Vaishnodevi Yatra - Feb 2004

On 4th February 2004, the train left Ambala for Jammu at 11.45am, carrying 30 of us to Vaishno Devi. Amidst cheer, excitement, hot cups of tea and snacks, Laksmi Rao read out information about Vaishno Devi. 'Look for the pindies - not pictures or murtis,' she said.

Jai Mata Di!

(H. H. Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji's yatra to Vaishnodevi)

- Reported by Jyoti Lajmi, Radhika Nirody and Deepak Gunvante
On 4th February 2004, the train left Ambala for Jammu at 11.45am, carrying 30 of us to Vaishno Devi. Amidst cheer, excitement, hot cups of tea and snacks, Laksmi Rao read out information about Vaishno Devi. 'Look for the pindies - not pictures or murtis,' she said. This was the first time most of us were making this pilgrimage. It is considered to be a combination of the three Goddesses Saraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakaali. At Jammu we took a bus to Katra, in the foothills of the Himalayas .It was a 12 - km trek to the Vaishno Devi temple from there. H. H. Swamiji and His retinue were also scheduled to reach Katra around the same time.

We stopped at a check post manned by army guards. Tired, cold and hungry, we were relieved to see H. H. Swamiji's car. Captain Chaitanya Shiroor stepped out and we were spared the ordeal of an intensive security check. The Devi was already displaying Her leela!

We drove into the gates of the hotel admiring the brightly lit pathway up the steep mountain façade. Our trek began at noon the next day, and was completed in six and a half hours. We hired seven 'pittus ' - men to carry the baggage. The slopes resounded with the greeting 'Jai Mata Di!' The day was clear and sunny despite the nip in the air. Snow-capped peaks peered at us from all sides. We couldn't help but admire the sheer magnificence of nature. Nearer the top, the air turned distinctly cold. The entire scene was a tableau of white and brown. At sunset, the evening turned icy cold.

Thanks to Mr. Thapar, a friend of Lakshmi Rao of Delhi, H. H. Swamiji and few of His retinue were taken in for a special darshan at 9 pm and the rest of us were also scheduled for a VIP darshan. The Sabha had organised plastic bags, bunched and tied at the ankles- to protect our feet from frostbites. We waddled in, looking like ducks with webbed feet. Our embarrassment vanished when other devotees stared enviously at the innovative footwear!

We were blessed to be under the wing of H. H. Swamiji. There was no queue, nor jostling nor pushing. The darshan was perfect - with quality time at the pindies. A satisfying darshan of the Devi. Two of the priests wanted to know more about H. H. Swamiji and our Math. One of them proceeded to tell us the story of Vaishno Devi and the pindies. All thanks to the Grace of H. H. Swamiji. The visible parts of the pindies are three protrusions of stone in a row - white, yellow-red and black, believed to be Saraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakaali respectively, the shaktis that combine in Vaishno Devi. The temple is considered to be a jagrut sthaan - from where no devotee returns without his desires fulfilled.

When one of H. H. Swamiji's bags - containing His pooja items - got misplaced, a few ran helter skelter. But H. H. Swamiji, serene as always, stood tall and confident saying "Devi Bhagavati is testing our faith. Mata will ensure that the bag is found". A few Delhi-ites lodged a police complaint, others bought pooja items to replace the 'lost ones' for H.H Swamiji's pooja the next morning. It was freezing cold with icicles on the bed sheets - blankets were of no help. The pristine snow created a dream world in the shimmering moonlight. Devi stotras were recited with chattering teeth; and silent japa with shivering fingers! Memorable, indeed! H. H. Swamiji did an all-night anushthaan in His room on the full-moon night. At the Brahma-muhurth (4.45 am) the mandir poojari accompanied H.H. Swamiji on a specially arranged visit to the shrine, which, Swamiji later confided, was a magnificent darshan. Due to heavy snow and slippery roads, we missed the trek up to the temple of Bhairon Nath... We started back for Katra at ten the next morning. Mr. Thapar took a darshan of H. H. Swamiji before we set off. As we left Mr. Thapar sternly advised the pittus and the hotel owner to return the Swamiji's lost bag in case it was stolen. We had barely reached the last security check-post when the phone call came - two pitthus were on their way down: with the bag ! At 4.30 p.m., Shantanand Bhat opened the bag and confirmed that nothing was missing, just as H. H. Swamiji had predicted earlier. Bhagavati had shown Her leela again! Our Guru had taught us how to react in times of stress!

From Jammu to Delhi was an overnight journey. But the excitement was not over - we were in for a surprise! 10 minutes before departure time, we found that two of our tickets were for the previous day. Three from our group who went for fresh tickets had not returned when the train pulled out of the station. Naturally, we panicked. Did they have enough cash for a bus or cab? Shortly there was a sudden hammering on the metal shutter connecting our bogie to the 2nd class compartment. We were too nervous to check it out. The hammering continued until the TC opened the shutter. And IN walked our three friends with joyous shouts. Indeed it was Devi's leela again and our beloved Guru's grace!

Thus ended our wonderful trip to Vaishno Devi in the Divine company of our loving Guru, the beautiful darshan of the Devi, the glimmering snow in the moonlight, the excitement of the lost - and - found bag, our 'lost' friends safe and sound! -- All Bhagavati's leelas....

Thankfully, we brought away good memories to cherish.

Om Namah Parvati Pataye Hara Hara Mahadev !