home. It was here that Vaishno Devi transformed herself into Chamundi, a form of Kali and beheaded Bhairav Nath.
His body remained at the entrance to the cave, but his head landed further up the mountain at a place where Bhairav Nath temple is now located. Bhairav Nath then repented, and the goddess granted him salvation. Vaishno Devi later manifested into 3 small rocks (pindikas) and stays there in the cave on Trikuta hill to the present day. Shridhar began doing puja of the pindikas at the cave, and his descendants continue to do so even today.
The three pindis (3 faces of mata rani which symbolizes Maha Laxmi, Maha Kali, and Maha Saraswati) in the cave of Maa Vaishno Devi mandir which is naturally formed no one has carved them and the most shocking fact is about this three pindis is that they are made from a single rock but all the faces have different texture and color and therefore different from one another which creates a lot of curiosity among the devotees with a strong belief that all their wishes are fulfilled her wishes by Mata Vaishno Devi.
Early on, in the 1900s, the Yatra route, or the original route to Vaishno Devi, was not wide enough to accommodate the multitudes who flooded it. Hence, in order to make more space, the mountain was split in half to build a new road, at Ardh Kuwari (the halfway point). Beyond this point, it’s all foot or an electric auto up to the temple. So you better be prepared.
The temple, at a height of 1,584.96 m (5,200 ft), is 12 km from Katra on Trikuta hill. It is about 61 km from Jammu city. A geological study of the Holy Cave has indicated its age to be nearly a million years. There is also a mention of the Trikuta hill in Rigveda, the place where the temple is located.
Did You Know: Many of the claims that support Vaishno Devi being a place of holiness are strong, but none are as prominent as the late Guru Gobind Singh himself visiting it
The starting point of pilgrimage is town of Katra, which is well connected by rail and road. Did you also know that it is the only access point for reaching Ma Vaishno Devi.
From Katra starts the uphill journey to the Vaishno Devi Temple on foot. Those who can not make it on foot, there are many alternatives. For old and sick, there is palki carried by four people. You can also hire mules or horses for the journey. The highest point in Vaishno Devi is known as Bhavan, which is located at 6218 feet (1906 meters) above sea level. It is said that only the most spiritual and devoted souls make this ascent by foot, which is a startling 13 kms from the town of Katra.
For those who can afford, helicopter service is there to take you to the top of hill for Devi Darshna. Latest addition is ropeway. But the devout who can, they prefer to walk the distance.
The temple is one of the 108 Shakti Peethas dedicated to Durga who is worshipped as Vaishno Devi . It is one of the most visited pilgrimage centres in India. Every year millions of visitors visit the temple. During festivals like Navratri’s, count increases manifold.
Vaishno Devi Temple is one of the richest temples in India. Many prominent saints such as Vivekananda have visited the temple.
There are three main caves located at Vaishno Devi, of which the main cave remains closed most of the year. Surprisingly, the three caves combined are too long for a single pilgrimage. Hence only the other two caves are open for the flock of people to see.
A statistic shows that compared to the 10 lakh people who used to visit the shire in the early 80’s, the number has since grown tenfold over the last the last 30 years.
Navaratri and Diwali are the two most prominent festivals celebrated in the Vaishno Devi Temple. Durga Pooja in Kolkata has been accorded by UNESCO, the Heritage status.
This is first time that any festival in Asia has been thus honoured. Is not it a proud moment for every Indian. JAI MATA DI.