The Rat Temple in Deshnoke, India

There is a lot of text here.The subject matter may be a tad uncomfortable for some. You are cautioned, there will be rat pictures here.

Rats are not the most liked of mammals for a variety of reasons. They carry the ominous burden of spreading diseases and destroying food grains. The primary response to a rat is revulsion and its removal from the visual cortex.

Deshnoke is a small temple town, about 30 kilo meters away from Bikaner in Rajasthan, India. Dust eddies swirl around chase each other in the trail left behind by motor cars. Most places in Rajasthan are barren and dry with scant grass climbing over large hill sides. Stone boundaries demarcate ownerships. It is a semi desert landscape of utter beauty and fascination and at times terrifying proportions for some.

As you reach Deshnoke, a fort like outer facade of ochre pink stands squat and low with bastions in the corner and gun emplacement slots peeping down at you. India’s feudal structure demanded such forts from the marauding intentions of the neighbors as well as long term Muslim invaders from Central Asia. So there is a fort here too but I wonder if it was ever laid siege to. Not likely. It was built only around early 1900s by which time the British Empire was in total control of the Indian subcontinent.

The fortification served the purpose of hiding the temple from the prying eyes of humans and predators. Within lies the Karni Mata temple and about 15000-20000 rats that inhabit the courtyard. The rats are sacred. It is good manna if a rat scampers over your bare feet. If you manage to sight albino ones, then it is a sign of great fortune.

The temple was built in the early 1900 by the Maharaja of Bikaner who used to be a great patron and follower of Karni Mata. She was a wise and powerful lady with immense spiritual powers worshipped by the the lay populace as well as the Rajas in Rajasthan. We are talking of the late 14th and early 15th century here. She is supposed to have lived for about 150 years. Somewhere in her journeys, a young follower of hers lost his footstep near a water hole and drowned. The other followers beseech-ed Karni Mata to revive the young man. The Hindu God of Death who reaps the souls is called Yama and he comes astride a dark and sculpted buffalo with big horns.

Legend has it that Karni Devi would not allow Yama to perform his duties. A stalemate ensued. Ultimately a solution was arrived at. The God of Death passed on the soul of the dead boy into that of a rat and saved his face. From that day onward any member of the Charan community who died would be reborn as a rat and every time such a rat died, a Charan boy would be born. Re-Incarnation at full work here.

Rats from that day onward are revered by this community of Charans in this area of Rajasthan. The rats are the past as well as the future of the community of Charan male members. The white rats in the temple complex are supposed to be the direct descendents of the immediate family of Karni Mata whereas the others are the rest of the community members.

In the temple complex about 15000-20000 rats live. I have no idea when the census was done but these are just guesstimates over a period of time. Devotees come in daily and so do visitors who want to see this great terrifying spectacle of rats and the crazy worship. Most visitors must steel themselves to withstand the sight and the smell and get used to the idea of rats and their excrement on the floor. Now a days the visitors have the option to receive a cloth or a polythene sheath shaped like a shoe covering for the feet. It helps.

Writers and media people make frequent forays to present the exotic, arcane and bizarre to the world at large. One of the most terrifying experiences in the world as per the New York Post is a visit to the Rat Temple.

Not to be trapped in the listings game, I would say that the place leaves an indelible mark in one’s mind for the sheer concept of it. The experience can not be termed “terrifying” for sure. More unsettling and unnerving maybe.What about you ?

Rats gather for the Feast
Rats gather for the Feast
Rats gather for the Feast
At the Rat Temple – A photo of the Reincarnated Male members of the Charan clan
  • No photo journey of the Rat Temple would be complete without having close up glimpses of the actual rats that inhabit the warrens inside the Karni Mata temple complex. You can find them peeping out of small holes in the marble walls, scurrying down steps and darting around trying to get some food.MIlk is available in the shops outside that sell prayer ware. You can also buy yellow Laddus for the rats. These are traditional offerings for the rats.The rats that you see during the daytime are generally furtive and not so bold. Not many can be seen either. The popular numbers touted for the rats is about 15000-20000, though no census ever was taken. It is only during the early morning time that there is a large presence of the rats and most of them that are visible are large and healthy. The weaker ones come out later to forage on what they can get.The rats are supposed to be reincarnated male members of the Charan caste of Rajasthan and they are the vestments for the human souls for a short time. As soon as a rat dies, a human being is born. That in essence is the karmic cycle of the Rat temple.There are more rat photos, so just bear with me 🙂
Holy Rat Fight at the Temple
Holy Rat Fight at the Temple
  • Yes more rats here.
  • From the Rat Temple at Deshnoke in Rajasthan where the rats are holy and the quirky temple experience is regarded as one of the most terrifying experiences in the world ( NYPost )
  • A rat was trying to roll a Laddu ( a round yellow sweet made of besan in ghee) away but with an occasional challenge thrown in by other rats from the hood, some peeping from their warrens in the marble walls of the temple complex.
  • At 10 am in the morning, these are not the strongest and the best rats of the temple complex. The healthy and sleek population is visible in the early morning when the food gets distributed. Thousands scurry around and it is a moving tangle of brown fur.
  • Most people who visit the Rat temple get to see the weaker not so sleek specimens like what you see in the photo.
_DSC9077 nef for behance
The idol of Karni Mata revered as an incarnation of Goddess Durga by the locals of Deshnoke area, lies in a recessed, dark sanctum sanctotum where only a priest minds the goings on at any given time while the devotees sit or line up outside waiting their turn to pass by the idol and seek the divine blessings.
It is difficult to take shots over the heads of the devotees in the dark interior lit up by a small flame of organic and perfumed bric a brac,
Rats can scamper freely in the sanctum sanctotum and you can see two oops three of them here.
Devotees at the Rat Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan
Devotees at the Rat Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan
This image here is purely to fill in the series on the quirky Rat Temple at Deshnoke.
This is how a make to path has been made by the temple authorities to have an orderly entrance to the sanctum sanctotum of the Rat Temple from its inner courtyard.
Temples in India are not the last refuge for peace and quiet and a heart to heart with your God. It is more a commercial arrangement where you offer money and food items to the God along with your prayers for success, wealth, children or whatever else one asks of Gods, including forgiveness for their misdeeds.( the last part of the line is thanks to a fellow photographer Anandmoy
I wonder if we in India ever ask for a fulfilled and happy life not only for themselves but for the whole wide world.
The temples can get very very crowded but not on this day, thankfully. The ladies sitting down are waiting for the temple priest to finish his ritual obeisance of Aarti and then proceed inside, seek a hurried commune with Karni Devi before being pushed out by the following crowd and the temple priest.
The routine is the same in every temple in India
Karni Mata Temple or The Rat Temple in Bikaner
The Rat Temple as it is popularly known is a dull sandstone color reminiscent of a small fortification. It is close to Bikaner and is located in a small settlement called Deshnoke.
The pinkish fortifications house the temple complex inside and within its four walls and meters of mazes of burrows and tunnels, the thousands of rats that are regarded as sacred.The origin of this quaint worship is enshrined in events that shaped the kingdoms of Bikaner and Jodhpur. Karni Devi was an ascetic who disappeared one fine day in the 16th century at a ripe old age of 150 years.
She is regarded as an incarnation of Goddess Durga and worshipped with much fanfare.
Notes – A light pillar has been removed for most parts. Left a stump on purpose as it does not intrude.
The Gateway to the Karni Mata Rat Temple
The pink sandstone washed outer wall of the fort like Deshnoke temple complex has a large arched gate in the middle of a carved block of white stonework.
There are two large wooden panels that swing open with a smaller trap door for human beings to walk through if you do not want to open the rather large cumbersome panels. The doors are studded with metal panels and strips to strengthen the wood. There is the usual agglomeration of neatly stacked gamut of thick pointed barbs of metal to repel recalcitrant invaders who would use elephants and large wooden logs to ram the doors to gain entry. Yes it would appear that this also functioned as a fort besides being a temple.
The flooring is grey black slate or granite( of which I am not too sure ) and you get a view of the main temple complex after an open courtyard paved in square blocks of white and grey. This is a sitting area too. The sky is covered with a netting of blue and white to prevent the ingress of avian hunters for whom rats would be abundantly easy prey to feed on.
Two prominent boards display the going rates for carrying photographic equipments inside the complex. For “movie” it is Rs 50 and for the still one it is Rs 20/- All this adds up to the revenue of institutions who must fleece a camera wielder no end. This is still cheap compared to the Jodhpur fort where the charges are much higher

The Outer Courtyard of the Rat Temple- Another view DSC_3850 nef fir behance

The Rat Temple, India - the facade
This is how the actual Temple building looks from front on. This has been shot at 12 mm and I have just about managed to squeeze the minarets and the cupolas in alongwith a few of the people going about with their daily routine in life. The space is best shot with maybe 10 mm on a non Dx lens.
Karni Mata Temple - The Cooking Vessel at the Rat Temple
One of the most terrifying experiences in the world as per the New York Post is a visit to the Rat Temple in Deshnoke in Rajasthan. 20000 rats roam freely and one has to enter bare feet and perhaps take a sip or two out of the milk pails where rat saliva and excreta is visble to the naked eyes. This is as per the article of the New York Post in October 2005. I do not have a copy of the magazine but this is quoted out of mentions on searches in Google.
Of late, in the last decade or so, lists have become a popular means in our lives to reduce everything into numerical absurdity.
I have no idea if drinking the milk is the done thing and going bare feet is a must. While I was there, the temple office was supplying feet coverings for the tourists. If you were a foreigner, you got white clean cloth slippers and if you were an India it was blue polythene sheaths. The local worshippers of course preferred to go in bare feet.
If one were to get trapped in the listings game, I would say that the place leaves an indelible mark in one’s mind for the sheer concept of it. The experience can not be termed “terrifying” for sure. More unsettling and unnerving maybe.
What about you?
The large pail pictured here is not a milk pail. It is used for making food/ prasadam on special occasions in the temple. It just lies with a few other vessels in the courtyard of the temple complex.
Silver Gates at the Deshnoke Rat Temple of Karni Mata
A stout mouthed and stocky limbed mythical lion looks a little surprised at the goings on at the Rat Temple in Deshnoke. Perhaps it was intentional on the part of the silversmiths who made this or maybe I am seeing much too much into it.
The doorways are made of silver and animals stand out in bas relief. Intricate patterns and designs are repeated on the surface to make beautiful filigree work by the local silversmiths of the Bikaner area.
You can also find lions and elephants and other such carvings and statues of marble stone as well.
Lie Down Low, Sweet Priest, Let the Rats Roam all over you!
At the Karni Devi temple in Rajasthan a priest and a devout follower of the goddess lies down prone licking the bare stone slabs while rats climb over him.
I guess the rats know him pretty good.
The price we pay for God is astronomical in terms of loss of common sense but it keeps the people content and happy with their fate on Planet Earth.
Checkerwork of Belief
Here is another take of a keeper or a priest of the Charan community lying prostrate on the checkered floor work of the Rat Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan.
Rats run in from the openings in the wall to climb over him. While the half clad believer of Karni Mata utters his prayers and occasionally licks the floor, the rats scamper over him as if blessing him doubly.
The Priest of the Rat Temple
The Priest of the Rat Temple
The Priest with Rats on his bare back - Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke
The Priest with Rats on his bare back – Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke
Rats on a Human Body.. ouch and Eeews..but it is nothing for the Charan community of Rajasthan
Rats on a Human Body.. ouch and Eeews..but it is nothing for the Charan community of Rajasthan

One thought on “The Rat Temple in Deshnoke, India

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s