Vaishnodevi:Off Jammu by some 25km. is situated Maa Vaishnodevi Cave full of material darkness and yet of unique splendour being the Holy Seat of Three Pinda Swarupas of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati some forty yards away from the mouth of the cave. In the past, the approach was somewhat tricky and slippery as the bare feet were washed by the cold and flowing flow of the Sacred ‘Banganga’ but the exit gate somewhat near the Seat of the Three Pinda Swarupas has now turned to be the two way gate for the convenience of the visitors as the entry and exit hitting directly the raised platform of the Pinda Swarupas on which the priests are seated. In the past again, the ascent of the Mountain had necessarily via Adikumari Sthaan which was the first halt up the mountain from the base township called ‘Katra’ but now a comfortable paved path leading to pony riders is in place where trekkers could also avail of the facility almost upto the top near the ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ or the ‘Garbha Sthaan’ thus enabling to avoid the somewhat circuitous diversion of Garbha Nivas; it is stated that Maa Vaishnodevi -the combined Shakti of Kali-Lakshmi- Saraswati- hid herself in the womb or Garbha to enable to suddenly pounce and attack the evil ‘Asuras’who were invincible to Devatas who meditated to the Devi to exterminate the Potent Asura Chief and his gang. Yatris consider to be a duty to pass through the narrow path of the Garbha of hardly a few feet of crawling through as the ceiling hits the heads otherwise; one gets a sensation of the passing through the cave as though even fat or lean persons or children could just scrape through while the crawl adjusts as per the body size like elastic and streched rubber. The legend states that Vaishno Devi emerged from this Garbha Nivasa. Lakhs of Yatris visit the Vaishnodevi for she is famed worldwide to bestow boons almost instantly on return from the Cave and soon thereafter. Helicopter services are available too, besides pony rides but pilgrims take vows to ascend by foot disregarding the labour and hardship involved!
Near by Jammu and Kashmir are the Places called Poonch and some fourteen miles away up the high mountains is Boodhe Amarnath Mandir in which was installed a White Stone of Maha Deva with wells around the Temple on four sides and the belief is that the Sacred flow of melting Amarnath Linga is constantly deposited in the wells down here. Also, there is Pulastya Maharshi Ashram and Pulastya River too and this Place is considered significant next only to Amarnath further up. In Jammu again, Udhampur and River Devika and on its banks Shuddha Mahadeva Mandir are situated besides Gaurikunda Tirtha where Bhagavan’s Trishul with which He terminated Sudhantara Rakshasa; it is in the Devika River Vaishakha Snaanas and a Mela are popular locally.
Kheer Bhavani (Holy Spring of Tulla Mulla): Some fourteen miles away from Srinagar in Kashmir in Tulla Mulla village is situated the popular Mandir of Devi Bhavani called Kheer Bhavani since the traditional offering to her is a rice pudding with sugared milk is ‘Kheer. Her popular names are Raganya Bhaghavati adored by Kashmiri Pundits with the prayer: Namaste Sharada Devi Kashmira Pura Vasini twameham pratrhaye nityam vidya daanam cha dehime/ (We offer our sincere prayers to the great Devi Sharada resident of Kashmir to bestow vidya or knowledge and power of concentration). Devi is of the Swarupa of Atma Linga inside a pond of divine spring with varying colours. The Legend described in a Kashmiri Chronicle called Rajatarangini states that Ravanasura the King of Asuras in Lanka made intense prayers to Bhavani Devi and as result of the latter was pleased to appear in Lanka and settled there but in course of time asked Hanuman to shift herself to Kashmir as she was fed up with his atrocities and immorality. She reappeared in Tulla Mulla villlage in floods there once and settled again in a marshy land since converted as a pond further as a water spring with violet colour but as some time to dark portending events national calamities like assassination of Indira Gandhi. Swami Rama Titha and Swami Viveka – nanda are stated to pay their homages at this holy Tirtha. Jyeshtha Ashtami is famed at this Tirtha drawing thousands of Kashmiri Pandits and Yatris when festivities are adorned with floral rangoli drawings and diyas or earthern lamps are arranged in the Temple and around.
Other Tirtha Yatra Places in Jammu and Kashmir: Shri Raghunatha Mandir is at the Jammu City Center which is decorated with gold plated sheet inner walls and many galleries of Shaligrams connected with Ramayana Epic comprising seven shrines with individual towers. The main Shrine is dedicated to Shri Rama-Sita and Lakshmana. Ranbireshwara Shiva Temple in Jammu again has Dwadasha Sphatika Lingas.Peer Kho Cave dedicated to Shiva is the Mandir overlooking River Tawi; this cave is stated to be the same one where Lord Jambavan of Ramayana fame performed his tapasya. Atop Shankara Hill some 1100 feet above Sea level in Srinagar is Jyeshteshwara Temple of Shiva, which attracted Adi Shankaracharya for meditation and a ‘must see’of pilgrims. Shaila Putri ( Nagabal) Mandir is situated on the lefr bank of the most eminent Vitasta River at Baramulla, which is known as a miniature of Kheer Bhavani. Sun Temple or Surya Tirthan at Martand Village near Anantanaag known as Mattan, there is a water spring and a rivulet named Chaka where shraddhas and Pitru Karyas are performed; besides great ruins of Marthand Temple are also found at Martand aged some 500 years AD. Sharada Peetha, also visited by Adi Shankara in Jammu (since occupied as POK or Pakistan occupied Kashmir), is on the banks of Kishanganga River. Shariraka Devi or Chakreshwari Temple (Hari Parbat) on a hillock in Kashmir is believed in strongly as a Shakti Peetha signifying as Cosmic Energy drawn from Sapta Dwipas viz. Jambu, Plaksha, Salmaali, Kusha, Krouncha, Shaka and Pushkala; Sapta Rishis viz. Marichi, atri, Angirasa, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu and Vasishtha; Sapta Varnas or Seven colors of Violet, Green, Blue, Red, Indigo, Yellow and White. Padrethan in Srinagar itself is the Shiva-Rilhanesghwara Temple of some 10th AD on the banks of Jheelum River with a pyramidal roof in two parts almost in ruins with two water surrounding it. A GanapayarTemple too is in Srinagar itself. More popular is Jyeshtha Mata Mandir called Zeeth Ya’r in Srinagar. The legendary belief of this Temple relates to ‘Ksheera Saagara Mathana’ when Deva-Danavas churned the Ocean of Milk to create Amrit or Nectar with Mandhara Parvata as the churning rod and Vasuki Nagadeva was the string to hold the churning rod, there emerged ‘Halahala’ or world engulfing poisonous flames and Maha Deva swallowed the fire and retained in his throat to ensure the retention of his own powers reposed in Devi Parwati since when He was called Neelagreeva. Subsequent churning materialised Devi Lakshmi ( since she was upset and left Vishnu’s chest- when Maharshi Bhrigu’s entry into Vaikuntha was obstructed by the Gate Keepers named Jaya and Vijaya and hence he gave a curse to assume the births of Danavas in connection with Lord Vishnu’s Ten Avataras as the latter’s enemies- and now reappeared at the Samudra Mathana) . But when Vishnu claimed Lakshmi at her reappearance again, Danavas were upset and hid her some where, Lord Shiva created Jyeshta Devi as since retained her at the Jyeshtha Mata Mandir in Kashmir though revived as Devi Lakshmi again. Jyeshtha Devi is thus called the sister of Lakshmi-the negative form of Lakshmi- and is revered to bless humanity as the antithesis of Lakshmi by fulfilling desires of one and all as per Shiva’s boon. The Place where Lakshmi Devi was hidden is known as Guptagara or Gupgar now and Shiva created Vaitala to conquer the Danavas who hid Lakshmi. All Thursdays of Jyeshta Month are celebrated as significant and holy still in the Jyeshta Mata Mandir till date.Besides there is also a Shiva Linga of big size called Avadharya that was added to this Jyeshtha Mata Mandir some ninety years ago; Yatris are stated to fulfill Siddhi, Buddhi and Siddhi in this popular Mandir. Kanchi Kama Koti Peetha do organise frequent homas and Veda congregations at this noted Mandir as well as at Kheer Bhavani Mandir premises. Shankara Gauri Mandir at Patan near Baramulla, Bajaranga Das Mandir, Gautam Nag, Shiva Mandir at Varaha Mula or old Baramulla, Bheda Devi Tirtha, and various Naga Mandirs like Naran Nag, Sesha Nag, Mamaleshwara, Kapala Mochana, Pancha Tarani and so on are significant too.
Apart from the scenic beauty of Pahalgam, Gulmarg and the renowned House Boats on Dal Lake besides the gardens of Chashma shahi, Shalimar bagh and Nishat Bagh , as also Pehalgam, Srinagar-the Venice of the East- is also known for the Adi Shankara and Jaiteshwara Kamakshi Mandir, which in any case on the regular Tourist Map of Kashmir; it is also known as Pas Pahar venerated by Buddhists.
Attention is drawn to Essence of Nilamatha Purana vide www. Kamakoti.org/news as also by Google vividly describing Kashmir and close association of Devi Sati, Kashyapa Maharshi, Naaga-Manava cooperation, Origin of the Holy Vitasta River and other Rivers, signifinace of Dakshinayana in Pousha Month for Pitru Devas, Pujas to Devi Uma on Maagha Shudda Chaturdashi by women for Soubhagya; Shri Rama on Chaitra Shuddha Navami; Maheshwara on Chitra Krishna Chaturdashi; Chaitra Shukla Paksha to various Devas; Pishacha Puja during Chaitra Krishna Paksha; Gautami Buddha on Vaishakha Pournami and Phalguna Shukla Paksha festival to Kashmira Kanyas and so on besides of course like Deepavali, Nava Ratraas in Ashwiyuja month and so on. A quick account of Sacred Places in Kashmir Region besides of Devis, Maha Deva and Vishnu Swarupas already covered above as also of Ganesha, Skanda, Surya Deva, Yama Dharma Raja and scores of Maharshis has been described too. Punya Snanas or bathings and their rewards in various rivers besides Vitasta, like Mahuri, Vishoka, Sindhu, Krishna, Chandrabhaga and so on and famed Tirthas like Kalodakam, Nandikutam, Shankham, Kapila Tirtham, etc. too are described in great detail. Legends connected to the birth of Nandeshwara in human form and finally as a bull to serve Maha Deva, as also of Parashurama’s encounter with Ganesha resulting in part abrasion of his right tusk and his unconditional apologies to Deva Parvati and Ganesha have been described too in the Nilamata Purana.