Monday, 16 January 2017

Rats rule this Indian temple

By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France (Le temple de Karni Mata (Deshnoke)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Karni Mata Temple, Bikaneer, Rajasthan

If you see a rat in your house, you shall become restless and try to get rid of them as soon as possible. Rats are considered as deadly pests. They are known to spread various diseases like leptospirosis, Salmonellosis, plague etc.  Though many consider them dirty and dangerous, on contrary, they can also be cute and cuddly. 

By Vivek2285 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Rats of Karni Mata Temple

There is place in India where rat are considered HOLY. Yes, you heard it right – sacred rats, over 20,000 of them. These rats live in Karni Mata Temple, Deshnoke, Rajasthan. Most amazing thing is that even after so many rats in the temple, the temple does not stink at all. Even to this day, no diseases are spread by these rats, none of the devotee has fallen sick due to eating of rat eaten offerings. The temple draws visitors from across the country for blessings, as well as curious tourists from around the world.

Karni Mata (Mata means Mother in hindi) is the main deity of the royal family of Bikaner. It is said that Bikaner and Jodhpur kingdom was formed under her blessings. Karni Mata temple was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the early 20th century in the late Mughal style. The main attraction in addition to the rats of the temple are excellent workmanship of marble on the front door, silver carvings on doors at the main, Mother's gold parasol and huge silver platter for rat offerings.

By dalbera from Paris, France (Volets en argent (Temple de Karni Mata)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Silver shutters enriched with reliefs of the facade of the temple representing rats

By dalbera from Paris, France (Sculpture de la façade (Temple de Karni Mata)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 
Marble carvings at the temple
By Schwiki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The sun god inside Karni Mata Temple Bikaner

Shoes are not allowed in the temple, and it’s considered very auspicious for a rat to run over your feet or for a visitor to glimpse an albino rat, of which there are only four or five out of the twenty thousand. These rats are considered more sacred. Rats can be gauged from the fact that you have to drag your feet to reach to the main statue inside the temple. If you step on a rat and it is considered inauspicious. According to the temple laws, if one of the rats is accidentally killed, it must be replaced with a rat made of silver or gold.

 By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Karni Mata with rats
Karni Mata Temple is open to the public in the morning at 4 am. Charan priest performs Mangala Aarti at 5 am and evening aarti at 7 pm. Interesting thing to be noticed is that, rats comes out at that time. The rats of Karni Mata are called kabas, which means ’Little children', in their local language. The offerings like milk, sweets, cereals, water and groundnuts are first offered to these holy rats and then distributed among the devotees. To protect rats from eagles, vultures and other animals, fine mesh is engaged on open spaces.


Karni Mata, who is considered an incarnation of Jagdamba devout mother, was born in 1387 into a Charan family. Her childhood name was Rigubai. She was married to Depaji Charan of Satika village. However, she later expressed to her husband her unwillingness to engage in matrimonial relations.  Karni arranged for him to marry her own younger sister Gulab so that he might have a proper married life. She herself remained celibate all her life. Because of her public welfare and supernatural powers, the locals began worshipping her and called her, Karni Mata.

Currently, where the temple is situated, there was a cave used by Karni Mata to worship her favoured goddess. The cave is situated in the temple premises today. There is a belief that Karni Mata lived for 151 years and became Jyotirling on March 23, 1538. From that day, devotees installed her idol and began their worship of the idol which has continued since then.

The rats living in temple is considered to be the offspring of Karni Mata. According to the legend, step son of Karni Mata (son of his sister Gulabu and her husband) Laxman, drowned in a pond in Kapil Sarovar in Kolayat Tehsil while he was attempting to drink from it. Kami Mata tried to restore the dead child back to life but failed because Yama, the God of Death, had already accepted his soul and reincarnated him in human form. Karni Mata, famed for her legendary temper, was so inflamed by her failure that she announced that no one from her tribe would fall into Yama‘s hands again. Instead, when they died, all of them would temporarily inhabit the body ofa rat before being reborn into the tribe. Karni Mata is said to have reincarnated her devotees into rats.

Haloki Bikaner folk song narrates a different story about temple rats. According to this folkore, a 20,000 strong army deserted a nearby battle and came running to Deshnoke. Upon learning of the sin of desertion, punishable by death, Karni Mata spared their lives but turned them into rats, and offered the temple as a future place to stay. The army of soldiers expressed their gratitude and promised to serve Karni Mata evermore.

Karni Mata Fair 
Karni Mata Fair is held twice a year at Deshnok:
- The first and larger fair is held in March–April during the Navratras from Chaitra Shukla Ekam to Chaitra Shukla Dashmi.
- The second fair is held in September–October, also during the Navratras, from Ashvin Shukla to Ashwin Shukla Dashmi. 

 Appeared in Media
- The temple even made a worldwide appearance when it was showcased in one of the episodes of the Amazing Race and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. 
- Because of its revered rat population, the temple was featured in the 2016 documentary film Rats, directed by Morgan Spurlock.
- Youtube : Welcome to Rat Temple | National Geographic

Please remember that no living rats are worshipped in Indian temple. This is the only rat temple in the world.

By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France (Le temple de Karni Mata (Deshnoke)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
 The temple courtyard

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