Man – animal relationship
Our religious beliefs have high degree of integration with not only the environment but also with other living beings. We have Elephant head God in Ganesha, Monkey God in Hanuman, Multi-headed Kali Nag forms an important part of the Krishna lore, and Crow remains an important bird in the interpretation of certain mythological stories. Sheshanag is the bed of Lord Vishnu, Tiger that of Durga, and Peacock that of Saraswati. Mouse is the vehicle of Ganesha, whereas Bull is the vehicle of Eshwara. And extending the principle of co-existence further, we have the lore of ‘Narasimha’ wherein two forms (human and animal) _ Nara (man) and Simha (lion) are visualized in one body. In certain groups of people dining is started only after keeping aside a morsel or two for ants or crows. However, it is the Cow which commands the highest place of reverence not only in mythology but also in our daily life.
Therefore, we need not be surprised or shocked when we find ourselves in close communion with other living beings even in modern times. Rather such communion constitutes an integral part of our daily life.
However, the Karni Mata Temple might surprise even a diehard Hindu believer with the exception of people who have absolute faith in this temple.
Karni Mata temple
This is a famous Hindu temple dedicated to Karni Mata located at Deshnok, 30 km from Bikaner. It is also known as the temple of rats. The temple is famous for approximately 20,000 black rats that live, and are revered in the temple. These holy rats are called kabbas, and devotees travel great distances to pay their respect to them. The temple draws believers from across the country for blessings, as well as curious tourists from around the world. The temple is thrown open to the public at 4.00 a.m. Charan priests perform Mangla-Ki-Aarti and offer bhog (special food) in worship. Devotees make offerings to the rats, which roam around the temple in large numbers and are considered auspicious. There are two kinds of offerings made: one called ‘dwar-bhent’ is attributed to the priests and the workers, while the other, known as ‘kalash-bhent’ is utilised for the temple maintenance and development.
It is a universal truth that when rats die they produce a foul smell. However, the belief in Karni Mata temple is that when sacred rats die here, they do not produce any foul smell at all. There is no foul odor whatsoever. It is further believed that when a rat dies it forebodes a birth in her tribe. Another interesting feature is that both white rats and black species of rats live in harmony at Karni Mata temple.
Eating food that has been nibbled on by these rats is considered to be “high honor”. If one of the “sacred” rats is killed, then it must be replaced with one made of solid silver by way of expiation.
According to the legend, Karni Mata was originally the wife of Depoji Charan of the village of Sathika. However, she later expressed to her husband her unwillingness to engage in matrimonial relations. He initially tried to win over her, thinking she would relent in course of time. Instead of doing so Karni made him agree to marry her own younger sister, Gulab so that he might have a proper married life. She herself remained celibate all her life, with the concurrence and full support of her husband.
Karni lived in her in-laws’ village for about two years before leaving with her followers and a herd of cattle to lead a nomadic life, camping at sunset. One such camp was made at the village of Jangloo; but a servant of Rao Kanha, who was the ruler of the place, denied access to water for her caravan. Karni Mata declared her follower Rao Ridmal of Chandasar as the new ruler of the village and continued on her journey. When she reached near Deshnok, Rao Kanha himself came to oppose her camping at that place, but soon he died. Karni Mata stopped wandering further, and decided to settle there. By then she had become famous as Karni Mata.
In 1453, Karni gave her blessings to Rao Jodha of Jodhpur for conquering Ajmer, Merta and Mandor. In 1457 she went to Jodhpur at Rao Jodha’s request, to lay the corner stone of the fort at Jodhpur.
Her first temple was constructed in the village of Mathania during her lifetime by her follower, Amara Charan. In 1472, she arranged the marriage of Rao Bika, the fifth son of Rao Jodha, and Rang Kunwar, daughter of Rao Shekha of Pungal, to turn the enmity of the Rathor and Bhatian families into friendship. In 1485, she laid the foundation stone of the fort of Bikaner at the request of Rao Bika. In 1538, Karni went to visit the Maharaja of Jaisalmer. On 21st March of that year she was travelling back to Deshnok with her stepson Poonjar and a few other followers. They were near Gadiyala and Girirajsar of the Kolayat tehsil in Bikaner district when she asked the caravan to stop for water. She disappeared there, reportedly at the age of 151 years.
Anti-thesis of HPS
Modern science has researched and found that Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a serious respiratory disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings or saliva. Humans can contract the disease when they breathe in aerosolized virus. Although rare, HPS is potentially deadly. Apart from the scare there is a long list of precautions and medications suggested by the medical science for avoiding HPS.
At Deshnok temple the sacred rats look highly overfed and even sick. But so far no case of any HPS seems to have been reported. Obviously, belief is more powerful than scientific revelations. It may also be a potential site with abundant scope for medical research, especially to find out the secret of this anti-thesis of HPS!