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KARNI MATA IS WORSHIPED AS ONE OF THE STRONGEST WARRIOR REINCARNATION OF GODDESS DURGA IN INDIA. SHE MIGHT BE POWERFUL AND FEARFUL, BUT ONLY UNTIL YOU SEE HER ARMY OF 20.000 RATS! IF YOU ARE LUCKY, YOU CAN SEE THE WHITE RAT, MANIFESTATION OF KARNI MATA HERSELF!
The 15th Century sacred shrine of the Karni Mata also known as the Rat Temple of India is located in village Desnok, 30 kilometers from Bikaner, in the Marwar region of the Thar Desert. The temple dedicated to avatar of Mother Goddess in the form of Karni Mata is famous for the approximately 20.000 rats that live, are revered and worshiped, in the temple.
THE TEMPLE KOMPLEX INSPIRED BY FEMALE PRINCIPAL OF THE MOTHER GODDESS
The Mother Goddess represents the female principal in nature, upholding human, animal and natural creation, she symbolises compassion, coexistence and non-violence. The temple is also known as Madh. This word has several meanings including "Mother" usually is added as a suffix to temples associated with Mother Goddesses. Some shrines dedicated to Goddess Durga are called Madh, and are connected with the Shakti cult and a ritualistic dance for fertility, wherein an unfertile lady takes a small wooden structure of temple called Madh on her head and dances in the middle encircled by other ladies.
The local spiritual creed of Karni Mata is linked to a larger canvas with that of the cult of the Great Mother Goddess – the idea of Shakti. Her story is connected to that of Devi Hinglaj whose temple is located within the Hingol National Park in the Lasbela District of Baluchistan on the Makran coast in Pakistan. It is one of the 52 Shakti peeth, which are major shrines associated with the cult of the Mother Goddess. Hinglaj Devi was reborn as Karni Mata to a Charnan Brahmin couple who had only daughters. From an early age the child exhibited miracles and was bestowed the name Karni, ‘the doer’ by her paternal aunt when the latter was cured off her paralyses.
KARNI MATA (circa 2 October 1387 – circa 23 March 1538) was a female Hindu warrior sage born in the Charan caste. Also known as Shri Karniji Maharaj, she is worshiped as the incarnation of the warrior goddess Durga by her followers. She is an official deity of the royal families of Jodhpur and Bikaner. She lived an ascetic life and was widely revered during her own lifetime. At the request of the Maharajas of Bikaner and Jodhpur, she laid the foundation stones of Bikaner Fort and Mehrangarh Fort, the two most important forts in the region. The most famous of her temples is in the small town of Deshnok, near Bikaner in Rajasthan, and was created following her mysterious disappearance from her home.
Later, to relieve her parents, young Karni married Kipoji Charan of Sathika village, but before the marriage was consummated she revealed herself as a Devi to her husband and commanded him to marry her younger sister by whom there were among several children four boys.
The spiritual importance of the symbol of the Karni Mata as that of non violence, protector, peaceful coexistence and provider of the power legitimacy to the Rajputs.
Legend has it, that when one male child died, it is believed that Karni went to ask for his life from Yama, the God of death who refused saying that to bring the boy alive will be an intervention in the natural cycle of life and death meant for all living organisms. Karni admitted that she was in the wrong, but her compassionate nature made her tell Yama that from now on, the responsibility of all the children from her family will be hers. They will be born in two forms - as rats or Kabba and as men they are known as Charans. Secondly, they will remain in her in her service in the temple, and her space will remain for them until eternity their earth, heaven and hell. And once they give up their life as rats, they would be born again as human beings in the family of Depavats, as her descendants are known today.
DEPAVATS - PRIESTS & PROTECTORS OF THE KARNI MATA RAT TEMPLE
The temple is looked after by the Depavats. There are 513 Depavat families altogether. The male members of these families take turns as priests, following a centuries old tradition. During his tenure priest lives day and night with the rats. All families get an equal share of the offerings at the temple. Ten percent is kept apart for the needy among the Depavats. Forty percent of the rest is divided among the 513 Depavat families and the rest kept in a fund that is used for the temple’s upkeep and developmental works. The portion of the offering which is distributed to the priests and workers is called Dwar Bhent, and that which goes on the maintenance and development of the temple is called Kalash Bhent.
Ganga Singh who built most of the present temple in the 19th and early 20th Century, had a vision in which the goddess herself asked him to protect her rats. The temple itself has been designed for the rats' convenience, with built-in holes for them to scamper in and out of. They eat out of silver dishes on a marble floor, or from a platform under a golden canopy, while priests chant hymns and play cymbals.
Pilgrims touch the ground where the rats have walked and bring them offerings of food and those whose prayers are answered bring silver and gold. They not only feed the rats, believing it lucky to have a rat eat from their hand, but also themselves eat some of the food which the rats have already nibbled, or sit down and eat with them from the same dish, considering it blessed to share a meal with the "little children" in this way.
It sources are stating, that they are doing it with genuine affection, not just because they hope Karni Mata will bless them. After all, if the pilgrims are from the local area then they believe not only that the rats are their own dead relatives and neighbours, their ancestors and their own children who died in infancy, having a life between human incarnations; but that they themselves were rats before they were born, and when they die they will come again to spend a few years as a rat among their past and future comrades, the "little children" of Karni Mata.
Out of all of the thousands of rats in the temple, there are a few white rats, which are considered to be especially holy. They are believed to be the manifestations of Karni Mata herself. Sighting them is a special blessing.
Catching a glimpse of a white or pale fawn rat is particularly prized - said to be a good augury for spiritual progress, and a promise of life long luck. Many devotees go to the temple hoping to see such a white rat before undertaking some important project - perhaps a reference to the rat's association with Ganesh, Lord of Auspicious Beginnings, even though Lord Ganesh's own rat mount is portrayed as dark grey.
According to tradition, on 21 March 1538, she travelled with one of her stepsons back to Deshnok, but suddenly she stopped the caravan and asked for the water. When her followers returned with water, they could not find her, she disappeared there at the age of 151 years...
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