The marble floors are covered in a jungle of living fur. Little black shapes scuttle and scurry across the cool stone. Tens of thousands of rats are offered food and shelter, darting and scampering over the feet of people. The rats run freely and fearlessly, and one should be careful where they step!
It might sound like a horrifying nightmare to some, yet in the small town of Deshnoke – close to Bikaner, Rajasthan – this is a sacred place of Hindu worship. The Karni Mata Temple is one of the strangest holy spots in India, and is more commonly known as ‘The Rat Temple’.
This elaborate and secluded Hindu temple was constructed by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the early 1900s, in honour of the Hindu rat goddess, Karni Mata. Exquisite marble panels line the entrance and the floors, and silver and gold decorations flow throughout.
The fascinating feature of the interior is, without a doubt, the 20,000 rats that call this temple home. These divine animals are called kabbas, which means ‘little children’ in the local language, and many people travel great distances to pay their respects.
If someone injures a rat at the Karni Mata Temple, they are expected to replace the rat with one of solid gold or forever endure bad karma. It is considered to be extremely lucky – a blessing, even – to spot an all-white rat amongst the thousands of black ones.
The story goes that Karni Mata, a mystical matriarch from the 14th century, was an incarnation of Durga, the Hindu goddess of power and triumph. At some point during her life, the child of one of her clansmen died. She attempted to bring the child back to life, only to be told by Yama, the god of death, that he had already been reincarnated. Karni Mata came to an agreement with Yama: from that day on, all of her clansmen would be reincarnated as rats, until they could be born back into the tribe.
In Hinduism, death signifies the end of one chapter and the beginning of another on the route to a soul’s oneness with the universe. This cycle is known as samsara and is precisely why Karni Mata’s rats are treated like royals, as the rats house the soles of Karni Mata’s departed devotees.
You may be shocked that a temple of this kind exists. In India, as in the West, rats aren’t treated with much admiration. The rat-worshipping Karni Mata Temple is rare. In the Hindu religion, many gods and goddesses take animal forms. There’s nothing to say that they can’t or won’t take the form of a fish, a bird, or… a rat.
Where to Stay in Bikaner
The Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner was commissioned by Sir Ganga Singh Ji in 1904. The palace was intended to provide work to the local people, along with creating a grand residence worthy of Bikaner’s royalty. Sir Ganga Singh Ji was a man of immaculate taste and supervised the construction personally. The geometrically faultless symmetry of its outlay, the decorative filigree work and latticed screens are all credited to his creative vision and character. Only a handful of people were deemed worthy of staying here, including King George V. The palace was since converted into a beautiful hotel and is undoubtedly the grandest place to stay in Bikaner*.
Rooms at the Laxmi Niwas Palace start from ₹14,000 per night, inclusive of breakfast and taxes.
*Update 11/05/20: since the time of writing, a superior property has opened in Bikaner called Narendra Bhawan. Narendra Bhawan is now our top-pick in the Bikaner area, though Laxmi Niwas Palace remains a fine choice.
If you’d like to include a visit to the Karni Mata Temple on your upcoming trip to Rajasthan (as part of a multi-day tailor-made tour), do get in touch. As specialists in the Rajasthan region, we’re the ideal match to assist with your arrangements.0