The Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke, 30 km from Bikaner, India, is one of the strangest temples in the world. The temple is home to over 20,000 rats, that not only live and dine within the temple premises but are actually worshipped by devotes who throng the temple in great numbers. These holy animals are called “kabbas”, and many people travel long distances to pay their respects.
The rats are absolutely everywhere, from the door handles to the grills to the ledges around the side of the marble constructs. They can be seen in dozens crowded around pots of milk, coconut shells and various other foodstuffs that are scattered across the the temple. One must tread with utmost caution not to squish one under the feet. That would be the unholiest of accidents and for which the person responsible for the death of the rat must pay dearly – by replacing the rat with one made of solid gold. To keep the rats safe from birds of prey and other animals, wires and grills are sited over the courtyard. There are priests and caretakers that live with families in the temple permanently, feeding the rats and sweeping away their excrement.
The legend goes that Karni Mata, a mystic matriarch from the 14th century, was an incarnation of Durga, the goddess of power and victory. At some point during her life, the child of one of her clansmen died. She attempted to bring the child back to life, only to be told by Yama, the god of death, that he had already been reincarnated. Karni Mata cut a deal with Yama: From that point forward, all of her tribes people would be reborn as rats until they could be born back into the clan. In Hinduism, death marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one on the path to a soul's eventual oneness with the universe. This cycle of transmigration is known as samsara and is precisely why Karni Mata's rats are treated like royalty.
It is regarded auspicious, if a rat runs across one's feet, and especially holy if a white rat is seen. The white rats are believed to be the manifestations of Karni Mata herself and her four sons. Visitors put in extensive efforts to bring them forth, offering prasad, a sweet holy food. It is estimated that there are only about 10 or less such rats living in the temple.
Eating food that has been nibbled on by the rats is considered to be a blessing. Visitors often eat sweets and drink milk that has been tasted by the rats. Surprisingly, there has been no incidence of plague in the past which is deemed a miracle of Karni Mata. Strange enough, the rats themselves suffer from various ailments such as stomach disorder and diabetes, thanks to the unhealthy diet of sweets and milk, and every few years a rat epidemic decimates the population, but it soon grows back to its original hefty size.
“There were many [dead rodents] in the stages of rigor mortis, hanging from ledges or lying around the temple pillars or just lying in the middle of the temple with their paws pointed heavenwards”, writes one reviewer for Epinion. “Bring socks” - is her advice.
Is it? Photo credit
That rare white rat. Photo credit
Dodging rats. Photo credit
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