Temple Freak Show in Bikaner, Rajasthan

Two Rajasthani women watch the proceedings at the temple alter from behind the railings. (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Two Rajasthani women watch the proceedings at the temple alter from behind the railings.

Reverence for all things living is a special  trait of Hinduism.  But nothing prepares you for the freak show at this temple in Rajasthan overrun by thousands of overfed rats. There are  over 20,000 of them living within the temple precincts  and people come from far and wide to pay  them obeisance

The temple is located in village Deshnok , 30 kilometers short of Bikaner on the Jodhpur –Bikaner Highway. Its called the Karni Mata temple after the residing deity Mata Karni the rats progenitor.

There are perhaps as many legends about Karni Mata  as they are rats and like much of Hindu Mythology the story changes with every narrator.

According to the temple priest, Karni Mata,  lived in this village in the 14th century  and is one of the reincarnations of Goddess Durga. She was  married but chose a celibate life and married off her  husband to one of her younger sister.  When a son of one of her sisters drowned in a pond,  Karni Mata took his body to Yama-the Hindu God of death and pleaded for his life.  At first Yama refused citing  the inevitable law of nature but eventually yielded and promised  Karni Mata her sister’s son would be reincarnated as a rat.  The boy reincarnated as a rat and after him all Karni Mata’s relatives began to be reincarnated as rats.

Rats run helter-skelter at the Mata Karni Temple's alter (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Rats run helter-skelter at the Mata Karni Temple's altar.

The rats are reverentially known as kabas by the locals who consider them part of Karni Mata’s family and hence their ancestors. ‘’We will be born again as Kabas too just like my forefathers’’, says the priest pointing to the huddle of rats in the corridor.

As elsewhere, the temple rats are fiercely territorial. It is believed a person who leads a pious life is born a rat within the sanctum sanctorum. The rest are born at other nooks and crannies in the temple compound.

“The areas are strictly demarcated.  The kabas from the general temple compound side don’t enter the sanctum sanctorum and visa versa’’, says the priest.

As for the rats outside the temple,  they dare not even  scamper near the temple wall.  The temple rats are quick to chase any intruder.

Pampered and fed to the hilt the temple rats are quite unlike rats elsewhere. For one, they are indolent and second they have no fear of man.   With all the feeding and with no one to run from,  their movements are sluggish and you  have to pick your way though them as they will not give way.  If you stand long enough they think nothing before clambering over your feet while crossing the aisle.

Two holy men outside the Rat-Temple or Mata Karni temple in Bikaner (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Two holy men outside the Rat-Temple or Mata Karni temple in Bikaner.

The locals are not squeamish at all and feel blessed if the rats make any physical contact with them.  The temple’s holy offering or prasad is sought after by every devotee. The prasad is either in the form of sweetmeats freshly nibbled by the rats or milk sipped  on languorously  by two dozen or more of them.

The sweetmeats are placed at the alter where the pious rats throng and eat them  at leisure. And the bowlfuls of milk are places everyday in  different corners of the temple.

‘’ The prasad is auspicious. No one has ever been reported ill with this offering. We live here in the temple and  there has never been any disease‘’, says the temple priest.

But the most auspicious moment for any devotee is sighting of the rare white rat.  The devotees believe if they see the white rat their prayers will surely be answered.

Most tourists are happy to witness   the spectacle of these divine rats from far – standing with open mouths and zoom lenses at the temple threshold where rats are scarce.  Those that venture inside do so gingerly wearing polythene   over their feet to avoid any brush with the rats.

Because the rats are everywhere the danger of them coming underfoot is very real. The temple has a rule therefore that should anyone crush any rat underfoot, they would have to offer a  rat in gold  to the temple as punishment.

Birds of prey, the ultimate enemies of the rats are taken care off by covering the temple compound with a wire gauze canopy.

 (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Temple priests and the rats, Karni Mata Temple



18 Responses to “Temple Freak Show in Bikaner, Rajasthan”

  1. Sanjay Shrivastava says:

    what is not normal is freak for us…maybe we are freaks to them 🙂

  2. Anubha Yadav says:

    I had to go here for a shoot, half a decade back. I decided to run out after ten minutes, it was just intolerable. Creepy, unhealthy, yucky, and many other things I cnt write here.

  3. Gurpreet Singh Tikku says:

    That’s Creepy and Scary…..
    Over the issue of a Rat coming underfoot…… I can just imagine by self fainting if that happened…… And then donate Rat in Gold too……

    Anubha jee.. Seriously would want to know….. The other things you cant write here

  4. Nishant Vats says:

    for last 10 mins i am thinking what to write ..caught in Faith vs Reality …

  5. Anubha Yadav says:

    No, no I was too disgusted and terrified- I did not touch anything there. I went in. Saw the number of rats, someone tried pulling me towards the sanctum of rats that peep hole of a dark room- I did go till there. And then I thought I will faint or puke or do both, that too on the camera. So I ran out skipping over rats. I stood outside all through.
    I tried, but I just could not take it, the nibbling rats in such huge numbers around your feet.And the houseflies and the milk. Honestly just thinking about it disgusts me again. I should have just stayed out. The experience is plain disturbing.

  6. Anubha Yadav says:

    Gurpreet: Basically some flavorful abuses at the persn who thought of this idiotic temple of a concept.

  7. Udit says:

    Did u see the great white ?

  8. Lisa Beth Aronson says:

    don’t these rats carry disease? and, do they keep records on how many people have been afflicted? I realize that indolent and habituated rats are unlikely to bite, but maybe other modes of transmission occur?

  9. Priya Sahai Shrali says:

    I have heard about this place – isnt this Karni mata ka temple.? I was told that people who have the parshad or whatever is left of it after the rats have had their fill, dont fall ill!!!!

  10. Seema Sangita says:

    Incredible!!! They probably carry fewer diseases since they are well fed and don’t venture into drains in search of food. Also rodent territorial-ism minimizes the spread of disease. Did you try the prasad, Sanjay?

  11. Lisa Beth Aronson says:

    how does robust territorialism limit disease?

  12. Seema Sangita says:

    I am not an expert on public health, but just trying to guess why the rats might not be carrying any disease. these rats seem to be confined to the temple – they are not exposed to rats from outside the temple and in a way they are protected and are unlikely to contract disease from rats outside the temple. Just like mice that are adopted as house pets. They are healthy since they live in a protected environment. I would not recommend eating prasad over there or risk getting bitten by the rats though!

    • sanjay austa says:

      Seema thanks. Thats an interesting and credible explanation to why the rats don’t spread any disease. I didn’t think of that. Thanks for sharing.
      And no I did not try the prasad. I am squeamish about taking prasad even at the regular temples.

  13. Veer Ji Wangoo says:

    Why should Rats not be in temple… They are part of NATURE & true HINDUISM is NATURAL …. Every living creature is part of Universe.. Why should GOD & ANGELs be only HUMAN.. in HINDUISM they are in all froms of lifes.. from ELEPHANT Heds , to MUSHAK s , to FISH AVATAAR… BELIEF is the FIRST POINT TO LIVE HAPPILY ON MOTHER EARTH

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