Visiting the Karni Mata Rat temple in Deshnok, India!

by Deborah Durrfeld

India is known as the country of different beliefs, religions, rituals and myths. But a rat temple? For real? Yes, it exists! The Karni Mata temple of Deshnok, is home to more than 25,000 holy rats, and considered very sacred by the locals. At first, I didn’t understand what to expect. But as soon as I learned more, the place started to fascinate me. In this article I will take you to one of the most bizarre, yet unique temples in India, for an intriguing visit.

The Karni Mata Rat Tempel in Deshnok, India

Deshnok is a little town, about 30 kilometers from Bikaner. The town is famous for its temple, known as the Deshnok temple, dedicated to Karni Mata.  Karni Mata was a 15th century woman, with extraordinary powers and is seen as the reincarnation of Goddess Durga. Karni Mata is said to be able to return humans to earth as a rat, and later as human beings. More than 25.000 rats are living in this unique temple nowadays.  The rats are very sacred and followers believe these animals are the reincarnation of their own deceased relatives. Numerous people come from far, to feed the animals and worship Karni Mata and their deceased loved ones. A very unique and special belief.

Upon arrival we are directed to a special entrance, where you hand in your shoes. Yes, it is also mandatory, like in many temples in India, to walk around barefoot or in socks. I’m going with the sock option. A long line of people is waiting in front of the entrance, and people are going in one by one.

Once inside, I am excited and nervous at the same time. But I’m mostly looking forward to seeing the rats. I have to say though, that I’m not afraid of rats, unless they are big and go around dirty rubbish mountains obviously. It doesn’t take long before I see the first group of rats crawling around. And my first thought is: these rats are not that scary. They are very small and even a bit cute. Well, don’t get me wrong. I still think it’s dirty seeing so many rats and I definitely prefer seeing other animals. But for being around so many of these creatures, it is not that bad.

Only the speed of the animals, moving around, scares me. And this is not a joke, but clumsy as I am, I am on a rat’s tail, within 10 minutes. The animal hits a scream and a number of people look furious at me. I am so embarrassed. Because I respect local beliefs and customs, I really tried to be careful. I’m relieved to see that the rat continues running around,  like nothing happened. Later on, I understand that there are high fines for injuring a rat. In any case, it is important to walk quietly and to look around you very carefully.

It’s interesting to see the trays with milk and grain, placed everywhere in the temple. Because the rats are holy, they are well fed and protected. In the open courtyard, at the very back, a large net has even been stretched to protect the animals from birds of prey. I am very much interested in the people who visit the temple, and try to observe them. Most of them do not want to be photographed, wich I understand.

The priest at the shrine is willing to have a chat with me and allows me to take a picture. People come to worship Karni Mata and their deceased relatives at this shrine. He also explains, that if you find a rat, running over your feet, it brings luck. Many visitors are therefore looking around, hoping this is going to happen. I. was afraid to ask if my rat experience was counting as well. He also tells me that white rats bring even more luck. I did my best to find one, but unfortunately didn’t experience this.

I find it remarkable to hear that only the rats, living within this temple, are considered holy. Everything that lives outside, is seen as vermin. How would it be possible to obtain this privileged position as a rat?

After my visit, I’m sharing experiences with my colleagues. A number of them did not enter at all. Other than that, everyone has a different opinion. If you are afraid of rats, a visit to this temple is definitely not recommended. But if you are interested in the local traditions, it is really worth visiting. It is recommended to wash your feet and put on clean socks afterwards. Your feet are probably still sticky from strolling through the temple.

When to visit the Deshnok temple?

It is best to visit the Deshnok temple early in the morning. Then the light is the most beautiful  for taking pictures and you will see many rats. The rats are also active at the end of the afternoon. During the day it is too hot and most of them seek a place in the shade, in their burrows.

How to visit the Deshnok temple + extra tips?

Deshnok temple is an hour’s drive from Bikaner and is easy to visit in a morning or afternoon. It is best to rent a jeep or taxi. The entrance to the temple is free. Sometimes you have to pay for a camera. Don’t forget to bring extra socks with you. It is also useful to bring a plastic bag to put your dirty socks on afterwards. Another option is to borrow slippers on the spot. Around the entrance there are several stalls where you can buy water for yourself and food for the rats.

Do you want to read more about India? Check out the overview with the most beautiful palaces and forts in Rajasthan, the desert city of Rajsathan – Bikaner, New Delhi slum tour, and the pink city of India-Jaipur


This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)

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