These “Temple Socks” Aren’t Coming Home

11 Mar

Karni Mata Temple, Deshnok.

In an earlier post from India, I started writing about “suspending my general (Western) perceptions” of how this world works. I was back on the Ganges, trying to wrap my brain around the idea of a holy-deity-river being the site of simultaneous bathing, prayer, laundry and cremation.  Welcome back folks, here’s another example of how my Western perception has been expanded.

Happy rats! Deshnok.

Prepare yourselves, this one’s not for the squeamish. In today’s “you’ll only find this in India” installment, I visited Deshnok’s Karni Mata Temple – a.k.a “The Rat Temple.”

(I also tried pistachio camel milk ice cream, but that’s another story. It was a full day. . .back to the rats.)

Beautiful silver door. Deshnok.

The subject of several television documentary stories, my travel friend and I decided we had to see this one for ourselves. A good 45-minute drive outside of the up-and-coming desert city of Bikaner, you’ll find a unique Hindu temple. As the story goes, Bikaner’s patron deity was asked to perform a resurrection and spoke with the gods, only to find out that all of her male descendants would come back as rats…in her temple…in Deshnok. Or, something like that. In short, it’s a beautiful out-of-the-way temple in a tiny town with thousands of holy rats running freely alongside the (human) worshippers.

Big line of penitent followers. Deshnok.

Now we knew what we’d signed up for, but as we stepped up to the door, our Indian friend turned to me and asked “Are you OK with this?” Well, we were about to find out.

Before you get all freaked out, let me say – these are without a doubt the happiest rats in the world. They’re tiny, not un-cute, and pretty well-behaved. They lounge around with a thousand of their closest friends and relatives sipping milk, nibbling on holy sweets and nuts, and in an interesting turn of the tables, having the humans worry about not stepping on them all day.

They’re arguably cute. Deshnok.

It’s an easy imaginative jump to, say, “The Rats of Nimh,” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (Splinter was a rat, right?)

A huge (real) silver door leads a line of patient, penitent hundreds along a marble floor to catch a quick glimpse of a fiery (yes fiery!) icon set deep within the temple. The scene is complete with offerings and chanting and blessed food and lots of rats running around.

I mean really Indiana Jones type stuff here. For being basically in the middle of nowhere in the desert, we were surprised just how popular the temple was. Easily a thousand or so people returning from a nearby festival decided to stop in by the tourbus-full to pay their respects to the deity.

Adjacent snack stalls sold souvenir pictures and keychains of the icon – and the rats – along with sodas and gum and CD’s of Hindi pop music. It was downright festive.

All socks and wet wipes. Deshnok.

Though decidedly foreign,  the experience wasn’t quite as terrifying as those tv shows would have you believe…except maybe for one thing: I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that to enter Hindu temples you have to take off your shoes. Yep. That’s right. Picture yourself, tiptoe-ing barefoot or in your little knit socks across a cold marble floor, sticky holy sweets and grains stuck to the bottom, weaving your way around thousands of holy rats.

Needless to say, that pair of socks is not coming home. It didn’t even make it back to the car. Plus, the pair of clean socks I put on after them may not come home either.

In my comic-relief moment of the afternoon, I spotted only the second public trash bin of my entire India trip – right next to the temple shoe stand – chock full of socks and wet wipes.

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