Fifty km from Jammu, located at an altitude of 5,200 feet in a Holy Cave in the Trikuta Hills, Vaishno Devi Shrine is unique in many aspects. More than one crore devotees visit the shrine annually to pay obeisance to the Goddess. A trek of 12 km from the base camp at Katra is a pilgrimage of unflinching faith. For soldiers, the Goddess is the ruling deity of J&K and the supreme protector.
This write up is not about the peoples’ unflinching faith in the divinity and holiness of the shrine. It is about the progressive outlook of its management. Since 1986, the Shrine Board has been administering and overseeing all the arrangements. Here are five aspects for which the Board deserves credit.
One, the entire offerings and donations are reinvested in developing facilities for the devotees to make their visit as comfortable and enriching as possible. Rates of all food items and other services are fixed and kept at extremely reasonable levels. There is no exploitation.
Two, as a part of its social responsibility, the Board is extending considerable help to the nearby villages in terms of education, medical facilities and other developmental works. Comfort of muleteers and porters is given special attention. Shelters have been constructed for their rest.
Three, it is perhaps the only place of worship where prayers are said every morning and evening for the benefit of whole humanity and not solely for the religious followers. Invocations include – “May Goodness Prevail”; “May the Evil be Destroyed”; “May There be Amity Amongst All Human Beings”; “May the Whole World Prosper”; and “May India be a Great Nation”. What a noble and broad outlook!
Four, the Board is highly receptive to suggestions from the devotees. Earlier, the head priest used to bless the audience with the prayer “May you be blessed with a son”. When told about the inappropriateness of the prayer, the Board has changed it to “May you have progeny”. No more male-bias. Similarly, when pointed-out by some devotees that ‘Daan Patra’ (charity box) was an inappropriate term for the donation boxes kept at various places in the shrine, the Board promptly accepted the suggestion and substituted it with ‘Bhent Patra’ (offerings box).
Finally, one admires the nationalist spirit of the Board. On every Independence Day and Republic Day, morning and evening prayers are started by paying tribute to the martyrs. A number of patriotic songs are sung by the priests in lieu of the normal hymns. Wonder if any other shrine does it anywhere in the world. Hats off to the Board!
The above has been narrated only to drive home the point that religious fervour is not an antithesis of patriotism. Both can and should complement each other. They should be harnessed jointly for the good of the countrymen and well-being of the country. All
our religious institution can draw a lesson from the Board to promote religious harmony and devotion to the country.