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The silver doors of the temple with panels depict various legends of the goddess Karni.

India is a country of diversity with many religions, languages, cultures, cuisines, etc. From which Hinduism is one of the most widely followed religions of the country. The fundamental elements of Hinduism are spirituality and symbolism which deeply incorporate animals into the Hindu belief. Animals have been reckoned as channels for love and unity, symbols of the culture and impetuses of growth, by many ancient Indian literary texts. It is believed that an animal's life has equal value and worth as that of a human. There are various instances in the Indian literary texts where animals were represented as the incarnations of Gods stressing the importance of animals even more. Among the prominent seats of religion in India is the legendary Karni Mata Temple in Bikaner.

Karni Mata temple or the "temple of rats" is a famous temple situated at Deshnoke, a semi- town which is located 30 km away from Bikaner in Rajasthan, India. The temple is known all over India and the world for housing over 20,000 black rats inside the temple. The rats that live inside the temple are revered and served by devotees from all over the world. The rats are considered holy and are called "kabbas" meaning little children and none of the rats are hostile towards the visitors and devotees. People from far-off places come to visit this temple and pay their respect to these rats and pray for their desires to turn into reality. The temple witnesses a large number of visitors and curious tourists from all over India just owning to the presence of these "rats".

The legend behind the temple

According to some local folklores, once an army of 20,000 soldiers was deserted in a battle that took place nearby and they came to the village of Deshnoke running. When Mata learned about the sins of desertion punishable by death, however, she spared their lives turning them into rats. The soldiers also paid gratitude in return and promised the goddess to serve her forever.

Other legends say, that once Karni Mata's son Laxman was trying to drink water in Kapil Sarovar in Kolayat Tehsil and he drowned in the pond and died. Grieved by the loss of her son Mata Karni prayed to Yama, the god of death to spare his life to which first he refused. Later he's moved by her sorrow and will, he gave in to her pleas and reincarnates Laxman and all of Karni Mata's male children as rats. One can find few white rats among those black rats who are believed to be Karni Mata herself and her four sons, they are considered to be especially holy. Sighting a white rat amongst the other 20,000 black rats is a special blessing and visitors put in extensive efforts to bring them forth, offering prasad, and sweets.

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Eating the food nibbled or leftover by rats is considered holy and is said to bring good fortune to those making the pilgrimage to the temple and if a rat runs over the visitors' feet it's considered very auspicious. According to the temple laws, if one of the rats is accidentally killed by any of the visitors, it must be replaced with a rat made of solid silver or gold, so the visitors are especially careful while walking around in the temple.

The food eaten by the rats and later eaten by the devotees has been proved disease free, thus the visitors do not hesitate to partake in the practice. However, all the sweet foods, the fighting between rats, and the sheer number of animals living in the temple make the rats themselves prone to diseases. Stomach disorders and diabetes are extraordinarily common among the rats living in the temple, and every few years a rat epidemic brings down their population. Surprisingly, despite the dangers to the rats themselves, there have been no recorded cases of humans contracting a disease from the temple rats.

Rats drinking milk from a metal plate Eating the food nibbled or leftover by rats is considered holy and is said to bring good fortune to those making the pilgrimageWikipedia

The Architecture

The construction of the Karni Mata Temple was concluded in the early 20th century as the late Rajput architecture by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner. The temple has a Mughal design with its intricate marble panels and solid silver doors that are beautifully carved with details. The silver doors with panels depict various legends of the goddess Karni. The shrine of the goddess is placed in the inner sanctum of the temple. The jeweler Kundanlal Verma further decorated and beautified the temple in the year 1999. He donated the marble carvings and the silver rats to the temple.

ALSO READ: Story Behind the Khajuraho Temples

Karni Mata temple is living evidence of how deeply Hinduism includes and values animals in their culture and it is their belief that has kept the rat-worship that goes back to the 15th century alive and the temple was built in the early 1900s and further beautified later to honor Karni Mata.

Keywords: Karni Mata, rats, temple, devotees, silver, rat-worship.


Photo by Marcus Wallis on Unsplash

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