Incredible! That’s how I felt when I saw all of them dinning and crawling together. Before you think I happened to visit the set where Stuart Little was filmed, let me walk you through Mata Karni Temple in Deshnok in Rajasthan. Standing tall is the main shrine of Mata Karni accompanied by what the natives and many ardent devotees worship – rats! Almost 20,000 of them!
During my stay in Bikaner, I’d heard so much about this temple that the very next morning, I had to see it to believe it. After a half hour drive, from the moment I reached Deshnok till the time I stepped inside the temple, I was more curious than scared. On entering, I saw rats teeming everywhere. Huddled in corners and flitting around, they are completely oblivious of devotees gawking at them. The sight was absolutely bizarre!
Fearlessly feeding them were devotees who come here to receive therats’ blessings. Once these rats nibble food, it is considered auspicious to be served as prasad. Creepy? Yes it is, especially if you’re rat phobic. At first, you might want to just run…and fast. But hang on…Soon, you realise these rats are harmless They’re too busy nibbling away on food and slurping milk.
At the temple, it’s believed that if you sight a white rat amongst the thousands of black rats, you’re considered fortunate. Legend has it that white rats are manifestations of Mata Karni who was an incarnation of Goddess Durga and her four sons. When the child of one of her clansmen died, she insisted Lord Yama (god of death) bring him back to life. He did so and reincarnated the child as a rat.
Thereafter, Karni Mata dictated that if any of her clansmen died, they would be reborn as rats.
Since then, thousands of rats move this story forward. In fact, the authorities take special care to safeguard these treasured beings. The temple is bordered by wires and grills over the courtyard to prevent birds and other animals from coming in. People are requested to walk carefully inside so that they do not step on them. If one is accidently killed, you’d be forced to shell out a 24 carat gold rat. Now, that is a huge penalty! A stranger fact is that not a single case of plague has been reported here ever since this temple was constructed. Professors, researchers and I still wonder…
Photo Credit: Wikimedia