In the small village of Deshnok in North Rajastan sits the only temple in India devoted to rat worship. Every day hundreds of worshippers of the Hindu goddess Shri Karniji make the long pilgrimage to this shrine. Shri Karniji was born in 1444 and was reputed to have lived for 151 years. It is said that she was capable of miracles. In one often recounted story, a soldier named Rama Mokal, found himself surrounded by his enemies in battle. After praying to Karniji, he received a lion in place of his horse and defeated the enemy. Karniji's modern day followers continue to seek out 'darsham' or blessing for themselves.
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In her temple in Deshnok, rats are found in large numbers as they are believed to be the incarnation of the goddess. These sacred rats, or kabas, are fed on gifts of food and milk which add up to about 2,500 a year.

The rats are fed around the clock so that they never leave the temple itself. At 11 o'clock every morning they cluster around a large bowl of buffalo milk set aside for them in the outer sanctum of the temple.
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The journalists of India regularly voice their outrage at this practice in a country where the average wage is 400 a year and 450 million people live in poverty. Yet the devotees continue to flock in with their offerings of sweetmeats and coconuts which are presented to the head priest in exchange for a blessing and the application of kum kum, an orange dot on the forehead, the ancient symbol of the third eye.

In addition it is worth noting that an old Hindu tradition required any person who stepped on a rat and killed it to give the rat's weight in gold and silver to the temple or endure bad karma forever. This is proving a little impracticable today, and in its place the temple staff have taken to selling small silver rats to cover such an incident.

A curious modern addition to the temple are crash barriers, set up to control the thousands who stream into the inner sanctum during special worship services.
For further thought

1. Imagine that you are an Indian journalist. You are outraged by rat worship. What might you write in your newspaper?

2. Imagine that you are a committed follower of Shri Karniji. How would you defend rat worship?

3. Why are Hindus so concerned to avoid 'bad karma'?