Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bikaner - A Tale of Two Temples

On our way back to Delhi we stopped at the town of Bikaner, famous for it's 'rat temple'. This bizarre Hindu temple is filled with thousands of rats who are fed by worshipers and temple attendants. There are various stories about why the rats are fed and all are excellent. My favorite is that the rats are the souls of storytellers, kept alive by the worshipers of Karni Mater to deny them to another god. Inter-deity spite again!

Mary wasn't keen on the idea of entering the temple, particularly as you must first remove your shoes. She decided to replace her flip-flops with a pair of my thick hiking socks. I suggested this might attract the rats by making her feet resemble two large cuddly rodents, with beige Smartwool coats. She couldn't be dissuaded however and so we padded around the filthy temple in our socks, rats scampering hither and thither.

We were fortunate to see a white rat, which is considered very lucky. Mary was doubly blessed when a rat scampered across her foot - most auspicious - although neither Mary nor the rat thought so at the time.

We stopped at another astonishing temple which we spotted as we left Bikaner. This was more Disney than Hammer Horror. Enormous colourful statues of various Hindu gods guarded a replica of a famous temple elsewhere in India. The replica included a concrete copy of the hillside the original stands on. It's a bit like Epcot Park for Hindus.

Hinduism seems amazingly flexible in the way people can worship. Perhaps because it's such an integral part of everyday life, there is no preciousness about how people practice their faith. This kind of imagination, flexibility and participation seems to be something western Christianity craves, but is culturally unable to achieve. Not the rat part specifically, of course.

Mary and our excellent driver Mr Singh. Oh, and a whole bunch of rats.

It's good to be a rat at the rat temple. A statue of the goddess Karni Mater is in the alcove behind.

Is Ganesh related to Mickey Mouse? Is Walt really Mickey's father, or might it be Shiva?

Mary, Ganesh and big 'ol tiger.

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