There are many weird and wonderful things in India, some of which you can’t quite believe you are seeing. I think it is a fair to say that for most people, Karni Mata, a temple devoted to rats, falls into this category. Yes you read that right, there is a temple in India devoted to rats and it is an amazing place.
Rats tend to have a bad and arguably unfair reputation throughout much of the world. Even those visiting the temple for worship were struggling with the site of the rats at Karni Mata, however we have kept rats as pets for years and I can tell you that they have been without exception friendly, affectionate and very clean little creatures. It was our love of rats that meant that when we read about the rat temple, we just had to visit.
What’s it all about?
The Karni Mata Temple was built in honour of a female Hindu matriarch, Karni Mata, who it was believed was an incarnation of Durga, the Hindu goddess of power and victory. Legend has it that a son of one of Karni Mata’s clansmen drowned in a pond while trying to drink from it. Distraught at his death, Karni Mata appealed to Yama, the Hindu God of death to revive him. He told her it was too late as the child had already been reincarnated as a rat. Kari Mata made a deal with Yama that from that day forward, all of her clansmen would be reincarnated as rats until they could be reborn into her clan.
An alternative story is that, 20,000 soldiers deserted a battle escaping to the town of Deshnok, where the temple is situated. Upon learning of the sin of desertion which was punishable by death, Karni Mata agreed to spare their lives by turning them into rats and allowing them to live in the temple. The soldiers were eternally grateful and promised to serve Karni Mata for ever more.
Today there are over 20,000 rats living at the temple. These holy rats are known as Kabbas and many Hindus travel great distances to worship the rats, while tourists from throughout India and the rest of the world visit the temple to learn about Karni Mata.
The temple which has intricate marble tiles lining the walls and the floor, is quite an experience. Everywhere you look you will see rats. They take priority here with teams of religious men and women from Deshnoke preparing large vats of food and milk to offer up to the rats. Anything left over will then be co summed by the priest, his wife and other family and friends. It is considered a great honour if a rat choses to climb on you or if you eat food leftover by the rats.
The temple is located in Deshnoke, a small town about 30km from Bikaner in Rajasthan. Many visitors to India do the Golden Triangle tour of the sites of Rajasthan. If you are one of them it is worth making a diversion to visit the temple.
The best way to travel to the temple is by train. There is no left luggage at Deshnoke station so if you want to leave your bags somewhere while you visit the temple, it is best to stop off at Bikaner and leave your luggage there. Several trains a day run from Bikaner to Deshnoke and the journey time takes about 25 minutes. The temple is about a five minute walk from Deshnoke station.
You don’t want to have to rush away from the temple, especially as it is likely to be a once in a lifetime experience. If you find that when you leave the temple you are going to have quite a wait for the next train, do not worry. Buses run from the centre of Deshnoke, just a few minutes walk from the temple, to Bikaner at regular intervals throughout the day. They do tend to get very packed so be prepared to travel surrounded by lots of people…and chickens…and tyres! It is quite an experience.
Cleartrip – the best place to check out train times and book tickets
Rajasthan Tourist board – find out information about visiting Rajasthan