Karni Mata Temple

By Himanshu Agarwal

India is a land of rich traditions and culture, and religion plays a part in this. Each religion has its own way of appeasing its Gods, with nature always an integral part of worship. While sometimes Mother Nature’s creatures are viewed as a form of their Lord, some others are sacrificed in the Lord’s name.

The Legend

The Karni Mata Temple in Deshnoke — about 20 minutes from Bikaner, Rajasthan — holds two main legends spun around the mysterious worship of rats. According to one, a 20,000 strong army fled battle and went running to the Karni Mata Temple. The temple spared their lives, but banished the cowards to live in the temple as rats. Thankful to not have been sentenced to death, they vowed to serve Karni Mata for eternity.

The other legend has it that Karni Mata’s stepson drowned in a lake while trying to drink water. Karni Mata then sent the God of Death to revive him. The God of Death granted a special gift to Karni Mata, allowing all her male children to be reincarnated as rats.

Architecture Of The Temple

Karni Mata Temple
Karni Mata Temple. Photo via Pablo Nicolás Taibi Cicare/Wikimedia Commons

Temple architecture is heavily influenced by the Mughal style, with the entire structure showcasing beautiful white marble. In terms of idols there is a sacred sanctum, a statue of a trident-touting Karni Mata and, of course, the many rats. Silver doors with panels depicting the various legends are also featured.

Present Day Worship

Karni Mata Temple
Rats drinking at India’s Karni Mata Temple. Photo via Arian Zwegers/flickr (CC by 2.0).

Over 20,000 rats are worshipped in this temple, and visitors are prohibited from harming them. Extreme measures like building netting and grills have even been employed to ensure the rats’ safety.

Moreover, eating the food nibbled on by these rats is considered to be a “high honor.” While the hygienic safety of this practice is questionable, it’s created a sense of respect toward these often neglected, despised creatures. And if someone happens to kill any of these rats they are to be replaced with a gold or silver Khaba — a pharaoh of Ancient Egypt during the 3rd dynasty of the Old Kingdom — of the same size, shape, height and weight.

Karni Mata Temple
Rats at Karni Mata Temple. Photo via Shakti/Wikimedia Commons.

Visiting Karni Mata Temple

The temple opens daily at 4am when the priests perform Aarti and offer Prasad to the people. During this time visitors also make offerings to the rats.

Most of the rats are black, and the few white ones are considered Holy. In fact, spotting them is deemed good luck! Despite the huge rat population the city of Bikaner has never been affected by plague. Additionally, when these rats die they produce no foul odor. Even crazier, it’s been noted that these rat deaths are immediately followed by rat births. Coincidence? We may never know.

Karni Mata Temple
Karni Mata Temple via Shakti/Wikimedia Commons.

Myths & Realities

Whether you choose to believe in these legends or not, the folklore surrounding the rats has made them beloved to the local people. That’s truth. No matter your beliefs, it’s interesting to visit this temple when in Rajasthan and celebrate these furry little creatures. You’ll no doubt be inspired by the importance that mythology holds in local lives, and the positive feeling that comes with helping nature’s creations.

Karni Mata Temple
Worshipping Rats At India’s Karni Mata Temple. Photo: Fulvio Spada via flickr (CC by-SA 2.0)

Have you visited Karni Mata Temple? Share your experience in the comments below! 

About Himanshu Agarwal

Himanshu Agarwal seeks to unravel the mysteries associated with the Indian culture and travels places in search of such awe inspiring tales and legends associated with religious worship and traditions. While not unravelling the mysteries of unique destinations, he likes to devote time to writing a travelogue, and blogs at Pearls India Tour & Tour To India. He has a keen eye for the unusual, and loves to read about mythical places in India.

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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1 Comment

  1. Jessie
    Editor of E&C
    Re.: Worship of Rats
    To me, this is a beautifully written and illustrated article;
    I have always wanted to know more about the subject, and
    yet had never “googled” it. Now I will follow up and dig
    a little deeper. Not that I’m wanting to worship rats, but
    I do wonder what the environmental impact is of so many
    rats and mice being poisoned, and then dying in the
    environment. Appreciate. – gwh

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