Sanjeev K Sharma
Atop a lofty mountain of Shivalik range with similar tall and mighty mountains all around, enveloped by the thick-dense forests, lies the shrine of highly revered Deva Mai which forms the second Darshan of world famous Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji pilgrimage near the Katra town in Jammu division of J&K Union Territory.
A zigzag road link connecting Domail-Katra stretch leads to the shrine where one reaches after travelling through the beautiful and green thick forests enjoying the greenery amidst fresh breeze with pollution almost absent and view of any passerby almost negligible while herds of simians make a common sight.
The link road culminates at a place from where stairs start to end at the main entrance of the shrine of Deva Mai.
As per the religious texts of Hindus, Kol Kandoli temple at Nagrota near Jammu is the first Darshan of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji pilgrimage, Deva Mai is the second Darshan, Charan Paduka temple en-route the hilly track is third Darshan, Adh Kunwari remains fourth Darshan, Bhawan makes fifth Darshan and ultimately the temple of Bhairav Dev Ji at Bhairav Ghati is the final Darshan of the pilgrimage.
A big Peepal tree, some mango trees and a big boulder with a history attached to it lies near the beautifully erected main entrance of the shrine, which the sitting priest there dates back to five centuries.
As one enters the main gate after beating the huge bell hung at the entrance, a beautifully build temple stands in front with an inn having 12 rooms to it’s one side having a capacity to accommodate at least 50 pilgrims, while, at the other side lies a big hall serving the purpose of a community kitchen.
The main sanctum sanctorum is about five century old idol of the Goddess.
As per a popular legend some 700 years back, a local Brahmin of the area named Shridhar, who was a staunch devotee of Goddess, was on Samadhi to leave the earthly world when the Goddess emerged to bless him with a promise of revisting his (Shridhar’s) place in form of a girl child. And, after about 150 years from then the Goddess emerged as a girl child at the place of Shridhar’s great grandson. She remained there for 110 years as a child to finally take the form of an idol which is still very much there in the temple forming the sanctum sanctorum.
The present Pujari in the temple, Bansi Lal said before taking idol form the Goddess had said that as Kalyug is taking its severe form and She will remain there watching activities of all and will also bless Her devotees but none will be able to see Her while She will be watching all.
Shridhar was also told that, though this place (where the shrine of Deva Mai is at present) will serve as the second Darshan of the pilgrimage, yet, any pilgrim visiting this shrine will get benefit of the complete pilgrimage of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji.
The Pujari also informed that the clan of Shridhar still continues to perform all the rituals and maintains the place like a custodian as it was instructed by the Goddess to Shridhar long back.
Locals informed that the place has good power and water supply though health facilities are nowhere there. Telephone connectivity is also good but the internet plays hide and seek with its users.
A member of Shri Deva Mai Mandir Dharmarth Trust—the body managing affairs of the temple informed that neither Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board nor the Tourism Department of J&K has ever done anything to bring this place of historic and pilgrimage importance to the pilgrimage or tourism map and the result of this negligence has resulted in very poor information among the people regarding this place.
The boulder near the main entrance of the shrine has its own legend as is the one used by the Devi in her childhood to sit over and enjoy local entertainments of children of her age like playing Geetian (pebbles)—a game popular among Dogra community girls of tender age. Locals informed that Tourism Department used two JCB machines to lift the boulder to construct a platform for placing it but the rock did not moved even an inch from its place. The Pujari also informed that Navratras present special programmes wherein the entire temple is beautifully decorated with lights, flowers and buntings.
He said that special prayers, Hawan, Kanya Pujan and many other rituals become part of Navratras while a special Bhandara is organized for the devotees on Saptami .
Among the visitors mostly are the locals but sometimes buses and other vehicles full of pilgrims from outside too pay visit to this place to pay obeisance.
As the place is not highlighted properly by the authorities, celebrities like film stars, popular leaders and others have rarely visited it like they visit the cave shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji.
The locals informed that though the shrine is amidst the thick forests yet man-animal conflict was never witnessed in the area.
One can even have a full view of the entire track of Vaishno Devi pilgrimage with choppers taking off and landing making the spot apt for photography too.
Among daily affairs in the temple remains daily Snan of Goddess, Vastar changing, Aarti, Prasad distribution etc in morning and evening.
Also on 18th of every month the shrine organizes Bhandara and Satsang for the devotees.
Sanjeev K Sharma