At Karni Mata temple in Rajasthan, rats aren’t shooed away — they’re worshipped. Thousands of the rodents scurry across the temple’s checkerboard floors, getting tangled in each other’s tails and fighting for access to huge saucers of milk.
Far from being regarded as vermin, the rats are venerated as the holy descendants of Karni Mata, who was worshipped as an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga during the 15th century.
The story of how Karni Mata’s offspring took the form of rodents has a few variations, but the most common version begins with her asking Yoma, the god of death, to revive a storyteller’s drowned son. After first resisting, Yoma gave in, promising that the boy and all of Karni Mata’s male descendants would be reincarnated as rats.
Visitors to the temple are required to remove their shoes before walking inside. When shuffling among the droppings, spilled milk, and scrambling rodents, keep in mind that it is considered lucky for a rat to run across your foot. Another tip: tread lightly.
Temple rules state that if you accidentally step on one of the animals and kill it, you must replace it with a rat made of solid gold.