A Tryst With Mother
Mate (mother) is calling me," is the usual refrain of
one overwhelmed with the irresistible urge. He forgets his past
commitments, drops the job on hand and, at the first opportunity,
rushes to catch the train to Jammu, the railroad to reach Vaishno
4.5 million Indians from all parts of the country respond this way to
Mate Ki pukkar (call of the mother) every year to one of the
holiest shrines in northern India. Youngsters hope to fare well in
examinations; newlyweds look for conjugal bliss. Some hope to win
property cases; others look forward to the blessing of an heir. And
some visit Vaishno Devi for no other reason than that they wish to
see Mate. (This may happen even three times a year!)
is a true story. A Delhi-based industrialist of the Independence era,
blessed with six daughters, turned to Vaishno Devi as his last hope.
Having a son -- to carry forward the family name as well as to light
a torch on the eternal journey to the Hereafter -was his typically
fervent Hindu desire. He knew of other people who had been blessed
with health, wealth, progeny and prosperity by Vaishno Devi. And felt
confident that he too would not return disappointed.
middle-aged industrialist undertook the arduous journey along with
his wife on foot. Two years later his wish was fulfilled. Today the
son, a bright young industrialist, makes it a point o visit Vaishno
Devi every year.
year over a September weekend, we, a group of friends, decided to
take a comfortable overnight train from Delhi to Jammu. The
fast-changing landscape outside provided the right setting for
contemplation the next morning. A field here, a forest there, a tiny
hamlet a little further up. How enticing was the countryside, and how
the mind struggled to break free from its usual urban confines!
deluxe bus awaited us at Jammu. The first halt was 13 km away at
"Pehla Darshan" (First Sighting) in Nagrota. Here,
Vaishno Devi was believed to have been first sighted when she was
barely five years old. The spot is said to have been sanctified by a
stone temple built by the Pandavas (heroes of the epic Mahabharata)
during their 14 years exile.
noon we reached the JKTDC Tourist Bungalow at Katra, 900 metres above
sea level. There were a doctor couple, a teacher and some students
already lodged there for the pilgrimage. After lunch and rest, at
four o'clock we joined thousands of other pilgrims of all castes and
creed for the 14 km hill trek. There were old and infirm people,
newly married couples, and some with babes in their arms. Most people
were all set to brave it all the way on foot, though some hired
8-10 feet wide, neatly cemented pathway was lined with drinking water
and toilet facilities, waste bins, first-aid centres, as also stalls
selling fruit, drinks, snacks, curios, walking sticks, caps,
raincoats, windcheaters, umbrellas and so on. All these seemed rather
redundant when we first set out fresh and well fed. But we realized
their worth slowly as the climb got tougher and tougher.
atmosphere was festive all along, though. Total strangers who
wouldn't dream of nodding to each other in cities like Delhi and
Bombay, were now helpful buddies encouraging fellow travellers with
their water-bottles and snacks. A family of two couples and five
children inspired others by singing praises of Vaishno Devi in
foot-tapping tunes set to popular film songs.
kilometre further up we reached Bana Ganga, a gushing rivulet. Legend
had it that Vaishno Devi, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, had taken
a vow of celibacy. Bhairon Nath, a Tantrik who was attracted to her,
followed her into the hills. Bana Ganga emerged from the spot where
Vaishno Devi struck a bana (arrow) on the bare mountainside to
quench her thirst.
way up, Ardhkwari marked a spot 1,500 metres above sea level
where Vaishno Devi was believed to have vanished into a cave to avoid
Bhairon Nath. It was dusk by the time we reached Ardhkwari,
and soon the area was lit up electrically. There were several
dharamshalas (charitable rest houses) where food was being
offered free to pilgrims by grateful devotees whose wishes had
earlier been fulfilled by Vaishno Devi.
pathway narrowed down now and there were hardly any shops, as the
climb got more and more steep after Ardhkwari. Clouds gathered
around us at Sanjhi Chhat , 2000 metres above sea level. (We
learnt that it snowed here every winter.) The atmosphere was getting
cold now and visibility dropped to a few feet.
electricity went off at this point. Surprisingly, there was no panic
in the misty darkness that followed. After all, absence of
electricity was but a small discomfort for the pilgrims looking
towards the stupendous reward ahead. The spirit of fellow wayfarers
remained gay as ever. And as the destination got closer, songs in
praise of Vaishno Devi grew louder and more enthusiastic.
horse slipped on the mountain stream crossing the slippery
bridlepath. Luckily, no one was injured. Round the bend, the first
glimpse of Bhawan, our destination, came as a surprise. The valley
across sparkled in a myriad colourful twinkling lights like any other
the passage was now downwards. A thousand yards more, and we were
we were famished and absolutely exhausted, most of us took a bath in
the waters of the sacred Bana Ganga (piped into proper bathrooms) and
postponed dinner till after the darshan : siting God, so to
chants of Jai Mate di (Hail to the Mother) emerged
spontaneously from all those who entered the tunnel leading to the
holy cave where Vaishno Devi was reputed to have simultaneously
assumed the incarnations of Mahakali (Goddess of power), Mahalakshmi
(Goddess of wealth) and Mahasaraswati (Goddess of knowledge) after
destroying Bhairon Nath.
the celestial experience, I cannot vouch that I returned to Delhi a
devout fan of Vaishno Devi. But I do know that everything turned out
right soon after that.
a week my trusted and efficient old domestic help turned up out of
the blue --¤ a newly married, sobered and a more responsible
fellow. My children exceeded my expectations in their education --
the elder son got an excellent job on his own merit. And my
deteriorating health took a turn for the better at last.