More than just a place of worship, praying may be the last thing you would want to do in these temples, when there is so much to behold and to generally be in awe of.
Karni Mata Temple
The sight of just one rat is enough to invoke screams and a jump up onto the nearest chair – but not at the Karni Mata Temple in Bikaner, Rajasthan in India. Here, over 20,000 rodents roam freely amongst devotees, happily accepting prasad (food offerings) without worrying about traps. At Karni Mata, rats are revered and protected – and devotees actually come here to seek their blessings.
Aptly called the ‘Temple of Rats’, the legend goes that the stepson of Karni Mata, an incarnation of Hindu goddess Durga, drowned in a pond. She begged Yama, the god of death to revive him. Refusing at first, Yama eventually relented and returned her stepson in the form of a rat, decreeing that all her clansmen who die will be reborn as rats. Of all the rodents in the temple, the white rat is considered most holy as it is believed to be the reincarnation of Karni Mata and her stepsons. A visit to this temple is not for the fainthearted, as rats are known to run over people’s feet. Just be careful not to step on one and accidentally killing it, because it will cost you a rat made out of solid silver or gold.
At the Gotokuji temple in Tokyo, smiling and waving ceramic cats by the thousands welcomes visitors. Called maneki-neko or the beckoning cat, it is a symbol familiar to Asia, often seen in shopfronts to attract good luck and money. Gotokuji is where the symbol is said to originate from. According to legend, a lord of Hikone in the Koshu prefecture who was also a samurai, along with his samurai buddies, were beckoned by a cat owned by the monk who overlooked the temple as a thunderstorm approached.
Appreciative of the cat and the monk who took them in, served them tea and shared his teachings, the lord took it upon himself to transform the temple, which was a mere hut into a proper shrine. Since then, the beckoning cat has been considered lucky, making it a popular practice for locals and visitors to buy a beckoning cat to make a wish. The custom is to return the cat to the temple once the wish comes true or you can just leave the cat at the temple after making your wish.
Bullet Banna Temple
It’s not uncommon to hear of people who dote on their car or bike, but this temple is a whole another level of vehicular worship. In the Pali district near Jodphur in India, there’s a temple where the “deity” is a 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle. In 1991, a local named Om Singh Rathore (now referred to as Om Banna) met with an accident while riding his Royal Enfield bike. He hit a tree and died instantly, with his motorbike landing in a ditch. The police retrieved the bike and took it to their station. The next morning, they discovered the bike missing and found it back in the same ditch. Convinced that it was a prank and to stop it from repeating, the police this time emptied the petrol tank and kept the bike under lock and chain. But the bike once again found its way to the accident site. The locals believed that it was the spirit of Om Banna and built a temple in that place. Today, the temple is a must-stop for locals and visitors along the route to pray for a safe journey.
Temples of Humankind
Looking at the complex and intricately beautiful Temples of Humankind, it is hard to believe that it is a collection of subterranean temples buried 30 metres underground in the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy. Fittingly referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, the temples feature exquisite works of art with eight halls in total adorned with extraordinary paintings, mosaics, sculptures and glass art to celebrate universal spirituality. The temples were constructed by the people from the Federation of Damanhur or Damanhurians, under the direction of Oberto Airaudi who claimed to have had visions of ancient temples from a previous life. The Damanhurians built the temples in secret without a permit and did all the excavation by hand. It took them 15 years to complete the temples, upon which the Italian police caught wind of their work and planned a raid of the temples. Unable to locate it because it was so well hidden, the state prosecutor threatened the Damanhurians to show them the temples or risk it being destroyed when they dynamite the hillside. The Damahurians relented and the Italian government eventually gave them permission to stay. Today, the temple attracts thousands of visitors a year and is a must visit to see and experience this amazing feat of humankind.
This Buddhist monastery in Bhutan is dedicated to the sacred phallus. It was built in 1499 by Ngawang Choegyel, the 14th Drukpa hierarch when the maverick saint Drukpa Kunley trapped a demon in a dog with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom” (penis), in a chorten (a religious monument), which remains outside of the temple to this day. The notorious saint also known as the “Divine Madman” or “Mad Saint” was known for his unorthodox Buddhist teaching which included singing, humour and outrageous behaviour that had sexual overtones. The modest temple is decorated with colourful painting of phalluses and owns a wooden symbol of phallus decorated with silver handle and is used to bless people who visit the monastery on pilgrimage, particularly women seeking blessings for children. The custom is for the priest to strike a woman on the head with a 10-inch wooden phallus to bless them. Today, it is common in Bhutan to see painted phalluses on walls of homes, which is believed to drive away evil spirits and demons.