Lady of the Rats
Also known as: Karni Ma; Mother Karni
Karni Mata, Rat Goddess and Great Mother, is a protective deity, venerated in India and worldwide although her principle shrine is in Deshnok, Rajasthan, northern India, famous for the thousands of sacred rats it houses. Karni Mata is a tribal ancestress goddess who has been incorporatedinto the Hindu pantheon as an avatar of Durga. Her identification with Durga is now central to her modern myth.
She was allegedly born a human girl named Ridhu Bai on 2 October 1387 and quickly Demonstrated healing and supernatural powers, especially the ability to miraculously cure or antidote venomous snake bites. She became known as Karni, interpreted as “She Will Do Something Mirac ulous on Earth.” (The affectionate honorific Mata means Mother, Ma or Mom.)
Karni was married to a prince but before the marriage was consummated, she revealed herself to him as a goddess sent to Earth to serve people. She could never be just a wife. She advised her husband to marry her sister and have children, which he did. Karni Mata treated those children as her own; their descendents were the first to venerate Karni Mata. They form a distinct caste and serve in Karni’s temple. (Karni Mata’s sisters are also enshrined in her temple.)
When her nephew/step-son drowned in a lake, Karni brought him to a cave and enclosed herself in with him. She wrangled with Yama, Lord of Death and successfully restored the young man to life. Karni Mata then vowed that none of her people would ever again fall into Yama’s clutches. Instead their souls would temporarily inhabit the bodies of rats and then they would reincarnate right back into her own tribe.
Karni Mata never died but on 21 March 1438, she is said to have vanished in a flash of light. A disembodied voice later told her grieving followers that if they installed her image in her cave, she would stay with them forever. She vowed to help anyone who came to pray at her Rajasthani shrine with true faith and a good heart. Karni Mata performs miracles of healing, provides victory and success and protects from all harm.
Karni Mata’s once small cave shrine has expanded into a beautiful, lavish marble temple with silver gates described as among the wonders of the world. It has earned something of an air of notoriety, especially among those unfamiliar with her spiritual tradition. Some are offended that, in the midst of a nation marked by intense poverty, rats are fed generously and regularly. The temple feeds people, too and devotees explain that the rats residing in Karni Mata’s temple only resemble rats but are not truly rats. Instead they are human souls awaiting rebirth.
The rats allegedly do not leave the temple precinct. They are very tame and will approach and sit on visitors, perceived as transmitting the blessings of the goddess. Food offerings are first given to the rats and then distributed to human devotees. Rather than spread illness, Karni Mata’s sacred rats may possess the power to counteract it. Food and beverages that the rats have tasted are perceived as having sacred medicinal properties. During a recent epidemic, people visited the temple to partake of the rats’ milk and water.
There are only a handful of white rats among Karni’s thousands of temple rats. A sighting of one of these rare rats is considered a special blessing from the goddess and an indication that your petition or vow has been heard.
Iconography: The traditional votive image of Karni Mata shows her standing with an upward pointing trident in her right hand, a Demon’s severed head impaled from the lower butt end. She holds another severed head in her left hand.
Sacred site: The Karni Mata Temple in Deshnok, India. She is also closely associated with caves and trees. Karni Mata specifically requested that people stop cutting trees.
Sacred animals: The rats in her temple. Karni Mata is not the goddess of rats in general. Offerings on behalf of rodents in general are not appropriate. Her sacred rats are specifically those that dwell in her temple.
Spirit ally: Because of his association with rodents, Ganesha may be venerated alongside Karni Mata.
Sacred times: Two fairs/pilgrimages are held in Deshnok: in the spring and in the fall
Offerings: On behalf of trees; incense; flower garlands; pilgrimage to her shrine; offerings on behalf of shrine maintenance or the rats may be made by mail or possibly on-line
See also: Durga; Ganesha; Yama
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.