Rats Rule at Indian Temple
National Geographic Channel
The floors are a living tangle of undulating fur. Small, brown blurs scurry across marble floors. Thousands of rats dine with people and scamper over their feet.
It may sound like a nightmare from the New York City subway to some, but in India’s small northwestern city of Deshnoke, this is a place of worship: Rajastan’s famous Karni Mata Temple.
This ornate, isolated Hindu temple was constructed by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the early 1900s as a tribute to the rat goddess, Karni Mata. Intricate marble panels line the entrance and the floors, and silver and gold decorations are found throughout.
But by far the most intriguing aspect of the interior is the 20,000-odd rats that call this temple home. These holy animals are calledkabbas, and many people travel great distances to pay their respects.
The legend goes that Karni Mata, a mystic matriarch from the 14th century, was an incarnation of Durga, the goddess of power and victory. At some point during her life, the child of one of her clansmen died. She attempted to bring the child back to life, only to be told by Yama, the god of death, that he had already been reincarnated.
Karni Mata cut a deal with Yama: From that point forward, all of her tribespeople would be reborn as rats until they could be born back into the clan.
In Hinduism, death marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one on the path to a soul’s eventual oneness with the universe. This cycle of transmigration is known as samsara and is precisely why Karni Mata’s rats are treated like royalty.
Gautam Ghosh, professor of anthropology and Asian studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, noted how rare this rat-worshipping temple is. “In India, as in the West, rats aren’t treated with particular veneration.”
In Hinduism, many deities take animals forms. “The main theological point is that there’s no dividing line between what forms gods or goddesses can use,” said Rachel Fell McDermott, professor of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures at Barnard College in New York City. “There’s nothing to say they can’t take form as a fish, a bird, or even a rat.”
Ghosh noted that this temple is linked to the royal family who ruled Bikaner, a nearby city. When a Hindu royal family is seeking greater power, they look to the local cults for a patron god—or, according to London-based art historian George Michell, usually a goddess—to help them attain that power.
The male gods are not as powerful for direct involvement in people’s lives, he explained, so cults surrounding local goddesses are commonly used to help sway things in their favor. “Kings who want to be powerful in India must be protected by goddesses,” Michell said. This is how the Karni Mata Temple was established.
At home inside the temple
Few kind-hearted people feed over 40 cats their daily milk and rice inside the Srirangam Temple
Every day, two households in Srirangam pack a container of cooked rice mixed with milk, bottle plain milk, and pack a few disposable plastic cups and a box of crunchies. The food is carried to the temple and laid out on banana leaves at various spots. “The minute they see us, they bound towards us, polish off the food and reward us with satisfied purrs and unwavering loyalty,” says G. Santhanalakshmi, who has been feeding over 40 stray cats and kittens within the temple along with K.P. Gopalakrishnan and his wife, G. Lalitha.
While Santhanalakshmi has been feeding the strays for the past eight years, Gopalakrishnan and Lalitha started pitching in about a year ago. “Though we let our pet cat into the temple because it was getting difficult to manage it at home, we were worried about it and that’s how we began coming to the temple regularly to feed it,” says Lalitha.
Soon the couple realised that there were not only more cats within the temple, but others who were already feeding them. “Apart from us, there were others like Mythili Jagannathan and her daughter and Santhanalakshmi who were feeding cats within the temple for quite similar reasons and we began helping each other out.”
Since Mythili and her daughter are no longer able to regularly feed the cats, Lalitha says she and her husband started feeding cats in the evenings as well. Today, Santhanalakshmi, Lalitha and Gopalakrishnan have divided among themselves the spots and timings at which they will be feeding the cats. While Santhanalakshmi comes in during the mornings to feed her lot, Gopalakrishnan comes both morning and evening to feed them all.
Sure enough, the cats have figured out their timetable and run eagerly towards their friends at the appointed times. “A lot of people wonder if we are fulfilling some prayer or if we were advised by astrologers to feed the cats, but we do it only because we love them,” says Lalitha. “Sometimes cats litter on the streets surrounding the temple and people often leave the newborns within the temple,” says Santhanalakshmi, who carries home the ones that seem too small or weak to manage on their own. She nurtures them at home for nearly four months till they begin eating rice and then brings them back to the temple. “Asidha is one such kitten that I released into the temple after it had matured a little and till date it remains extremely possessive of me, openly resenting the other cats I feed,” she laughs. But it isn’t an entirely nurtured life for the cats within the temple: “Though most people are supportive of our efforts, there are a few with objections and others who leave the cats on the roads unprotected,” says Lalitha. Santhanalakshmi says she has over the years learnt to ignore those who object to her feeding the cats.
Very often the cats get injured over territorial fights, which are very common according to Gopalakrishnan. “If a cat from another spot wanders into alien territory, the other cats will immediately chase it away, often severely wounding the wandering cat,” he says.
The three of them, therefore, lookout for injured cats, newborn kittens and depressed cats that refuse food. “We inform each other over phone about such cats, and take them to the vet whenever required,” says Santhanalakshmi, who adds that they also keep each other informed on the rare occasion they aren’t able to make it to the temple.
“But we never miss even a single day, because we’d be so worried about the cats getting hungry, so we come even during rains and hardly travel.” However, on important festival days like the Vaikunta Ekadesi and the Chithirai Ther Vizha, they have no choice but to forgo their routine.
Tihar (Nepali: तिहार) also known as Diwali in terai region of Nepal. It is a five-day-long Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal which comes soon after Dashain. Similar to Deepawali but with a regional variation. In Nepal all Hindu ethnic groups celebrate this festival with their own variation . Among the Newars, it is known as Swanti. The festival is celebrated from Trayodashi of Kartik Krishna to Katrik Shukla Dwitiya every year. Tihar in general signifies the festival of lights, where diyas are lit both inside and outside the houses to make it illuminate at night. The five-day festival is considered to be of great importance as it shows reverence to not just the humans and the Gods, but also to the animals like crow, cow and dog, who maintain an intense relationship with the humans. People make patterns on the floor of living rooms or courtyards using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals outside of their house, called “Rangoli” which is meant to be sacred welcoming areas for the Hindu deities.
The first day of the festival is called Kag Tihar or Kag Puja (worship of the crows). The crows are worshiped by offerings of sweets and dishes on the roof of the houses. The cawing of the crows symbolizes sadness and grief in the Hindu mythology, so the devotees offer the crows food to avert grief and deaths in their homes. Tihar in Nepal represent the divine attachment between Human and other animals .
The second day is called Kukur Tihar or Kukur Puja (worship of the dogs). It is also called as Khicha Puja by the Newars. Dog, which is believed to be messenger of Lord Yamaraj, the God of death, is worshiped once a year on this day. People offer garlands, tika and delicious food to the dogs, and acknowledge the cherished relationship between humans and the dogs. This day is also observed as Narka Chaturdashi.
Gai Tihar and Laxmi Puja
The morning of third day is Gai Tihar (worship of the cow). In Hinduism, cow signifies prosperity and wealth. In ancient times people benefitted a lot from the cow. Its milk, dung even urine was used for different purposes like purification. Thus on this day people show their gratefulness to the cow by garlanding and feeding the cow with the best grass. Houses are cleaned and the doorways and windows are decorated with garlands made of marigolds and chrysanthemums.
In the evening Laxmi, the goddess of wealth is thanked for all the benefits that were bestowed on the families by lighting oil lamps or candles on doorways and windows to welcome prosperity and well being. At night the girls enjoy dancing and visiting all the houses of the neighborhood with musical instruments singing and dancing known as Bhailo all night long collecting money as tip from houses and share the bounty amongst themselves.
From the third day onwards tihar is celebrated by playing Deusi and Bhailo along with light and fireworks. . Deusi is mostly sung by the boys while the Bhailo is sung by the girls. Nowadays Social workers and politician along with, young and children visit local homes to sing these songs, and in return the home owners give them money, fruit and Selroti (a special type of Nepali bread made by rice flour and sugar).
Gobardhan Puja and Mha Puja
On the fourth day of Tihar, there are three different known pujas, depending on the people’s specific cultural background. Most perform Goru Tihar or Goru Puja (worship of the oxen). People who follow Vaishnavismperform Govardhan Puja, which is worship towards goverdhan mountain. Cowdung is taken as representative of the mountain and is worshiped . The Newar community on the night of this day do Mha Puja (worship of self).This period is also the beginning of Nepal Sambat(newari new year ) especially commemorated by Newars, it ensures prosperity for the new year.
The fifth and last day of Tihar is Bhai Tika, where sisters put tika on the foreheads of brothers, to ensure long life, and thank them for the protection they give.It is believed that Yamraj, the God of Death visited his sister Yamuna on this particular day.where she applied the auspicious tika on his forehead, garlanded him and fed him with special dishes. Together, they ate the sweets, talked and enjoyed themselves to their heart’s content. While parting Yamraj gave her a special gift as a token of his love and in return Yami also gave him a lovely gift which she had made with her own hands. That day Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister will never be thrown to death on that day . A special garland is made for the brothers out of a flower that wilts only after a couple of months, symbolizing the sister’s prayer for her brother’s long life. Brothers sit on a floor while sisters perform their puja. The puja follows a traditional ritual in which sisters circle brothers dripping oil on the floor from a copper pitcher applying oil in brother’s hair, then 7 color tika is applied on brothers forehead . Then brothers give tika to sisters in the same fashion along with exchange of gifts . This is practiced regardless of whether brother is younger or elder to the sister. Those without a sister or brother join relatives or friends for tika. This festival brings close relationship between brothers and sisters.
ndians Feed the Monkeys, Which Bite the Hand
Published: May 22, 2012 97 Comments
NEW DELHI — The first interloper stepped in front of her on the sidewalk and silently held up his hand. The second appeared behind her and beckoned for her bag. Maeve O’Connor was trapped.
India Ink: A Modest Monkey Proposal (May 23, 2012)
India Ink: A Conversation With: Delhi’s Wildlife Warden (May 23, 2012)
Suzanne Lee for The New York Times
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
Resistance would have been dangerous, so Ms. O’Connor handed it over. The two then sauntered arrogantly away. The whole encounter lasted no more than 15 seconds — just one more coordinated mugging by rhesus monkeys in a city increasingly plagued by them.
“I had other bags with me, but they knew the bag that had the fresh bread in it,” Ms. O’Connor said.
“They were totally silent, very quick and highly effective.”
The monkey population of Delhi has grown so large and aggressive that overwhelmed city officials have petitionedIndia’s Supreme Court to relieve them of the task of monkey control.
“We have trapped 13,013 monkeys since 2007,” said R. B. S. Tyagi, director of veterinary services for Delhi’s principal city government. Nonetheless, Delhi’s monkey population has only increased.
The reason is simple: People feed them. Monkeys are the living representatives of the cherished Hindu god Hanuman, and Hindu tradition calls for feeding monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Dr. Tyagi expressed impatience with residents who feed the monkeys one day, then complain to the city when the monkeys steal their clothes on another day.
Dr. Tyagi’s agency has asked the city’s wildlife agency for help, but wildlife officials claim that the monkeys — a scourge of the city for years as urbanization has encroached on their original habitat — are no longer wild and are thus not their responsibility.
“This problem will never be solved” as long as Hindus feed monkeys regularly, said R. M. Shukla, the city’s chief wildlife warden. “We’ve issued many ads asking people not to feed monkeys in public places.”
In 2007, a Delhi deputy mayor died when he fell from his terrace after being attacked by monkeys, a widely publicized episode that spurred the city to step up its efforts to move monkeys to safer environments. Yet such attacks continue. This month a 14-year-old girl was seriously injured when she fell from the roof of a five-story residential building after monkeys pursued her.
“Monkeys do commonly bite people, and their bite wounds can be extensive,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., wrote in an e-mail. “They are smart enough to often attack the face of the person.”
While monkey bites can lead to rabies or a fatal form of the herpes virus, documented cases are “close to nonexistent,” Dr. Fauci wrote. Skin bacterial infections from bites are common, however. They are treatable with antibiotics.
Stories abound in Delhi of monkeys’ entering homes, ripping out wiring, stealing clothes and biting those who surprise them. They treat the Indian Parliament building as a playground, have invaded the prime minister’s office and Defense Ministry, sometimes ride buses and subway trains, and chase diplomats from their well-tended gardens.
Roopi Saran, a Delhi resident, has seen monkeys steal candy from the hands of her children. And tribes of monkeys often take over her yard, preventing her and her children from venturing outside.
“So we sit inside our house like caged animals, like we’re the ones in the zoo and they’re the owners outside looking at us,” Ms. Saran said.
With the city’s trapping program a failure, some residents are getting a bigger monkey, a langur, to urinate around their homes. The acrid smell of the urine scares the smaller rhesus monkeys away for weeks. But the odor is no bouquet for humans, either, and as soon as it disappears, the rhesus monkeys return.
Amar Singh, a langur handler, was sitting across the street recently from one of his langurs in Delhi’s diplomatic neighborhood while his monkey systematically stripped the leaves off a tree in the yard of well-tended home. The langur, a large monkey with a black face dramatically framed by white fur, was tied to a pole with a six-foot leash. Mr. Singh cautioned against getting anywhere near the animal because “a langur’s slap is so hard, it can send its target back by five feet.”
Mr. Singh said that he had 65 langurs urinating on prominent homes and buildings throughout Delhi. He and his partners feed and walk each monkey during the day, but they remain tied to their posts overnight. He charges about $200 a month.
Dr. Tyagi said langurs simply pushed rhesus monkeys to ransack adjoining homes. The city started out seven years ago paying monkey catchers $5 for every rhesus monkey they caught. It raised the price to $9 four years ago, and now pays $12.
“Despite offering this rate, there are few monkey catchers,” he said.
Years of trapping, using cages baited with fruit and nuts, have taught the monkeys to avoid the traps. For a time, the city hired highly professional trapping teams from the south of India, but even they have stopped coming to Delhi, Dr. Tyagi said. Himachal Pradesh, a northern Indian state, issued permits to kill monkeys that destroyed crops, but the practice spurred protests and is not being considered in Delhi.
Trapped monkeys are brought to a sanctuary in the south of Delhi, but residents who live near the sanctuary say their lives have been ruined by the influx. Monkeys easily scale the sanctuary’s walls and often find their way back to Delhi’s central neighborhoods.
Kali, who lives in a small hut near the sanctuary and goes by only one name, said her young daughter and niece had both been bitten twice, requiring trips to the hospital and expensive vaccinations. After being attacked while bathing, she now asks her husband to stand guard when she washes. And for a poor family like hers, the monkeys are a constant threat in more ways than one.
“I give them my leftovers like roti,” she said. “But then they ran away with my onions.”