Ariane Tatas shares her adventures in Rajasthan:
Travelling India had always been a dream of mine. Actually I wanted to work in an orphanage, but after a crazy series of events, as it could only happen in India, it didn’t work out. Instead I found myself travelling alone in a cab through the northern province of Rajasthan immersing in the incredibly rich world of Indian history.
After visiting dozens of Indian towns, forts, palaces, temples and museums, my head was so full of information that I even started to forget that the travel agent in Mumbai had charged me far too much for this trip. But thank God my driver, Mr Singh, turned out to be a very nice person most of the time. He accepted I was not interested in buying carpets and jewellery from his contractors and that I slowed down the trip by doing it the Greek way, so to speak, and having a chai or coconut every few hours. But he was relentless, when it came to showing me another Hindu temple, especially on the day when he insisted on showing me a “red temple”.
After a wonderful sleep in hotel Sagar in Bikaner, I packed up all my stuff again. Having had a few Kingfishers and the first comfortable bed on this trip the night before, I really didn’t feel like getting up early for just another Hindu temple – let alone looking it up in my travel guide. Obviously I had no idea, that this was about to become the most surprising of all my encounters with Indian temples.
Arguing in the taxi with Mr Singh had led nowhere. The only other thing I could find out was that it was also called Karni Mata Temple after a mystic matriarch of the 14th century who was believed to be a reincarnation of the goddess Durga. I looked up Durga in my guide, in order not to appear totally disrespectful, and found out she was a goddess with many arms representing the warrior aspect of the Divine mother. Finally we arrived and I made my way through the crowd to the entrance. Extremely reluctant and tired, I took off my shoes as everyone did, and walked in with my socks. The sanctuary walls were red. So that was it? I pushed myself forward until I finally realized that we had a tiny but substantial misunderstanding in the car before. This was not the “red temple” but a ‘RAT temple’ … and there were thousands of them.
A little boy who must have seen my startled face came over and offered to guide me around. He explained that here in Deshnoke the rats were revered as reincarnations of holy men and therefore being fed in this temple. And indeed there were shallow bowls with milk and food everywhere.
He explained that Karni Mata arranged with Yama, the Hindu god of death, that all her tribespeople should be reborn as rats until they could be born back into the clan. Her own family members are believed to be reborn as white rats. Therefore being able to spot a white rat or even to feed one is considered particularly lucky. Even more so, if someone dared to eat or drink from the rats’ bowls. For Durga festivals thousands of people are reported walking a long way to honour the goddess and the rats.
I was very impressed. A rat temple and I had almost driven past it. Back in the car Mr Singh was very amused to see my surprised expression and all my pictures. (I didn’t tell him though that I chucked away my dirty socks at the exit.)
Rat Temple of Rajasthan is 30km from Bikaner, and contains about 20,000 rodents. If one of the rats is killed, it must be replaced with one made of solid gold.