Nestled in the Trikuta mountains, Vaishno Devi Temple, 61 km from Jammu, is visited by thousands of devotees every year. It is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimage places for Hindus in north India. The temple is perched at a height of 5,200 ft and Goddess Shakti is worshipped here in forms of Maha Kali, Maha Saraswati and Maha Lakshmi. A cave temple, the shrine houses three sacred ‘pindis’ or stone representations of three energy forms, which are worshipped as the aforementioned goddesses. Interestingly, all the pindis differ in colour and texture despite of having the same source rock. The pale white rock is said to represent Goddess Saraswati, lying on the extreme left, in the middle lies the yellow-red rock denoting Goddess Lakshmi, and the one on the left is black representing Goddess Kali. The holy cave shrine is said to have been built by the Pandavas of the epic Mahabharata. The first reference to the goddess is found in Mahabharata, when the Pandavas and Kauravas were preparing for the war at Kurukshetra. On Lord Krishna's advice, Arjun is said to have meditated on the Mother Goddess seeking her blessings for the victory. Another legend says has it that more than 700 years ago, Vaishno Devi, who was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, had taken a vow of celibacy. One day another god, Bhairon Nath, saw her and chased after her. During the chase, the goddess felt thirsty and shot an arrow into the earth from where a spring gushed out. A place called, Charan Paduka is where she rested and it has the imprints of her feet. She later meditated in the cave at Ardhkanwari. Nine months later Bhairon Nath found her and the goddess blasted an opening through the other end of the cave. She then took the form of Maha Kali and beheaded Bhairon Nath. A temple of Bhairon Nath stands at the place where the severed head fell. Many believe that the boulder at the mouth of the cave is the petrified torso of Bhairon, who was forgiven by the Goddess in his dying moments. Yet another story goes that Vaishno Devi was initially called Trikuta, and when she was nine years old, she was performing penance on a seashore by praying to Lord Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. At that time, Lord Rama passed the shore looking for Goddess Sita who had been abducted by the demon Ravana. Seeing the girl deeply immersed in prayer, he blessed her and Trikuta told him that she had accepted him as her husband. However, since Lord Rama was faithful to Goddess Sita, he could not wed another. Moved by the girl's devotion, he gave her the name Vaishnavi and promised that in kaliyuga, he would marry her in an avatar of Kalki. He also told her to meditate in a cave in the Trikuta range and gave her a bow and arrow, a lion and a small army of monkeys for her protection.

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