‘Jai Mata Di!’ – South Student Makes Global Trek to Find True Meaning of Faith

Faith and perseverance take on a new meaning for one student who tackled a spiritual pilgrimage with her family in search of sacred wisdom.
Triketa Hills, the home of Mata Rani, draws millions of devotees every year. Crown on the hill by Subirkumarnarula is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
Triketa Hills, the home of Mata Rani, draws millions of devotees every year. “Crown on the hill” by Subirkumarnarula is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Sweat dripping down my face, I continued step-by-step up the eight mile trek, still thinking of the train ride just hours before. 

“Jai Mata Di,” I huff to myself, rubbing the sweat out of my eyes.

The Gupta family undertook an enlightening journey Hindus refer to as “Vaishno Devi.” (Sanaa Gupta / The Bird Feed)

Hours earlier, I had stood at the Delhi Train Station as the whistle of the train pierced my ears, quickly loading my luggage into the train. I sat with my family as we shared Indian delicacies made by my grandmother, laughing and talking about the 10-hour trek that lay ahead of us.

As we laid in our seats, my family falling asleep, I could not shake this strange new feeling from inside me: It was a feeling of desire, determination, and faith. 

I felt a calling and a drawing to the gods whom I was to venture and seek.

A Powerful History

Vaishno Devi, a spiritual hike up the Trikuta Mountains, is deeply important to the Hindu culture. The mountains house two temples, one known as Vaishno Devi, a celebration of the Hindu mother goddess, and the other, a temple dedicated to Bhairav Nath, a famous Tantric.

The backstory behind this pilgrimage is the story of Mata Rani, a combined avatar of three Hindu goddesses: Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, and Mahasaraswati. 

Mata Rani is a combined avatar of three Hindu goddesses: Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, and Mahasaraswati. “Chandraghanta” by DEVENDERPATHAK is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

According to the ancient Hindu epic, “Mahabharata,” Mata Rani was at an agricultural fair where she first came upon Bhairav Nath, a man who fell madly in love with her. 

She went to a Brahmin, Shridar, from a village next to a present day Katra, Hansali. Rani commanded Shridar to host a feast for the locals, where Bhairav Nath arrived demanding meat and liquor. However, since this was a Brahmins’ feast, Mata Rani refused his requests, saying he would receive only vegetarian food. 

Nath continued to pursue Mata Rani, and she fled to the Trikuta hills to escape his advances. The legend continues to say she ran up the mountain known as Vaishno Devi, where she hid from him in a cave for nine months in a fetal position, as the cave’s shape implies, then continued to run up the mountain. In a separate cave Mata Rani assumed the form of Mahakali (the goddess of death) and cut off Nath’s head. His body remained in the cave; however, his head landed further up the mountain. 

Bhairav Nath then repented, and Mata Rani granted him salvation. She dedicated a temple to him where his head landed, and said that if people stopped at the cave where he was beheaded to pray, they also must stop at his temple to complete the journey.

On the present day trail, the cave where Mata Rani hid is called the Ardhkuwari, which marks the halfway point of the journey. Further up you see the Ganges River, which is holy water Hindus rinse in before praying. Then you come upon Bhavan, which is where Bhairav Nath was beheaded, and where Mata Rani lived.

As you return down the mountain, you stop at the Bhairav Nath temple to complete your journey.

‘Hail Mother Goddess’

Dawn struck, and we reached Katra ready to embark on this enlightening journey. We called a taxi, freshened up, then drove to where the trail begins.

Before we went on the hike, we tied a band around our heads that said “Jai Mata Di!” which translates to “Hail Mother Goddess” in English. 

We began, step by step, taking it slow. My Dad looked at me and said, “When things get tough, say ‘Jai Mata Di!’ from the depths of your heart.”

When things get tough, say ‘Jai Mata Di!’ from the depths of your heart.

— Mr. Gupta

As we started, I was not so keen on how this “pilgrimage” would go, but when we were roughly a mile in I saw people go down on their hands and knees every step of the way, and I began to think of the true faith people have in Mata Rani, bowing their heads every few steps.

During the second mile, things began to get tough; the incline was too much and the heat was too high. I began doubting myself and doubting this god. Is this really worth it? I decided to try what my dad said and I mumbled ‘Jai Mata Di!’ and I looked up and heard the echo of what could have been 50 more people saying it back. 

“Jai Mata Di!”

“You can do it!”

This chanting had really worked; I felt new energy emerge and I continued with a newfound confidence up the track. As we stopped for water I saw a man pass me, and to my surprise, this man had no legs. He was not in a wheelchair; he had been using his hands to propel himself forward up the steep trail.

“Jai Mata Di!”

Feeling inspired, the Gupta family mounts horses to take them down the mountain from the temple known as “Bhanva.” (Sanaa Gupta / The Bird Feed)

We’d neared the end of the trail and were hiking to the temple when I saw three men holding each other’s shoulders; they were all blind, and they’d set out on this trek the same way I had. Yet I was complaining.

“Jai Mata Di!”

We came upon the tunnel that leads to the god,  where you pray, and entered with water from the river Ganges flowing at our feet. People behind started chanting “Jai Mata Di” and along with them did everyone else, then we did our prayers and mounted the horses that took us down the trail. 

What is Faith?

This journey taught me a lot as a person but the biggest question I left with was: What is faith? 

Merriam–Webster describes it as “something that is believed especially with strong conviction,” but to me this is not the accurate definition. 

Faith is so many essential qualities tied together. Faith is resilience. Faith is optimism. Faith is believing. Faith is a mindset. Faith is a feeling. Faith can take several forms. 

I believe that faith is a lifestyle, and not a state of mind. 

Having faith is essential to growth, whether it’s in God or something else that’s important to you. At the end of the day, everyone has something they believe in, and that’s faith. Faith is something that you will always go back to when you can’t keep going on your own.

In essence, I believe faith can change lives, not only yours but also the people around you. In my personal experience, faith induces optimism. 

— Sanaa Gupta, Staff Writer

In essence, I believe faith can change lives, not only yours but also the people around you. In my personal experience, faith induces optimism. 

This faith was applicable in my everyday life, I implemented it into every breath I take. All of a sudden I appreciated all the little things around me, from my mom asking about my day, from being healthy, to getting a good education. Everyday I got home, I started praying, I found a connection with god, and I learned that I always had the shoulder of god to lean on.

I realized that I am truly blessed, and I should seize the opportunities I have been given.

God is not the only faith I have, I have faith in my family, my friends, and I know they will always be there to help me. I know that as long as I remain faithful, everything will be okay.

I encourage you to find your own source of faith and focus on what makes you believe.   

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About the Contributor
Sanaa Gupta, Staff Writer
Sanaa Gupta is currently a freshman at South Forsyth High School, and she’s incredibly thrilled to be writing for The Bird Feed this year. When she’s not writing, you can find her swimming laps in the pool, or at The Home Depot buying wood for a new project. She hopes to one day go to Stanford and become a Cosmetic Surgeon. She loves reading and some of her favorite books include, “Helter Skelter,” “The Myth of Sisyphus,” and “The Hunger Games,” a cult classic. She loves listening to music, and some of her favorite artists include, The Weeknd, Lil’ Uzi Vert, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake. In her free time, she watches her favorite TV show, “Gilmore Girls,” she loves to spend time with family and friends, and she enjoys watching Formula 1.