Rat Temple, Bikaner, India

2015-02-04

Normally, the thing with seeing temple after temple, is that it starts to get a little stale. Once you’ve seen a couple dozen, you’ve seen them all. However, in India they seem to get more interesting. Just when I thought I’d had enough we arrived at the Karni Mata Temple a.k.a., the Temple of Rats. It’s located in Bikaner, a quiet, small city that doesn’t see many foreign tourist.

It’s situated just a short 20 or so miles away from the city, but feels like the middle of nowhere. From the outside, the temple is fairly small in stature. It’s rather unassuming with little marble work, and worn pink paint. Though it’s a no frills structure it draws the masses. The main attraction is the rats. They are believed to be sacred and lucky.

The story goes, if you see a rat or one touches you, it’s good luck. And if you see a white rat, it’s meant to be exceptionally lucky. Turns out there is no shortage of luck to go around. Rats are everywhere! Approximately 20,000 of them. They crawl from every crevasse and crack. They run across your feet. They roam and play paying no mind to the people wandering barefoot in their home. Large bowls filled with some sort of milky white substance are left out and people come with massive offerings of coconut and rice. These rats are living the dream.

Other important facets found in the temple include a small shrine of sorts dedicated to the hair clippings of children. A man haphazardly cuts large pieces from a small child’s head and shoves them in the spaces of the marble carving in the wall. Adjacent, in a sacred area of the temple men share rice with the rats. It is considered the highest honor to nibble the same grain as the fury creatures. Only select individuals are allowed this privilege.

As a Chicagoan, I cannot say I share the same affection towards rats but the intent, hope, and deep belief that brings the masses to this sight is exceptional to see. I found it quite difficult to relinquish my shoes to enter the temple and relax while pieces of rat droppings mixed with rice pressed into the soles of my bare feet but those who were there to pray seemed unfazed. The sight of hundreds of rats at one time scurrying and climbing ignited a bit of fight or flight response in me. It was a small challenge to get through and very much worth every second.

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