The Karni Mata Temple

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This temple near Bikaner, Rajasthan is literally crawling with rats.


I asked this man why he faced the rats instead of the goddess on the shrine, and he said simply to be closer to the holy animals. The kabas (rats) scurry in packs across the floor while visitors wait for hours to make offerings at the shrine. The line for the shrine stretches out of the temple and across a dirt square and out through the temple gate.


People crowd into the dimly lit and hot temple interior. The stench is overpowering; it smells of sweat and rat feces and rotting food.


They feed the rats homemade millet flour breadcrumbs and bowls of milk, so the rats are not just kept nourished, they’re well fed to the point of obesity. There is food everywhere, and the rats never stop eating, but they still fight for the food, biting and bloodying each other.


Outside, these men (above) were leaving the temple after making their offerings. Devotees believe that a family member who passes on is reincarnated as a rat in this temple. When a rat dies it is not removed from the temple but left to decompose in order that its soul will also pass on within these sacred walls.

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