Rats, yes the very rats that we detest in our surroundings, have a unique temple that belongs to them. You can visit the temple, just like you visit someone’s home, meet them, click pictures of them and wonder. The Karni Mata temple belongs to the 20,000 or so rats that live here along with a few white ones.
There are roughly 20,000 black rats. They roam around the temple, they jump around the idol of Karni Mata in the sanctum. And they are oblivious to the humans around them. You see them drinking milk or nibbling at the prasad offered to the goddess.
In the corridor around the temple, Mana Singh Ji sings the bhajans or devotional songs telling the story of Karni Mata, as the rats jump around.
Legends of Karni Mata Temple
Karni Mata is the revered form of a real lady who lived in the 14-15th CE. She belonged to the Charan caste and is believed to be born on Oct 2nd, 1387 CE. She was married like normal girls and had children. Her son Laxman died while trying to drink water from Kapil Lake that is not too far from the temple. Karni Mata would not let Yama, the god of death, take Laxman away. Yama finally gave in but he gave back the son as a rat. In fact, all the male progeny of Karni Mata is supposed to live here as rats.
Locals believe that when a human in Charan caste dies, he or she is reborn as a rat in the temple and vice-versa. This means that the total population of rats in temple and humans in Charan caste remains constant.
Karni Mata is the deity of the royal family of Bikaner & Jodhpur.
Rats are called Kabas here. No one could tell me the story behind that name. However, I did notice that the priests and officials at the temple do not like them being called rats. They lovingly call them Kabas and see them as sons of Karni Mata.
Even during the times of worst plague, the rats at the temple it seems have never been affected.
I was told that rats never leave the temple premises though they are free to go out. The counter argument is that why would they leave when there is so much milk and food inside the temple all the time. However, I visited both the temples of Karni Mata – that are about 1 km apart. The rats do restrict themselves to temple premises in both temples.
Legend of White Rat at Karni Mata Temple
There are a few white rats at Karni Mata temple. These rats are supposed to be holy – they are supposed to be an incarnation of Karni Mata herself & her sons. It is rare to spot them and the sighting of one is considered a blessing of the goddess. It is not easy to spot one, but look out for the crowd gathered at one place and it must be for the white rat.
I was lucky enough to see a white rat. I always believed that I am blessed, and the white rat sighting just confirmed it once again.
If the rats cross over your feet, it is considered good luck. It is not as difficult as spotting a white rat, as there are so many of them and they keep jumping around all the time. I am scared of rats and I jumped around, much to the annoyance of people around to avoid touching the rats.
I also spotted a pair of rose-ringed parakeets eating along with rats.
Do’s and Dont’s at Rat Temple, Deshnoke
- You must enter bare feet, like every other temple. And You are not even allowed to wear socks.
- You should push your feet so that even by mistake you should not hurt a rat.
- If by chance you end up killing a rat, you have to replace it with one made of solid silver.
- There are holes everywhere – in walls, on the floor, and in corners for the rats, so you need to be extra careful.
- There are designated areas where you can feed the rat.
Architecture of Karni Mata Temple
The temple of Karni Mata at Deshnoke is designed as a fort. There are 4 bastions on each corner of the temple wall. The front door is made of profusely carved white marble.
A board at the Karni Mata museum says the temple was originally a small cave temple at a place where Karni Mata is supposed to have meditated. Maharaja Surat Singh made the first temple around the cave.
The current temple with its marble facade was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh ji – who is the most illustrious of the kings that the Rao Bika’s dynasty has seen. You can see the signs of the times i.e. a bit of European influence in carvings. No matter what the carvings are you can never miss a rat in a frame. I liked the way a row of rats is used as the border. Other flora & fauna share space with rats.
The two jharokhas in white marble with silver coated doors flank the main door. The trident and rats are engraved on them. Two lions sit on either side of the main door, as symbols of the vehicle of Durga.
On the main doors, you find various avatars of Mata Karni along with other goddesses like Laxmi & Saraswati. There is Shiva on one panel.
A new, even bigger temple in under construction, right behind the current temple.
Karni Mata Museum
A small one hall museum opposite the Karni Mata temple tells the story of Karni Mata through a series of paintings. The place then was known as Jangdu.
Paintings begin with a scene of Karni Mata’s mother pregnant with her and dreaming of having an incarnation of Durga in her womb. In the next scene, young Karni saves her father when he is bitten by a snake. When she was going to her husband’s home after marriage, she gave him a glimpse of her supernatural powers by emptying the pitchers full of water and showing him the water in the desert. It also says that when she lifted the curtain of her palanquin – her husband saw the devi avatar of hers. It almost feels like she was preparing him for the future.
Karni Mata’s Supernatural Powers
She then stuns the women in her new home when without moving she stops the boiling milk from falling out of the utensil. There are series of other incidents where Karni Mata used her supernatural powers for the welfare of the people – like using horses to draw water for cattle, saving the cattle from attacks, saving the head’s ship from turbulent seas while churning the milk at home or saving people fallen in wells or to snakes. She also played an important role in Rao Bika’s marriage – who was the founder of Bikaner. There are battles that she played the catalyst in – all through her benevolent super powers.
Each of these paintings has an outline with rats painted on it.
All these events are dated in the museum.
Besides paintings, there are many portraits of Karni Mata. Most of them depict her as an incarnation of Goddess Durga. There is one portrait of her that is more like an old woman with a white beard and mustache. I wondered about the beard & mustache – if it was needed to stand out as a women leader. My guide then told me that Karni Mata lived until the age of 130 or maybe even more. In her old age, her beard and mustaches came out and this is the image from that age.
Second temple of Karni Mata
About a kilometer away from this pink temple is another temple dedicated to Karni Mata. This is the place where she was churning the milk in one of the stories. The original temple is just a small stone idol of hers. There is a tree that goes around the idol. The priest at the temple said the tree was planted by the Karni Mata herself.
Temple is covered with a huge silver chhatri or canopy.
A new marble facade has recently been built around the temple.
This temple is almost empty, you may find just a handful of locals here.
On way to this temple, I saw camels & sheep – two domestic animals of the region.
I learned that there is a parikrama path or a circumambulation path around Karni Mata temple as well – roughly 5-6 km. The area enclosed by this is not inhabited and is used only for grazing of cattle. Marked this for the visit next time I am near Bikaner.
Travel Tips for Rat Temple at Deshnoke
- Deshnoke is about 30 km from Bikaner.
- There is public transport available or you can hire a taxi to go there.
- There is no need of any guide if you visit the Karni Mata Museum or read this post in detail before visiting.
- Temple opens at 4 AM in the morning when the Mangala Arti or the morning prayers are offered.
A temple fair takes place every year on both the Navratri i.e. in March-April & September-October. Temple is very crowded during those times. Average wait time is around 5-6 hours during Navratri.
I wonder if, in the Rat World, they say – He was a very good rat. He got a place at Karni Mata temple after death. In simple words, is this the heaven of rats?
Video of Karni Mata Mandir or Rat Temple
Captured a Bhajan at the Karni Mata Mandir or the Rat Temple of Bikaner. Do watch the video.
Recommend you read about other unique temples of India.