Singapore Adventure

Friday, March 24, 2006

Karni Mata
by jima

My most common refrain in India: Try not to think about it.
    "This menu is filthy." Try not to think about it.

    "Why are all the lassi shops infested with flies?" Try not to think about it.

    "Can you imagine a worse job than carrying stacks of dried cow dung on your head?" Well, my job has its moments, but let's try not to think about it.

Little did I know that the rest of India was just a dress rehearsal for the mother of all things not to think about, the Karni Mata Rat Temple.

Now you may be envisioning a temple adorned with an endless array of rat carvings. Or perhaps your imagination conjures an enormous whiskered rat god atop an altar. Or perchance you're hoping that rat has another meaning in one of the multitude of Indian languages.

If only.

Karni Mata is home to hundreds, maybe thousands, of live rats. They run in out on over under through the beautiful and exceedingly smelly marble temple. The walls are punctured with holes to allow rats easy access, and the open courtyard is covered with wire mesh to protect the rats from avian predators. Pilgrims, and there are many, buy holy food offerings from nearby hawkers to feed to the rats.

The story is that one Karni Mata, a miracle performer, used her you-might-say-limited powers to reincarnate her drowned son... as a rat, then decreed that henceforth her descendants would no longer die but would instead be reincarnated... as rats. And this was a good thing. Now, more than 500 years later, the rat temple is a sacred shrine to which people make annual pilgrimages (we met some), newlyweds make post-nuptial visits (we saw some), and tourists come to gawk (we were some).

Three auspicious things might happen to you in the temple:
  • A rat may run over your feet. Shoes are not allowed inside, though Venitha bucked the bare-footed trend and wore socks. Bidding on eBay for the socks begins tomorrow. One rat did brush against my foot; I'll let you know when the luck kicks in.
  • You may see a white rat. White rats are special as they are the reincarnation of Karni Mata herself. Our driver, who showed a disturbing interest in this temple, located our heroine tucked away in a filthy corner in a mangy ratty pile.
  • You may eat a holy food offering after it has been blessed with holy rat saliva. I'm not making this up.
My recommendation: Try not to think about it.