Today, Monday, March 6, we bade goodbye to Bikaner and headed sort of south to Nagaur. But, lest you think it was straight shot down the highway, let me tell you that we had the most interesting and disturbing diversion.
We stopped in Deshnoke to visit the Karni Mata Temple. Okay, some background may be helpful but don’t hold me to any of this. My memory isn’t that great and it was a disconcerting visit.
Karni Mata was a women who lived from the mid 1380’s until the mid 1530’s (improbable, I grant you,but no more unprobable than the rest of the story). Or maybe later; we really don’t know for certain. What is known is that she went missing around 1538 give or take a year. She was a holy women much revered during her lifetime. The kings of both Jodhpur and Bikaner paid homage to her when they were crowned or whatever it is that turns princes into maharajas.
Well, the story goes that the maharaja of Bikaner was involved in a dreadful battle with some other kingly sort from another part of India. Things were not going well for the Bikaner forces and twenty thousand of his men deserted. This is the worse thing a person can do. I mean it just isn’t done; except that it was.
Obviously the maharaja couldn’t let this action go unremedied. So, he had all twenty thousand of the rat bastards (this is some foreshadowing) rounded up and was proposing death to the lot of them. Somehow, the Karni Mata was brought into the picture and she suggested an alternative: The twenty thousand men could be turned into rats instead of being turned into food for worms. The maharaja thought this was an acceptable compromise and, to the extent the bastard deserters had any say, I guess they agreed because all twenty thousand were turned into rats and those very rats continue to live at the Karni Mata’s temple where they are treated with devotion. Let’s just say that faith takes many inexplicable forms and this is one of them.
When you go into a Hindu temple, you have to take your shoes off. We did so and then put on our sox, then we put on little booties that are provided to the faint of heart. Most of the worshippers, of course, had bare feet. As I was tippy-toeing through the area, I kept seeing that part of the CDC’s advice on how to stay healthy while traveling in India: Avoid rodents, rodent poo, and rodent urine. I think we hit them all; along with one twitching, very large cockroach for good measure.
Judging from the number of pidgeons flying round the temple, I think there must have been some cowardly Air Force that turned tail, too, and then turned into rats with wings.