Do you know a temple where rats are worshipped? Do you know a place where rats and humans are considered one and the same? Well, there exists a temple near Bikaner in Rajasthan where 20,000 or so rats live in a temple and who are fed fresh warm food and are worshipped by the people visiting this temple. And where rats are seen nibbling and running all around the temple. Sounds weird right? Well, such temples are really rare and it is not surprising that people from all over the world come to see it with their own eyes. I was no different and paid my first visit on my recent trip to Bikaner.
Set deep in the Thar desert at a place called Deshnok lies Karni Mata Temple, aka Temple of Rats. ‘Karni Mata’, who lends her name to this temple was a simple girl child who was born into the Charan community of Rajasthan. Believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Durga, Karni Mata lived for as long as 150 years curing people and making miracles happen. People of the Jodhpur and Bikaner kingdoms worshipped her and she blessed them with peace, prosperity and good health.
There are 2 legends surrounding this temple. The first legend has it that Karni Mata’s step son Laxman, drowned in a tank while attempting to drink water from it. Karni Mata requested Yama, the god of death to revive her son, but Yama refused as the boy had already taken a rebirth. But, after consistent pleading, Lord Yama relented and permitted Laxman and all of Karni Mata’s male children to be reincarnated as rats. The second legend has it that 20,000 members of an army deserted a nearby battle and came running to Deshnok. In those days, desertion meant death. However, Karni Mata spared their lives, turned them into rats and allowed them to stay in the temple. To show their gratitude, the soldiers (rats) pledged to serve Karni Mata.
Keeping the legends aside, there are many current stories from the Karni Mata temple that boggle your mind. Like how the number of rats living in the temple does not go beyond 20,000. Or the fact that if a rat dies, a new birth occurs in the charan community some where and vice versa with death. However, there are no baby rats in the temple. Locals say that all are adult male rats. They also believe that white rats are the holy souls and if one gets to see them all their wishes will come true. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t sight a white rat.
While the Karni Mata temple took form sometime in the early 15th century, its current marble form with silver doors and Mughal architecture is from the early 20th century when it was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner. From the outside, the temple looks to be simple and like most of the Hindu temples of Rajasthan, but when I entered, I saw rats running all around. It takes a while to get used to the rats and their smell. Don’t be surprised if you jump from time to time as rats keep scurrying over and/or around you. It is actually considered auspicious if a rat runs over you. And even better if it eats the food offering brought by you. Locals also say that it is considered very lucky if you eat the food nibbled by the rats, but then, I would not recommend that. But, if you do step on a rat or if you end up killing a rat, you will have to offer a rat made out of gold or silver as a punishment.
It does feel weird to be visiting a temple where rats (that give you that creepy feeling) are scurrying all around you, but then, it is not every day that you see the world’s only rat temple. I would definitely recommend you to gather every ounce of courage and pay a visit during your next trip to Bikaner. It will be a special experience.
How to reach there: Deshnok is about 30 kilometers from Bikaner on the Bikaner – Jodhpur road. You could either hire a private car or take a public bus. Bikaner is the nearest railway station and Jodhpur will be the nearest airport.
When to go there: Late evening or early mornings are best to visit the temple as that is when you will see the rats at their busy self. Navaratri and festival days will be crowded, so you might want to avoid those.