The Shri Karni Mata Temple in Deshnoke, India is unlike any other Hindu temple in the world. In this temple, rats reign supreme.
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. (National Geographic, 2004)
The rats are well fed, friendly and the temple is remarkably clean considering its inhabitants. Visitors are instructed to remove their footwear before entering.
You might be thinking that my toes are curling at the very thought of hanging out with rats. It may surprise you to know, however, that I’ve hung out with rats years ago, as a psychology undergrad. In the “rat lab”, as we called it, students learned operant conditioning principles by teaching albino rats to bar-press for food pellets, run through mazes, etc. My lab partner and I had a cute little albino rat which we named–get ready for it–Spot.
The little guys in the temple aren’t albino, but likely became gentle over generations of human handling and care. You may not want to sit on the floor and have them scamper up your arm like the fellow above, but you may not have to worry about being bitten either.