Jakub Sliwa: Deshnoke (India)

Image Copyright © Jakub Sliwa-All Rights Reserved

Jakub Sliwa was born in Krakow and is a graduate of Oriental Philology studies. His principal interest is in documenting human condition, and he has traveled to the Middle and Far East in search of various documentary projects. His website lists a variety of projects including a leper colony in Puri (India), the Ganges, a spiritual center in the Ukraine, the Zabaleen (garbage collectors in Cairo), the last days of El-Qurna and the Rat Temple of Deshnoke.

The famous Karni Mata Temple in India's small northwestern city of Deshnoke (Rajasthan) is home to 20,000-odd rats considered holy by the population. These rodents are called kabbas, and pilgrims travel great distances to pay their respects. The temple was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the early 1900s as a tribute to the rat goddess, Karni Mata.

The legend is that Karni Mata, a mystic matriarch from the 14th century, was an incarnation of Durga, the goddess of power and victory. Among the thousands of rats in the temple, there are said to be four or five albino rats, which are considered to be especially holy. They are believed be the manifestations of Karni Mata herself and her kin. Sighting them is a special charm, and visitors put in extensive efforts to bring them forth, offering prasad, a candylike offering. I recall walking in the temple (in stockinged feet) and frankly, the sensation of rats running over one's feet is difficult to forget.

During the century of this temple's existence, there has never been an outbreak of plague or other ratborne illness among the humans who have visited. When I visited the temple, I was also told that the nearby farms and fields are free from rat infestations since they prefer to live in the temple. I suspect that Jakub spent more time that I did in this temple...his photographs attest to that.

Jakub Sliwa

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