Like most of the old Shrines, it is not possible to ascertain when exactly this pilgrimage started. Geological study of the Holy cave has indicated the age of the Cave being nearly a million years. But surprisingly one doesn't find its mention in any of the 01 accounts of pilgrimages given by Brahma Rishis (famous seers of past). All the three scriptures, viz., Pustakalaya, Dhaumya and Lomasha are silent about it. Similarly none of the works on the life and tim Lord Ram mention anything about the popular folklore related to meeting Vaishnavi in the forests near Rameswaram in South India before embarking on his tour to Lanka.

However, there is an indirect mention of the Mother Goddess in the epic Mahabharat. When the armies of Pandavs and Kauravs were arrayed in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, upon advice of Sri Krishan; Arjun, the chief warrior of Pandavs meditated upon the Mother Goddess and sought Her blessings for victory. This is when Arjun addresses the Mother Goddess as 'Jambookatak Chaityaishu Nityam Sannihitalaye', which means' You, who always dwell in the temple on the slope of the mountain in Jamboo (referring to the present day Jammu).

It is also generally believed that the Pandavs were the first to build the temples at Kol Kandholi and Bhavan in reverence and gratitude for the Mother Goddess. On a mountain, just adjacent to the Trikuta Mountain and overlooking the Holy Cave are five stone structures, which are believed to be the rock symbols of the five Pandavs.

The practice of worshipping Shaktl started in the Puranic period. Vedic literature gives no reference to the worship of any female deity. The mountain Trikuta does find its mention in Rigved, the oldest of the four Vedas. Perhaps the oldest reference of the visit of a high dignitary to the Holy Cave is that of Guru Gobind Singh who is said to have gone there via Purmandal. The old foot track to the Holy Cave passed through this well-known pilgrimage.

Some traditions believe this to be the holiest of all Shaktipeeths (a place where the Mother Goddess, the Enternal Energy, is believed to have Her abode) as the skull of Mata Sati fell here. Others believe that her right arm had fallen here. But the scriptures do not agree with it. They do agree that at a place called Gandarval in Kashmir, the right arm of Sati had fallen and in the Holy Cave at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine; one does find stone remains of a human hand, popularly known as Varad Hast (the hand that grants boons and blessings).

The most popular version of the legend of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji .says that the three Supreme Energies of the Universe, Mala Maha Saraswati, Mala Maha Lakshmi and Mala Maha KaJi created Vaishnavi. The concept of worshipping God as a rnother also lies closer to the existential truth from the psychological point of view. A psychological association with mother is more natural for a human being. It is also a scientific fact that each and every phenomenon in this universe is a manifestation of Energy in its various forms. This,source :energy has been worshipped as Adyashakti (Eternal Energy). Worshipping the Source Energy as the Mother Goddess is unique in the way that in one sense She resides in the idol or object of worship and in another application She is manifested in the physical body of the worshipper, as the basic energy of his existence. This phenomenon has been appropriately described in the Holy Scripture of Durga Saptshati -Ya Devi Sarobhuteshu Shakti Roopain Sansthita -the Goddess that exists in all beings as Energy.

It has been propounded by the seers that the original source, the Eternal Energy, (Jagdamba -Mother of the universe or Jagat Janani - From whom the universe is born) remains Nirgun (absolute) and Niraakaar (formless); in order to continue the Existence with all its phenomenon, this original source manifests in three basic forms, one each for Creation, Maintenance and Dissolution. These three Supreme Forces have been respectively termed as Maha Brahma, Maha Vishnu and Maha Mahesh (Shiv). The Energies by which these three Supreme Forces go about their respective tasks have been known as Maha Saraswati (Supreme Energy of Creation), Maha Lakshmi (Supreme Energy of Maintenance) and Maha Kali (Supreme Energy of Dissolution).

Together with their collective spiritual strength they created Vaishnavi - who was blessed by all the forces of the universe (recognized as various Gods and Goddesses by the Indian spiritual tradition), with different powers. (The term Vaishnavi implies in it the quality of Vishnu, known as Rajas Gun which means). She was given the task of destroying evil and spreading the light of righteousness among one and all.

Vaishnavi took birth in human form in the house of one Ratnakar Pandit, who was a devotee of the Mother Goddess. By observing rigorous spiritual discipline (Tapasya), She reached the spiritual peak known as Enlightenment, when She became the medium of transmission of spiritual powers of Her creators and also of all the Gods and Goddesses of the Universe.

The mythological tale belongs to the Treta Yug (the second of the four eras according to Eastern calculations of time which suggest four eras, viz., Sat Yug, Treta Yug, Dwapar -Yug and Kali Yug each spread over thousands of years. The present era is considered to be Kaliyug, the age of darkness. Legend says that Vaishnavi wished to marry Lord Vishnu, who had taken birth in his incarnation as Lord Ram. Symbolically this implies that Vaishnavi had:a deep craving to complete the spiritual discipline and attain Enlightenment whereby She could merge in the Divine. Hence since a very young age, She took permission of Her father and spent time in the nearby forests observing various disciplines and devoting Her time to spiritual development. Her fame grew in the vicinity as a spiritual seeker blessed with miraculous powers. During that time, Ram was spending his time in exile in the forests, searching for his spouse Sita, whom Ravan had abducted and confmed in his territory known as Lanka. With his brother Lakshman and friends Hanuman, Jamwant and their armies, Ram reached the forests of South India from where he planned to attack Lanka. Ravan too was a very powerful king. Ram knew about his numerous powers attained through rigorous spiritual disciplines and blessings of Lord Shiv.

Before embarking on the war front, Ram, thus, upon advice of his ministers and friends, went to seek blessings from all the spiritually evolved beings immersed in their spiritual pursuits, who resided in the forests nearby. Vaishnavi being one of them, when Ram visited Her, She immediately recognized him as the incarnation of lDrd Vishnu and expressed Her lifelong desire to become his spouse. But since Ram had taken upon a vow of having only one wife in his incarnation, and being already married to Sita, he didn't accept Vaishnavi's proposal. Upon Vaishnavi's insistence, he promised Her that after conquering Lanka, he will visit again and if Vaishnavi recognizes him at that time, he will reconsider his decision.

On his return journey Ram visited Vaishnavi in the guise of a hermit and created an illusion due to which She could not recognize him. When the illusion was over, She felt immense grief, upon which, Ram consoled Her by saying, "Vaishnavi, your life has a specific purpose and you have to attain it for the betterment of the whole universe. Continue with your spiritual pursuits and head towards Jamboo Pradesh (present day Jammu) in the North, located at the base of the mountain range of Himalayas. You will find a mountain, which has three peaks in the form of three huts known as Trikoot (Tri means three and Koot means huts). When you cross the mountain, you will fincJa cave in which is the abode of Adyashakti in Her manifestations as Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Saraswati. Go and reside there and spread the light of righteousness among one and all. You will be worshipped as their incarnation and your fame will spread allover the world during Kaliyug. Human and other beings from all over will visit your holy place to pay obeisance and seek your blessings in their difficulties. Bless them all. Never get annoyed with anyone. Remember, you are a blessed soul and it will be your Dharma (religion) to show the way to one and all. As I reside in all beings, it will be actually I who will visit you. So be patient and wait for me there in .the Holy Cave. When all of humanity would have taken your blessings, in my incarnation as Kalki in Kaliyug you will be my spouse."

Having said thus, Ram left and Vaishnavi proceeded towards North. One doesn't find any mention of Her journey from Rameswaram in the south till Jammu in the extreme north of India. The legend restarts at a place named Kol Kandholi (in Nagrota) some 15 kilometers from the city of Jammu. It is said that Vaishnavi stayed at this place for a long time, in the form of a small girl child, observing spiritual disciplines.

The reference ofVaishnavi at Kol Kandholi belongs to the Dwapar Yug, the third of the eras. Readers would recall that the birth and meeting with Ram happened in Treta Yug, as that is the period of time when Ram is believed to have walked on this planet in human form. However, mention of Vaishnavi at Kol Kandholi has reference to the legendary Pandavs of Mahabharat staying there with their parents. Pandavs happened in Dwapar Yug and hence this inference.

After the legend of Kol Kandholi, the story then continues in Kaliyug in ::I", i recent years. Some 700 years ago, a devotee of the Mother Goddess by the name of Pandit Shridhar resided in a village situated at the feet of the Trikuta Mountain. The traditional belief in the East says that a human being has to repay many debts while he is alive. These include debts towards parents, towards the teacher and so on. One such debt is known as 'Pitir Rio' or a debt towards one's ancestors. Under this, a human being, if married, should have off springs so that his participation in the cycle of life and death remains and thereby he repays the debt towards this existence by continuing this cycle. Only after repaying all this debts, can the soul be liberated of the cycle of the world.

Pandit Shridhar had no issues and thus wished to have one for which he worshipped the Mother Goddess. It is during one such session in the jungle that he heard the sound of anklets near him. He looked around but though fe.lt some presence surrounding him, could not see anyone. Considering it to be his illusion he completed his rituals and returned home where he had organized a Kanya Poojan. Kanya Poojan is a ritual involving worshipping of small girls in the age group of 2-10 years, feeding them with good food and gifting them with good clothes. They: are considered to be a form of the Mother Goddess and it is believed that one who completes this ritual has his wishes fulfilled by the blessings of the Mother Goddess.

When he came home and started with his rituals of Kanya Poojan, he heard the melodious sound of the anklets again whilst he was washing the feet of the small girls. He looked up and found a girl with a divine beauty standing in front of him. Such was the innocence on her face and such was the glow that he remained dumbfounded for a long time. When he came back to his senses, he was immersed deep in his thoughts trying to figure out who this girl could be. Getting no answer from within, he proceeded with his ritual of Kanya Poojan. Upon completion of the entire ritual, while all the other girls went back to their homes, this divine girl stayed back. He was about to ask her something when the girl herself asked Pandit Shridhar to organize a Bhandaara (a free meal to one and all, which is considered to have immense religious merit) for all the people of the surrounding villages. Before he could tell Her something, the girl disappeared from the scene leaving Pandit Shridhar in deep thoughts and much confusion.

Pandit Shridhar was a poor Brahmin who somehow managed his bread of two times. Feeding so many villagers was something, which he had always wished to do, but never dared to even dream in his wildest of dreams. But the weight in the words of that small girl was too heavy to make him forget about his financial position. Pandit Shridhar went ahead and invited one and all for the Bhandaara at his place.

He also met one Bhairav Nath (Bhairon Nath) believed to be a spiritual seeker and a disciple of Gorakhnath (one famous Saint of ancient India whose spiritual teachings still attract many). He was intrigued by this gesture of the poor Brahmin. One version says that his spiritual master, Gorakhnath was also with him and it was Gorakhnath who, during one of his meditation sessions, had seen the vision of Ram in conversation with Vaishnavi and was intuitively aware of Her presence in the region. He wanted to test V~shnavi and ascertain as to whether She could keep up Her spiritual evolvement or not. Seeing Pandit Shridhar inviting people for Bhandaara, he enquired him and Panditji narrated the entire incident to him. He susgected the girl to be Vaishnavi and thus persuaded the Brahmin to invite him and his followers as well for the function, which he willingly did.

The story then narr.ates about how thousands of people gathered at Pandit Shridhars house for Bhandaara with Panditji not having enough food in the house to feed even few people and then how Bhairon N ath visited the place with his followers. Seeing so many people, Pandit Shridhar saw no other way but to go and fall at the feet of the idol of the

Mother Goddess. At that moment, from nowhere Vaishnavi appeared and miraculously organized the whole Bhandaara. Not only the small hut of Pandit Shridhar could accommodate all the villagers inside it with still more space left for people to sit but also supremely delicious food from nowhere appeared and everyone Was served the food of their choice. Bhairon Nath, as per the instructions of his Master, wanted to test the girl and hence demanded for non-vegetarian food and wine which the girl politely refused saying that it was a Bhandaara of a Vaishnav Brahmin where such food is prohibited. Bhairon Nath tried to catch hold of the girl, when She escaped from the scene. The place where the Bhandaara was organized later came to be known as Bhoomika Mandir.

It is said that two guards, Veer .'U1d Langoor, accompanied Vaishnavi. With them Vaishnavi reached a feN kilometers away from the place of Bhandaara where Veer and Langoor felt thirsty. Seeing no water around Vaishnavi is believed to have shot an arrow in the earth due to which a spring of water gushed out of it. She is also believed to have taken bath in this water and washed Her hair in it. And that is how the legendary river Banganga derived its name.

Seeing Bhairon Nath in pursuit, Vaishnavi proceeded a few kilometers ahead where in a small womb shaped cave, She immersed Herself in deep meditation for a period of nine months. This place later came to be known as Adikuwari and the cave as Garbh Joon. In between Banganga and Adikuwari She halted at a place to look back. This is where the imprints of Her feet were engraved on a rock and the place later came to be known as Charan Paduka. When Bhairon Nath reached this cave searching for Vaishnavi, She made an opening at the other end of the cave and proceeded onwards to the Holy Cave where the manifestations of the Mother Goddess in the form of Mata Maha Saraswati, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Kali were present. It is said that Bhairon Nath reached there too and in spite of repeated warnings of Vaishnavi did not give up his chase. When Vaishnavi saw that despite baving given so many opportunities to Bhairon to desist from his evil intentions, he had remained adamant, She took on the form of Chandika, the annihilator of the evil and demons and beheaded him with such might that while his body lay lifeless at the entrance of the Holy Cave,his head fell some two kilometers away atop an adjacent mountain.

Bhairon, seeing Vaishnavi in the form of the Divine Mother, repented his sins and asked for forgiveness, pleading that he was merely testing Vaishnavi upon instructions of his Master and that everyone will look down upon him during times to come. This is when he addressed Vaishnavi as Mother and seeing the authenticity of his pleadings and genuineness of his repentance, Vaishnavi pardoned him and granted him the boon that whosoever will visit Her Holy Shrine, will also have to visit the place where the head of Bhairon had fallen. Without visiting the temple of Bairon, the journey will remain incomplete.