Today we visited one of the most bizarre temples in India. It is located in the village of Deshnok, 30 kilometers outside of the city of Bikaner in Rajasthan.
According to Hindu legend (as retold in the Lonely Planet guidebook), Karni Mata, a 14th-century reincarnation of Durga, asked the god of death, Yama, to restore the life of the son of a grieving storyteller. When Yama refused, Karni Mata reincarnated all dead storytellers as rodents, depriving Yama of human souls. Perhaps this is the fate that awaits your humble bloggers?
The temple is swarming with holy rodents, in other words, rats! We went during the heat of the afternoon, and were informed when we arrived that many of the rats return to their dens at this time, much to Diane’s relief. There were still hundreds for us to see – drinking from large platters of water and milk,
eating in a room full of grain, climbing all over the shrine, and hanging from anything they could find to escape the heat at floor level.
Like at all Hindu temples, one must remove his or her shoes. Unfortunately we didn’t bring socks, so we had to contend with the rat feces underfoot, the many ants, the bird droppings, and the hot marble floors.
We tried to avoid stepping on any rats, for fear of what we might catch from a bite, and to avoid leaning on anything (as rats were hanging everywhere). It is considered auspicious if a rat runs across your foot, but fortunately none did. We also did not see a rare white rat, which is also considered lucky.
This temple is a holy pilgrimage site for Hindus, so it is important not to show any distaste. Diane did very well.
It was not what Diane expected. Afterwards she said that she had anticipated a clean white temple with rats like pet rats at home — clean, dry, and sleeping in little nests of wood shavings. Instead, we found rats that were dirty, sweating, living in pipes, and sleeping in piles covered by their own feces. One Hindu woman, who obviously hadn’t been there before, wasn’t handling things as well, and started to cry at the entrance to the temple.
As we walked out of the temple, Diane said, ‘That was the most amazing and disgusting thing I’ve ever seen’.