Katra, the renowned base camp of the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine pilgrimage nestled in the Trikuta hills of Jammu and Kashmir, is more than a sacred destination. It is a beacon of unity, brotherhood, and coexistence among people of diverse faiths. Its rich history dating back centuries, Katra is a remarkable testimony to the spirit of Hindu-Muslim unity.
The Historic Tale of Harmony
For over 700 years, the Muslim residents of the Reasi district have been extending their hand of hospitality to Hindu pilgrims embarking on their sacred journey to the cave shrine of the Goddess Vaishno Devi. This heartwarming alliance has thrived and become an inseparable part of the pilgrimage experience, drawing devotees across India.
Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine: A Spiritual Epicenter
Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, one of India’s most revered pilgrimage centres, is perched at 5,200 feet. Devotees must undertake a challenging 12-kilometre uphill trek from the base camp in Katra to reach the sacred cave. This pilgrimage is a test of one’s devotion and endurance, and the support of the locals is invaluable.
The Guiding Hand of Unity
The Muslim community graciously offers services to devotees, presenting them with multiple choices for this strenuous journey. Many devotees travel on foot, while others mount a horse or have dedicated porters carry them in a palanquin. These tireless individuals, often Gujjar tribesmen, assist pilgrims, transporting them through this demanding terrain, which becomes their sole source of income.
Jai Mata Di: A Reverberating Chant
The welcoming Muslim service providers greet pilgrims ascending the steep slopes with a resonant chorus of ‘Jai Mata Di’ (Hail the Goddess). This chant is a customary greeting and a heartfelt tribute to the Goddess Vaishno Devi, reverberating through the mountains.
The Art of Endurance
The horsemen and palanquin bearers pause only three or four times during their ascent to catch a breath, highlighting their unwavering dedication to their duties. Each of them carries certificates issued by the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, which diligently manages the shrine, ensuring the safety and security of the pilgrims.
A Personal Encounter
During my inaugural pilgrimage to the shrine, which I undertook during the auspicious Navratris, I had the privilege of actively engaging with several Muslim individuals who wholeheartedly committed themselves to providing essential services to the pilgrims. I embarked on my journey atop Abdul Latif’s trusty mare, ‘Rozy,’ in Katra, which further solidified Katra’s harmonious coexistence and unity.
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