Thousands of rats live at the Rat Temple and the visitors bring along their own food and drinks. For followers of Karni Mata it is a special honor to contact the rare white rats. With treats they linger for hours on the wall cracks and try to attract one of these rare specimens. In the temple itself, there is a colorful bustle, here you pull out at the entrance of the shoes, but may keep the socks on.
The Karni Mata Temple, better known as the Rat Temple, is a tourist attraction for the very brave among travelers. Here are living 20,000 rats – sacred animals of course, the photographer Kristian Bertel learned. Anyone who dares and recommends bringing the right vaccination, gets to know India from the animal side. Many of you travelers must probably be strong now. While some of them are animal lovers, others are religious and some would probably not even enter this place with all the disinfectant bottles in the world, the Karni Mata Temple is something very special for the locals and also for the photographer who dared to take you on the journey in the rat temple.
The rat temple as a place of pilgrimage in India
The rat temple can be found about 30 km south of the city of Bikaner in the small village Deshnok, which is actually called Karni Mata Temple. This place is considered a place of pilgrimage for many Indians, as the hairy inhabitants are considered sacred. The temple is home to an estimated 20,000 rats, who are cared for, fed and honored. A rat life can hardly be more beautiful. Locals come here to feed their four-legged friends, drink together with them from a bowl and spend hours sitting in some corners to see one of the rare white rodents, because that brings particularly good luck. Also, if you run a small brown rat over the feet, that means only good. So close your eyes, because these animals are not shy at all, so it can happen that a little deity jumps towards you.
Rats drink milk in the rat temple. At the beginning when entering the courtyard you only see a few. But the longer you walk around and look, the more your eyes get used to the dim light under the roofs, the more sparkling eyeballs and hairy tails you discover.
The religious background of the Rat Temple
The history of the temple goes back about 600 years. Karni Mata lived in the 14th century. She became the patron goddess of the Rajputs and was revered as a saint during her lifetime. According to a legend, she asked in trance the god of death Yama for the soul of a deceased child. However, Yama replied that he could not give her the soul because the child was born again. As a result Karni Mata swore that no one of her people would ever again enter the realm of the dead of the god Yama and that the dead souls will be reborn as a rat after their death. When the deceased souls have passed life as a rat, they should be resurrected as bards. In the cultural history of the Rajputs, traveling singers have always been highly respected people and were worshiped. Legend has it that Laxman, Karni Mata's stepson or the son of one of her storytellers, drowned in a pond in Kapil Sarovar in Kolayat Tehsil while he was attempting to drink from it. Karni Mata implored Yama, the god of death, to revive him. First refusing, Yama eventually relented, permitting Laxman and all of Karni Mata's male children to be reincarnated as rats.
Here, rats and humans share the food. Thus, the locals believe that all these rats of the temple are born again fellows, who deserve to be honored with food and honor. The rat temple is about 600 years old and in itself a beautiful building. The front door is decorated in silver, everywhere you will find statues of sacred animals and ornate ornaments decorate walls, doors and windows. If it happens that you accidentally kill a four-legged friend, you have to bury it yourself in front of the temple and donate a silver or gold rat figure to the temple. Furthermore, only the animals inside the walls are considered sacred. Everything that creeps and curses outside is considered a pest. Although in the rat temples humans and animals both food and everything the rodent had between his teeth before, is considered a remedy as well as milk and water from a bowl and live together in a confined space, there are no epidemics or diseases. If this lifestyle is so well tolerated for tourists, you should not try.
Karni Mata was a member of the Caste of the Charans, the already highly revered traveling singer and was revered as a saint during his lifetime. Legend has it that Bikaner's Maharajah once brought her a dead child with a request to bring it back to life. Karni Mata turned to the god of death Yama and asked him to release the deceased child. But on the grounds that the child's soul had already been reborn in another being, Yama rejected that wish. Whereupon Karni Mata became very angry and determined in her anger that henceforth the souls of her people – the Charans – should no longer be handed over to Yama, but should be reborn in animals. In rats.
Right in the middle of it all in Deshnok
The fact that this temple is not for permanent handwashers, button-pressers and hygiene freaks probably remains no secret. Actually – as tradition demands – one takes off the shoes when entering the temple. But for tourists one makes an exception, they are allowed to keep their socks on. So, if you really dare to enter the walls where the rats rule and also do their bitters, then the photographer is recommending travelers to take a second pair of socks with you. Traditionally, you have to take off your shoes in the temple. Because it may be because if even the best washing machine in the world gets your socks clean afterwards. As a tourist you are not allowed to go directly to the holy place, this is only allowed to the Hindi. As a stranger you can go through the outer corridors and take pictures, but this should be done with respect, because once there, you immediately notice the devout mood of the people who are here for religious reasons. Many try to beat a stroke of fate in the rat temple, pray to escape from an emergency or hope for a better life. This very reason of the sacred site should be respectfully centered. Rats are omnipresent in India. Even from the cash register of a food stall, they can jump out suddenly, as we experienced at the Delhi airport. The people of India have learned to live with these animals. Yes, even more, for many, the rat enjoys a worship that is incomprehensible to us Central Europeans. For Hindus, the rat is a sacred animal and not least because it is the mount of their most beloved god, the elephant-headed Ganesha. But there is still an increase for this worship of the rat. Karni Mataji Ka Mandir is the name of it.
The Rat Temple of Deshnok: A visit to the temple is a special experience
Karni Mataji Ka Mandir is the paradise of the Indian rats, their temple. The photographer was visiting in Rajasthan, the state in northwestern India whose descriptions of imposing fortresses, gleaming palaces and rich maharajahs are often reminiscent of fairy tales. The temple shows the amazing versatility and diversity of India's spiritual and religious traditions. Experience it not as a one-of-a-kind place but a representative of many places each unique in its own way that must be strewn all over India – others more hidden than this one, waiting to be discovered by outsiders while locals do not realize at least for a while what the fuss is about. It was especially heartening to see how kids very quickly get over any reservations they have about rats. And one can wonder what keeps the rats inside the temple not a single one seemed to want to venture outside.
The temple is opened to the public early in the morning at four. Charan priests perform Mangla-Ki-Aarti and offer bhog which is special food in worship. Devotees make offerings to the rats, which roam about the temple in large numbers and are considered auspicious. There are two kinds of offerings made: the 'Dwar-bhent' is attributed to the priests and the workers, while the 'Kalash-bhent' is utilized for the temple maintenance and development.
Eating food that has been nibbled on by the rats is considered to be a 'high honour'. If one of them is killed, it must be replaced with another one made of solid silver. Out of all of the thousands of rats in the temple, there are a few white rats, which are considered to be especially holy. They are believed to be the manifestations of Karni Mata herself and her four sons. Sighting them is a special blessing and visitors put in extensive efforts to bring them forth, offering prasad, a sweet holy food.
The Hindu temple Karni Mata is dedicated to reincarnation, the rebirth of the goddess Durga. Karni Mata herself, on the other hand, was a saint who, according to legend, swore that all would be reborn as rats after the god Yama refused her the soul of a deceased child because she was already living a reincarnation. The biggest attraction in the region is the temple of Shri Karni Mata, to which people from near and far make a pilgrimage to sacrifice and to pray.
The temple is famous for the 20,000 black rats that live and are revered in the temple. These holy rats are called 'Kabbas' and many people travel great distances to pay their respects. The temple draws visitors from across the country for blessings, as well as curious tourists from around the world. Throughout the year, the faithful flock to the small town, for not only in Rajasthan, but also in neighboring states, the historical figure of Karniji is worshiped as a deity.
Mughal style in its architecture
The building was completed in its current form in the early 20th century in the late Mughal style by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner. In front of the temple is a beautiful marble facade, which has solid silver doors built by Maharaja Ganga Singh. Across the doorway are more silver doors with panels depicting the various legends of the Goddess. The image of the Goddess is enshrined in the inner sanctum and through countless holes they come out of their underground dungeons, everywhere creeps and it transports across the whole temple. They play and fight, often lie in a big pile on top of each other in the corners or climb around on the barriers. The rodents are protected even from birds of prey, because the yard is protected from above by a net against the heavenly danger and the rats of Deshnok could not even take the plague. The holy of holies may only be entered by Hindus but the foreign tourists, however, can walk around in a small gloomy corridor and look through two small windows into the dim darkness of the Holy of Holies. Because photo opportunities are enough here.
The temple is very popular for its uniqueness with plenty of rats in the temple. The best part is rats are not at all harmful rather they are offered 'Prasad' and after that people pertake the prasad and for its uniqueness it is must visit at least once. The ornate silver front door and the elaborately decorated silver and gold ornaments and the renovation of the temple and extension were donated by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner.
Beautiful entrance gate at the temple
The entrance gates of the temple are made of heavy wood with iron tips, a relic from the time when the fighting of the powerful was still carried out with fighting elephants. An Indian barricts the photographer's way and points to his shoes. "- No shoes!" He demands in a tone that does not tolerate any contradiction. Of course he knows that one do not enter Indian temples with street shoes and never did this destiny bother him, but here... At least he can keep his socks on and on those he enters the holy ground. If he did not know, whereupon the greasy surface on this floor goes back, this circumstance would not have bothered him – but then we wrinkle our noses, he cringes his foreheads with a hoarse. At first he sees no more than a few dozen of them, then a few hundred, but the farther he gets in the temple, the more intense the pertinent odor becomes and the less he doubts the authenticity of that number. Fear of decimation need not have the sacred animals. Not only the devotion of the faithful is a protection for them, but also the bars and the wire mesh over the courtyards are what keep the feathered enemies of the rats away from the table, which is richly laid for them.
Images of religious pilgrimage sites in India
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone's own beliefs. Many religions attach spiritual importance to particular places, the place of birth or death of founders or saints, or to the place of their 'calling' or spiritual awakening, or of their connection visual or verbal with the divine, to locations where miracles were performed or witnessed, or locations where a deity is said to live or be 'housed', or any site that is seen to have special spiritual powers. Such sites may be commemorated with shrines or temples that devotees are encouraged to visit for their own spiritual benefit to be healed or have questions answered or to achieve some other spiritual benefit. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim. The photographer is available for assignments in India and for further information: Contact the photographer
Photographer traveling in India
Kristian is the author of the post above, he was responsible for clicking these great images and describing them, Kristian is a photographer and a traveler, who loves photographing people, landscapes and sacred sites. He has a keen interest in photographing people. Because all people look different, they will probably be his most interesting subjects also in the years to come. He chooses his subjects based on many things, for instance if they are dressed in traditional clothing or if a subject has a great expression or is standing in a great scenery.
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