If like me you thought you had never heard of Bikaner, think again! I remember watching Paul Merton in India on Five TV in the UK, then you will have seen his visit to the Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke Now I am no lover of rats as readers of this blog will know but the whole thing about a temple dedicated to rats intrigued me. Worshiper’s believe that these rats are the reincarnated souls saved from the wrath of Yama, the God of Death, India’s penchant for marble and for bizarre ritual never fails to astound me! Here these creatures have the run of the temple, they are fed and watered, or should I more correctly say, given milk like cats.
It is supposed to be very fortunate if one of the rats comes and touches you, but it is also very unfortunate if you hurt one, or kill one, as the fine is hefty, a silver one in its place. Perhaps even worse still to my way of thinking, is that followers not only bring offerings to feed the rats, they consider it auspicious to eat what the rats leave. Every ounce of my western upbringing is revolted by all of this: to me they are vermin, purveyors of disease.
However, decided one has sometimes to face one’s nightmares head on and so I was quietly determined to enter this Temple, although I decided not to go barefoot but to sacrifice a pair of socks, just in case. I really did not know whether I could do this until I got there. But do it I did! And I was so glad about having brought socks: in complete contrast to the floors of the other temples we have visited, especially the Jain ones, the place was filthy, with dropping and food debris everywhere. My pictures are not great. I was so conscious of not wanting to drop the camera should a rat decide to honour me, and certainly no wanting to get startled by one, stumble and step on it! I don’t think my volunteer allowance would stretch to much in the way of a silver replacement!
In the end, there didn’t seem to be as many rats there as I had remembered from the TV programme, but maybe that is just my memory of it playing tricks on me as I worked myself up for the visit.