The temple of Karni Mata, at Desknoke near Bikaner is a remarkable place. The temple contains 20,000 rats, who are cared for by the priests. I wanted to visit because of the write-up in the Lonely Planet, which claimed that the rats were reincarnated story tellers.
The Lonely Planet says that a story-teller had died and Karni Mata asked Yama, the God of death, to bring them back to life. When Yama refused, Karni Mata reincarnated the storyteller as a rat, under her protection. This version of the story states that Karni Mata decreed all storytellers would be reincarnated as rats to keep them away from Death.
Sadly, as far as I can tell, the story is a garbled account of the actual myth. Having spoken to the caretaker at the temple museum, it turns out that a particular group of families is reincarnated at the temple (not all members of the Charan caste as is reported elsewhere). The man at the museum said that he himself expected to be reincarnated as one of the thousands of rats.
Karni Mata is a remarkable figure. The museum opposite the temple is a large hall displaying paintings of the episodes in Karni Mata's life. She was born in 1387 after a 21 month pregnancy. Karni Mata was said to be a reincarnation of the Goddess Durga. Throughout her life, she worked miracles, including healings, building a temple in one night and feeding an army with four chapattis.
The temple is an impressive experience. Since it is a holy site you have to remove your shoes before entering. The rats are everywhere, emerging from holes in the walls. It is said that if you tread on a rat, it must be replaced with a silver replica.
Among the thousands of rats are five white ones, and it is said to be very lucky to see one. My driver pointed out one of these white rats to me. It is also lucky to have one of the rats scamper over your feet, but I didn't receive that honour.