Welcome to a new bi monthly blog here on Boyletoday.com called ‘Next Stop Who Knows’.
The blog is written by Boyle natives Carlo Cretaro and Florence Murphy who left their homes in Boyle 7 years ago to travel the world and start an online business. They visit some weird and wonderful places and write about their experiences on their blog over at www.nextstopwhoknows.com. Specialising in web design and lead generation for local businesses, you can read more about their services at www.nextstopmarketing.com
This week the intrepid duo visit the Rat Temple of Bikaner:
We were somewhere in South America when we watched one of the most fascinating documentaries we’ve ever seen. It was a documentary about the Hindu temple of Karni Mata in Bikaner, Northern India. It featured a temple that was home to 25,000 rats.
I couldn’t help but squirm a little watching it.
The temple worshippers were barefoot and loving life as the rats ran over their toes, up their legs and across their backs. People flock from all over India to worship, feed and protect these rats and they enjoyed free reign in the temple.
There were huge silver trays of milk that prevented them from getting thirsty. People were dipping their hands in the milk and blessing themselves with it – much like we do with holy water when walking into St. Josephs on a Sunday morning!
And that’s not even the most bizarre thing.
There is a tiny candle lit room in the temple and it is home to the ‘pope’ rat who is white and the most famous rat of all.
Locals believe that getting to see the pope rat is an absolute privilege and one that will bless them for many years but it is VERY rare that worshippers get to see him. He has his own quarters and only comes out to greet visitors once in a while.
I guess he is like the Pope Francis of the rat world. Pope Francis isn’t going to be running about the Sistine Chapel welcoming visitors, is he?!
So – the big question – why do they worship rats?
The people of Rajasthan worship the rats of Karni Mata because they believe the rats are reincarnations of their ancestors, including their own children who died during infancy, and as rats, they are taking a short break between human incarnations.
Sounds crazy, right? We thought so too. So crazy that we had to see it for ourselves.
Fast forward 10 months and we found ourselves at the entrance to the temple buying food for the 25,000 rats that we were about to greet us.
We were barefoot as wearing shoes into any sacred place in India is not allowed. We hadn’t quite thought that one over.
I was shaking at the thought of what was waiting through the doors. Carlo, who claims he has a fear of rats, was coping a little better than I was. He was, dare I say it, a little giddy and I knew who was going to suffer most.
We walked through the door and it kind of felt like the temple was easing us in. There were a few small rats inside the door. They gathered in big groups along the perimeter of the path and, at a distance of a couple of feet away from us, I began to think, “this may not be so bad”.
But that feeling didn’t last long.
We made our way into the open courtyard and we found ourselves surrounded by thousands of small to medium sized rats. They were EVERYWHERE.
Some were tangled up in the railings. Others ran across the tiles in front of us. Some were drinking milk from big silver trays just like we’d seen in the documentary. Others were eating dead pigeons.
Kids were playing with them. Adults were picking them up and letting them run all over their bodies.
And there we were with no shoes on, eyes (and mouths) wide open, trying to take it all in. I could swear the rats knew we were ‘different’ and wanted to suss us out. They were getting VERY close for comfort.
We were the only foreigners in the temple and we had to remember that everyone else was there to pray. That meant we had to keep silent and not squeal when a rat sniffed our toes.
After all, that rat is someone’s brother, sister, mother, father, son or daughter!
I stared in amazement at what was happening around us. Carlo then turned to me and said he was going to see the pope. “Off with you”, I said! I knew what that room was going to be like.
He emerged from the tiny room 5 minutes later. Sweating and shaking his head, I couldn’t help but giggle at the expression on his face!
The room was smaller than he’d expected but the smell was a whole lot worse than it was in the courtyard. It was jammed to the door with thousands of rats and 50-60 people. Worshippers were praying loudly, music was blaring and the smoke from the incense sticks filled the air.
I think that was enough for Carlo to take in and we left the temple 5 minutes later.
We felt dirty, sticky and probably smelled a lot. The hunger we felt before going into the temple had disappeared and our thoughts were consumed by how long we had to wait to have a hot shower!
Looking back, it is, as we predicted, one of the most bizarre places we’ve ever been.
Would we go again? Definitely not but we’re glad we went. It’s always good to experience cultural differences and see what other people do instead of going to mass to ‘show the face’ once a week!
I guess you’re wondering did Carlo get to see the pope? Unfortunately, he didn’t. But he did get over his fear of rats in that small room so maybe that was even better than getting a glimpse of the holy one!
Log on again to Boyletoday.com on Thursday 27th to see where Carlo and Florence’s travels take them next time.