“Eating prasad (holy food offering) covered in holy rat saliva is also claimed by believers to bring good fortune.”

I thought I’d read it wrong the first time, so I reread the passage from my battered copy of Lonely Planet.

“The Karni Mata Temple at Deshnok is one of India’s weirder temples.
A mass of holy rodents (kabas) is not for the squeamish. Once you’ve admired the silver doors and marble carvings donated by Maharaja Ganga Singh, you can pick your way into the rats’ domain, hoping that some will scamper over your feet – most auspicious. Keep your eyes peeled for a rare white rat – it’s good luck if you spot one. Eating prasad (holy food offering) covered in holy rat saliva is also claimed by believers to bring good fortune, although most travelers are willing to take their word for it.”

Challenge accepted.

I got a ride to the Rat Temple with Yogi, the manager of the Sri Ram guest house. The car trip took about 45 minutes to an hour, driving past scrub vegetation, camel carts and not much else. At least we had a bitchin’ soundtrack of songs from the ’80s to entertain us. When we arrived, Yogi led me through protocol by instructing me to take off my shoes, and himself buying an offering of whole coconut for the rats. The structure itself wasn’t massive, but the entryway was beautiful bas-relief carved marble. Before we stepped through the giant silver gates, I could already see rats scampering close to the walls.

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Once inside the gates, I looked to the left to see a structure I don’t even know how to describe. Some sort of metal on a stand that was maybe used to feed the rats? It looked industrial and had a crowd of people surrounding its barrier, while masses of rats wove around and between the onlookers’ feet. I later learned that everyone was crowding in for a glance at the much sought-after and highly auspicious white rat.

Straight ahead from the entryway was the small room with the ornate silver altar for praying to the goddess. I was told I wasn’t allowed inside since I’m a westerner, so I peeked in the doorway while Yogi brought his coconut offering inside to the men who were hosting the crowd in front of the altar. They broke his coconut in half and laid it on the floor for the cluster of rats to nibble. I stood next to the railing by the door, watching the process until I realized there were rats perched on the rails, ready to make me their personal jungle gym. I backed away and took a few head shots instead.

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We walked around the smaller shrines, housed just beside the main one, and snapped photos of rats enjoying their holy status. The only thing these fat mangy rodents could want for would perhaps be a flea-dip. The number of holy rodents in one place was astonishing. I felt like I was on the set of the movie “Willard.”

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People were murmuring and crowding the large metal structure again, so I decided to enter the fray in the hopes of spotting the white rat. My efforts were not in vain. Someone stepped aside just as the white rat was on the move towards a bit of shelter, and I got a fleeting glance of the fuzzy rarity. Rat luck is now mine. Maybe one day I’ll have followers to lay more food than I could ever care to eat at my feet, too.

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As for Lonely Planet’s “prasad eating” business, I never saw anyone eating food that was soaked in rat spit. Were the LP contributors having a laugh about that statement or what? I never ate any rat spit offerings, but I did get to enjoy a local delicacy when we left the temple.

After hearing about my blog’s subject matter, Yogi brought me across the dusty road to eat at a small local shop where plastic chairs were nestled around tables covered with plastic tablecloths. He spoke with the men preparing the food, putting in our order and making sure it was prepared the way he knew it. He explained about the content of our dish, Sangri Sabji. the main ingredient is a sort of bean-type thing that grows on trees in the area. It is prepared in a curry and absolutely delicious! This dish is local to Rajasthan and one of my new favorites. The beans are thin and slightly dry, with a slight earthy, savory, umami type flavor. Mixed with the spicy red curry, it was delightful. We ate it with chappatis that had also been made with a local grain flour, but I never caught the exact name of the ingredient.

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Once we had our fill, we made the slow journey back into Bikaner and along to the sweets shop. Yogi told me that Bikaner is known especially for its confections, so I was keen to sample some treats. We strolled into a small shop that was lined with cases of sugar-laden goodies. I took my time gazing over each different shape, color, and texture before enlisting the help of a teenage boy, who grabbed a piece of each treat I pointed to. He boxed up all my choices and I paid a little less than $2 for my hefty box of diabetes.

Back at the guest house, I laid out all my treasures and sampled them, one by one, savoring most of the sugary bites before slipping into a slight diabetic coma.

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3 Responses to “Rat Temple Offerings”

  1. yogi
    15 February 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    the local Chpati you eat is known as bajari ki Roti with pure butter / ghee and ker sangri ke sabji.
    thank you for such a beautiful description of our deity karni mata and her children or you can say her devotees who have re born as rats.
    Thank you once again. Look forward to meet you.
    Yogi
    +919649677111

  2. Cameron
    15 February 2014 at 12:33 am #

    What a beautiful description of your day. Your images of the rats were beautiful. I especially like the one of them all drinking the milk, with their tails hanging over the edge of the bowl. Thanks for sharing your beautiful journey. Miss you!

  3. Frank
    14 February 2014 at 4:26 am #

    That’s pretty wild, India looks nuts. The pic of all the rats sipping out of the milk bowl or whatever is sweet.