While we were travelling around the stunning province of Rajasthan in India last year, we kept hearing about this weird rat temple. We immediately knew that it was somewhere we definitely had to visit.
Yes, we’re strange like that!
India presents a plethora of bizarre and weird traditions that “westerners” may find unusual.
And while we did find the rat temple very strange, we also acknowledged the fact that to the locals, some of our westerner traditions are also very unusual to them.
Anyways, here’s a little account of what goes on at the rat temple in Bikaner….
India has a bevy of cultural landmarks and sights to behold for tourists of all backgrounds. Its various regions and provinces offer different landscapes, temperatures, and foods to experience and enjoy.
But there is one place in the Rajasthan province that has captivated more than one tourist looking for something off the beaten path.
About 30 kilometers from the town of Bikaner, in the north western part of India, there resides a throng of people who worship the goddess Karni Mata and her descendants.
This seems like a very normal occurrence, until you realize that Karni Mata’s direct descendants are believed to have been reincarnated as an animal that we actively avoid and set traps to get rid of.
Karni Mata’s descendants are reincarnated as rats. Now, you may be thinking that there are a lot of rats. Maybe 5000 or 7000 rats.
In actuality, there are roughly 20,000 rats that roam the temple grounds.
That’s a lot of rats.
The Story Behind Karni Mata
Karni Mata is a legendary goddess, whose story dates back to the 1400s. The legend states that one of Karni Mata’s storytellers was grieving the loss of his son. Karni Mata asked Yoma, the god of death, to reincarnate the storyteller’s son. Yoma refused her request. Upon refusal, Karni Mata promised that all male storytellers would be reincarnated as rats in her temple.
The Rat Temple
While rat worship in India has been going on since the 15th century, the current temple was built in the 1900s. The temple is adorned in intricate marble panels and solid silver carvings. The artwork on the walls is meant to aid in worship of the rats.
The rats are referred to as Kabbas or “little children”, and keeping these rats happy and healthy is of utmost importance to the Depavats family.
This is because each dead rat is replaced with one made of silver or gold, which can get quite expensive. Unfortunately, rats can contract diseases which spread among their own kind quite easily and cull the herd.
However, the Depavats sweep and clean as much as they can to keep their furry deities satiated. It should be noted that the rat-borne illnesses have never been passed to humans at this temple.
This didn’t do anything to sooth our concern when upon arriving at the temple, we were told that we had to remove our shoes and we could only go into the temple barefoot, or with socks on!
There were two reasons for this;
1. It’s a temple; a place of worship
2. So that you wouldn’t kill any of the rats if you stood on them!
Also, wearing shoes within the temple is prohibited for good reason, according to devout followers. Rats running across your feet bring good tidings and good luck.
Common Customs at the Temple
The rats eat grain and coconut shavings out of metal bowls while they drink milk and water out of similar dishes.
The milk and water are considered holy, and it’s not uncommon to see passers by taking a sip off their fingers from the trays of liquid.
I wished I’d taken a photo of the guy we saw dipping his two fingers into the bowl of rat milk and then sucking on them like a lollipop!
Eating food that has been nibbled on by rats is also said to bring good fortune to those visiting the temple. Luckily we weren’t hungry as we’d already eaten breakfast.
Among the 20,000 rats there are a handful of white rats.
These rats are regarded as Karni Mata and her storytellers making an appearance only to the true believers. When you think of a handful, it’s literally a handful, as there are maybe 4 white rats among the 20,000 total rats.
We didn’t see any white haired rodents but I’d like to have seen the frenzy if one did appear.
The temple, as strange as it sounds, is a holy place and sees thousands of visitors every year. If you’re in northern India, make sure to check out the Karni Mata Temple.
Here’s the snapchat video we did about our visit to the rat temple. We had problems downloading it at the time, so we just captured it from another phone and uploaded it to youtube.