(Message sent Mon, 06 Nov 2006 22:43:50 -0700)
I've just been visiting a rat temple. There weren't anywhere near as many rats as I was expecting - only hundreds say, rather than thousands, but it was still plenty strange. The main temple is a small marble building, with regular mouse holes built into it at floor level. Rats skitter about all over the place, but they mostly congregate around the big metal pans of milk that are left out for them. When walking up the stairs, I found myself surreptitiously scraping the rat shit from the soles of my feet. (It being a temple, you have to go in barefoot.) A ceremony was being performed at the main altar while I was there. This involved a small fire in a little alcove, and a chorus of bells and drums that increased in volume and tempo.
They say that having a rat scamper across your bare foot is a sign of good luck, in which case I'm in for some good luck.
I'm staying in a town called Bikaner at the moment. It's a much less frenetic place than the other Rajasthani towns I have visited so far. Of the sites in town, the one that interested me the most was the Jain temple. (The Jains are uber-vegetarians. Some of them wear masks over mouth and nose at all times to make sure they don't accidently swallow and therefore kill insects.) The temple was very small, but intricately carved and painted. The temple priest told me a story, variations of which I have heard a lot. He claimed that when building the temple (which he said predated the town itself), the builders had poured 40,000 kg of ghee (clarified butter) into the foundations. Quite why is not clear, but the priest seemed to be saying that they used ghee instead of water in the concrete. Even now, 500 years later, when it gets very hot the ghee seeps up out of the ground and makes the floor all greasy. Believe at your own risk.