On the evening of 5 January 2014 we reached our hotel in Bikaner. After resting for some time, we visited the Camel Festival and spent the time enjoying the resplendent colors and folk dances of Rajasthan. At around 8 pm we returned to our hotel and sat down for tea and snacks. Unexpectedly, a person in the hotel approached us and asked, “Have you visited the Karni mata mandir for darshan.” I told him that we will not be going there since it was late and we had to leave early in the morning for Jaisalmer. Then this person remarked, “After coming all the distance to Bikaner if you do not visit Karni mata mandir then you will miss a very important pilgrimage.”
I looked questioningly at my wife and children. They eagerly expressed their willingness to visit the place. Quickly we got into our car and began the drive to the temple in the growing darkness. Generally I avoid late night travels in unknown places, but it seemed to me that it was a divine calling and with a prayer in my heart, I kept driving towards our destination.
The 30 kilometers stretch to the temple had many potholes and it was a lonely route. After travelling for half the distance it occurred to me that this late night travel was not a very sensible idea. I wanted to turn back, but an invisible force guided me onwards. Soon it was 9 pm and the beginning of few dwellings indicated that we had reached a town. We enquired and it was indeed Dashnok.
The scene outside the temple was in sharp contrast to the loneliness of our drive. Many shops were open and decorated with sweets and paraphernalia. Hordes of devotees were entering and exiting the temple. We also bought some sweets for offerings and entered the temple.
We had heard that many rats roam freely in Karni mata mandir, but what we saw was beyond our wildest imagination. All around the premises of the temple thousands of rats were running freely and fearlessly. Many came near us and jumped on our feet. We were surprised at this sight as we had never seen anything like this before. At a distance we saw the idol of Karni mata in a small cave. The devotees were slowly moving towards this cave. We also joined the queue with our attention on the rats, which kept trying to climb us.
Suddenly, a devotee came from behind and prostrated before divine mother and remained in this state for a long time. Within seconds, hundreds of rats climbed on him and soon his back, neck and head were covered with the rats. However, this did not disturb him and he remained in this state of prostration for a long time. We were shocked by this sight and could not comprehend the depth of his devotion.
By this time we had come closer to the cave and the view was even more alarming. The sweets and fruits were kept in a big plate near divine mother and many rats were eating these offerings. The pundit was giving this prasad to the devotees, who were willingly accepting it. Near this plate there was a huge bowl filled with milk and hundreds of rats were drinking milk from this bowl. The devotees would scoop some milk from this bowl in their hands and drink it on their way out. It was a bizarre scene and the prasad was even more unconventional. In a trance we walked out of the temple and honestly, none of us ate the prasad.
Outside under a tree, a folk singer was singing some bhajans. We went and sat next to him. Though we did not understand the local dialect, his singing was very melodious and we sat there listening to him. It was 10 pm in the night and still everything was lively in and around the temple compound. By this time, we had got accustomed to the rats and had accepted their presence around us. Some rats even climbed us but we were not alarmed and gently pushed them down. In fact, Aakaash and Alokita were so amused that they started clicking photographs with them.
Suddenly, a devotee came near us and asked, “Did you drink the milk from the bowl in the temple.” I replied truthfully, “No we did not.” He said, “You must not worry as the rats are drinking from the bowl. This milk is actually the most valuable prasad of this temple. Ardent devotees travel long distances to partake it.” I wondered the reasons behind these happenings…unknown people coming to us since the evening and telling us about Karni mata. Was it a divine intervention to first guide us on this pilgrimage and then clear our doubts?
This person then patiently narrated the miraculous life of Karni mata from her birth in the year 1387 to final renunciation of her life. We were mesmerized listening to the miracles of Karni mata. We were unaware of the fact that we were sitting in the temple of a Devi, who was considered as one of the incarnations of the powerful Durga. These rats were the descendants of Karni mata, who were called kabba. It was believed that after leaving their mortal lives these descendants were reborn as rats and came to live in this temple. It was also believed that it was very auspicious to look after them and feed them. We also came to know that many years back, plague had affected this region of Rajasthan, but, inspite of the rats in Karni mata mandir, the plague did not affect the village of Dashnok at all.
We all looked at each other. Aakaash said, “Papa, let’s go inside the temple again.” We all agreed and since it was nearing the closing time, we quickly entered the temple. First we had gone into the temple as tourists, now we re-entered to have darshan of Karni mata. We were now fearless of the numerous rats as they were now the respected kabbas. We did pranam to divine mother and then ate the prasad and also took some milk from the bowl and drank it. We then sat on the temple floor and enjoyed the playful activities of the kabbas and let them jump all over us. By the time we exited from the temple the second time, we had become devotees of Karni mata.
Karni Mata, who is the protector of the people of Rajasthan, is a very special goddess. We were not at all aware that she had been taking care of us strangers in her land. She guided us to her temple and transformed our thought process towards devotion for her. We began our journey to the land of Rajasthan as tourist, but we returned after completing a pilgrimage.