Not religious folks ourselves, we’ve got a pretty open mind when it comes to religion. I tend to get pretty intrigued by different faiths and enjoy learning about them. Well, India has been an immersive crash course on the Hindu faith. More than 80% of the 1.2 billion people in India are Hindus and it’s as big a part of their culture as anything else. There are 3+ million Gods and Goddess, but you’ll get the same response from every Hindu that, “God is One.” They’re extremely open-minded and respectful of all religions acknowledging that no matter how you worship, in the end it’s just the one big guy in the sky.
Hindus are as superstitious as they come. Each vehicle has a tail of black pom poms to ward away the evil eye, every doorway adorns a string of seven chilies and one lemon to keep the evil out, there are elephant statues for good luck, the religion’s swastika-esque symbol is painted everywhere (for good luck), the number’s 4 and 99 are good luck, and you don’t dare walk around a temple counterclockwise. The list goes on and on.
While we were in Bikaner, we ventured 30 kilometers outside the city to see the unique Karnimata Temple – rightfully named “Rat Temple” by non-Hindu visitors. Like all temples, the first thing we had to do was take off our shoes and thank the Hindu god of footwear that we both opted for sneakers with socks that day because we were about to tour a temple covered in rats and pigeon shit.
The story of the Karnimata Temple (Wiki) is long and convoluted but basically a Goddess lived in this temple and then her spiritual children came as a gift in the form of rats. Now, this temple is crawling with rats and Hindu people come to share sweets with the rats (yes, there are big bowls of food on the floor and people and rats mutually feast on them), gain some good Karma and pray to the Goddess.
A sacred temple, we did our best to be completely respectful, but we were both on the verge of gagging from the mixed aroma of rats, pigeons, their shit, sweets and burning incense cooking in the desert sun. We played along for a bit, but once the first rat ran across my foot (again, thank Buddha for socks) and Danny got shit on by a pigeon, we were done. But the best part? Both of those things are good luck. Of course they are.