An estimated 20,000 rats. That’s how many of these rodents you’ll find at the Karni Mata Temple in India. To say the rats have the run of the place would be an understatement. They’re everywhere.
Located in Bikaner, Rajasthan, in the western Indian desert, the rats that inhabit this temple are worshiped as royal reincarnated descendants of the Hindu goddess, Karni Mata.
The story of how Karni Mata's offspring took the form of rodents has a few variations. But one of the most common versions begins with her asking Yoma, the god of death, to revive her drowned son. After first resisting, Yoma relents, promising that Karni Mata’s son, in addition to all her male descendants, would be reincarnated as rats.
The Karni Mata Temple attracts thousands of devotees and tourists every year. Respects are paid through prayer and the offering of foodie gifts because it’s believed these offerings bring good luck. And if visitors happen to see the temple’s two elusive albino rats, it is said such a sighting brings even greater serendipity.
Visitors are required to remove their shoes before walking inside the temple. The architecture is heavily influenced by the style of the Mughal era, with white marble carvings of various Hindu icons adorning this house of prayer.
In the event someone accidentally kills a rat, they are to be replaced with a gold or silver Khaba (a pharaoh of ancient Egypt) of the same metrics as the deceased rat.
Although a questionable practice for hygienic reasons, eating food that’s been nibbled by the rats is considered a prestigious honor.