Thirty kilometers from Bikaner is Deshnoke, where the famous Karni Mata Temple is situated. Karni Mata was a Hindu sage who was worshipped as an incarnation of Durga. She is an official deity of the Jodhpur and Bikaner royal family.
The temple was built after Karni Mata disappeared there at the age of 151 on March 23, 1538. Its rats, called kabbas, are treated as sacred.
There are two stories behind the rats at the temple. One legend says that Karni Mata’s stepson drowned in a pond. She asked Yama, the god of death, to spare him. At first he refused but then he reincarnated her stepson and all her male children as rats.
The other says that an army of 20,000 soldiers deserted a battle and ran to Deshnoke. Though desertion was punishable by death, Karni Mata turned them into rats and offered them the temple’s protection.
Eating the food nibbled by the rats is considered auspicious. If one of the rats is killed, it must be replaced by a silver rat.