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there is a paradise for rats, it proves that there is also one for humans. But just like “kabbas” (“little children”), as the sacred rats are called in the Karni Mata temple in the Indian state of Rajasthan, which is the only place in the world where rats are worshipped, we too must be born into this place. Just a few meters away from the temple, rats are just rats and are no longer considered sacred.

But inside the temple, 20000 rats call the shots, while some 550 Depavats families, Karni Mata’s descendants, and other devotees of Karni Mata feed them and sweep the floor of excrement and food crumbs. Most devotees work shifts based on the lunar cycle, but some families live there permanently. Rats use all the interior rooms of the temple, including the main temple, and the kitchen, near the massive iron pots where halwa-dish is prepared, in the various side rooms, and on the roof. Different food awaits them in each room.

Rats in the Temple of Karni Mata Temple in Deshnoke (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Karni Mata worshippers belong to the South Asian Charan caste, native to the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat and the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The Charan is the caste of storytellers and believes that when they die they are reborn as rats, and when they die as rats they are reborn as Charan, the storytellers who roamed in the past as bards, poets, historians, cattle breeders, farmers, and also administrators, jagirdars and warriors and some even as traders.

The Western symbolic interpretation of the spiritual connection between storytellers and sacred rats in paradise would suggest that storytellers are like rats, picking up their stories everywhere and spreading the word.

The Legend that bestowed rats with “prasadam”

“Prasadam” is the food brought to the temple and offered to the deity. In Karni Mata, rats eat all the food, and if that’s not enough, there are large metal arches with milk, grains, and coconut shells everywhere. You can easily get milk and prasadam at various stalls outside the temple. 

If you need good luck and a cleansing trip, just drink the milk and water of the rats or eat their leftovers, as anything a rat does is considered sacred and brings you spiritual benefits. And if you need to vomit, remember that this also happens with ayahuasca and that negative energy is released in the process. But if you are unlucky and accidentally step on one of the rats and kill it, you can lawfully reinstate it by replacing the rat with one made of solid silver or gold, and that is the temple law. 

Indian religious law is all about prescribing remedies, but not in a boring and limited way like Christianity, where you just say a few “Hello Marys” and you’re off the hook, but in a very diverse, creative, and implementable way. Perhaps that’s why in India everyone is constantly performing some kind of ritual of worship and every place has a series of pilgrimages every year. They really believe that following the laws of their chosen religious fraction and constantly repeating mantras, choreographies and pilgrimages will enable them to move on to the next plane of existence when their human body shuts down. And it’s also fun to live like this, you get to meet a lot of people and experience a lot of street stuff.

The practice of the spiritual wanderer is central to Eastern religions and is considered the ultimate spiritual journey, constantly encountering and seeing God in everything. It is also central to the legend of Karni Mata who was a wanderer, a poetess, a warrior, a 14th-century sage and mystic, and an incarnation of the goddess Durga or Shakti. 

When she asked the death god Yoma to reincarnate the son of a grieving storyteller, Yoma told her that he was already incarnated as a rat. Karni Mata then promised that all storytellers – members of the Charan caste – in her temple would be reincarnated as rats. When they die as rats, they will be reincarnated as members of the Depavats family.

The Rats’ Paradise

Deep in the Thar desert, in the city of Deshnoke, lies a rat’s paradise that was built as late as the 14th century, around the time the city of Deshnoke was founded in 1470. The present Karni Mata Temple was completed in the 20th century by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the style of Mughal architecture, similar to the Taj Mahal, and is made of marble and stone, while the doors at the entrance are silver. 

Every day, thousands of tourists, locals, and pilgrims visit the Karni Mata temple to seek the blessings of the goddess and the rats that are everywhere, and to protect them from birds of prey and other animals, wires and grids are placed over the courtyard.

Shoes are not allowed in the temple, and it is considered very lucky if a rat runs over your feet or you see an albino rat, of which there are said to be only four or five in twenty thousand. You have a better chance if you come in the late evening or before sunrise when the rats are out for dinner.

Indians are generally very friendly and respectful of animals, and you can see them everywhere in the big cities and in the countryside because in India it is believed that every living thing has a soul that has incarnated into a present life form, which can range from a mountain, a flower, a cockroach, a mosquito to a human being.

Health issues for real

Always remember that this kind of animal worship would never be possible in the West, just as it never took place there. One of the obvious reasons for this is that Western urban architecture, which also determines Western lifestyles, negatively affects the synergy between rodents and humans. It is also known that plague appeared in Asia and Europe as early as the 6th century AD, but was not seen in India until 1896 when the British discovered bubonic plague in Bombay. In the Karni Mata temple itself, despite the rats and all they do, there has never been an outbreak of disease among humans.

But for the rats, it is a different story. Stomach diseases and diabetes are very common among them, and every few years a rat epidemic decimates the population. This is thought to be due to the many sweet foods available to them, as well as their territorial and mating behavior and other temple animals. ​So although it is a paradise for rats, nothing lasts forever, and they must soon return to their human form as wandering storytellers. 

What we can learn from this case is that perhaps somewhere in the universe there is a place where humans are worshipped. Would you like to have that experience?

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