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Between Monks and Monkeys

Rajasthan - a cow hospital and a rat temple

INDIA | Sunday, 19 April 2015 | Views [831]

COWS: Around 2 hours from Jodhpur on the road to Bikaner we stopped at what looked like a cattle sale yards, and turned out to be a cow hospital. We were shown around by a very knowledgeable elderly guide.

There were 1500 cows all being lovingly cared for and fed every day with cooked up food. Some had cancer and had had surgery to remove a horn. Others were amputees which had mostly been hit by cars, and there were some calves whose mothers had died. There was an emergency area with some very sad looking beasts. We saw a team of vets bandaging cows’ horns, and an ambulance, one of 23, arriving with a new patient. They collect cows from a 200 km radius around the hospital.

The hospital has an x-ray room, operating rooms, a pharmacy full of medicines, and big outside ovens to cook up the mash for the cows’ dinner. It was all very impressive and well organised. Private cow owners can bring in their sick animals and get a recovered cow as a replacement.

They also care for sick and injured wild animals. We saw a couple of eagles, a pelican, other wild birds, a monkey, some white rats, rabbits, budgies, parrots, and various deer. The hospital was started 6 years ago by a Swami whose name is something like Kushal Gere Ji Maharaj. He lives there and gives audiences every day.

The first patient at the hospital is still there too – a very pampered cow which came in as a calf with an injured front leg, and now has painted horns, a special cover and place to live, and someone looking after her. She had a very knowing look of an animal that has found itself in a very good space! Many people give donations – the hospital gets no other funding. There was a table of men sitting specially to take donations, and while we were there several people stopped, including a tractor driver who gave about as much as we did in memory of his mother who had died. All in all it was the most interesting thing we have seen so far. It was the first time our driver had stopped there and he said he would do it again with other tourists. It’s also possible to stay there, apparently.

RATS! Next stop, not far out of Bikaner, was the Karni Mata rat temple. This is more than 500 years old and apparently originated when a local woman, Karni Mata, was born as an incarnation of the goddess Durga and lived to be over 150 years old She performed many miracles throughout her life, including restoring her son to life again after he had drowned. She then declared that members of her family would henceforth be reincarnated as rats, which would then be reincarnated as humans in her family. 600 families claim to be part of her extended clan.

The 20,000 rats in the temple are mostly black rats but there are a few white ones which are meant to be reincarnations of Karni Mata and are particularly revered. It’s meant to be very lucky if a rat runs over your foot. The woman I photographed with one on her offering tray looked pretty happy about it, too. Food nibbled by the rats is meant to be very auspicious – fortunately our driver who had bought some sweets did not share them with the rats, though we did eat them in the temple after passing through the very ratty interior, past the statue of Karni Mata which is at the heart of the temple.

There were several newly married couples there as it’s meant to be lucky to visit the temple just after you are married. We then went to the museum with pictures of Karni Mata’s life and had a rather garbled explanation from the man on the desk about her and her life of miracles – raising the dead, calming boiling milk at a wedding, causing water to appear in dry places, rescuing a merchant in danger of drowning etc. Fortunately there was a short explanation under the photos to aid understanding.

This is an interesting place to visit, for sure, but you need to be aware that it's VERY ratty... Rats eating, scampering, sleeping, lots of rat droppings.  Not for the faint-hearted or anyone who doesn't like small rodents.

Tags: bikaner, cow, hospital, karni mata, rajasthan, rat, temple

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