Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

“It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat....”

—H.P. Lovecraft, “The Cats of Ulthar

‘Rats live on no evil star’?

Why do the author and photographer — so vociferous thoughout this page in their detestation of the subject of their portrayal — find it so hard to accept the protected rats of India’s Karni Mata temple? I think the cause lies in cultural prejudice.

Rats drinking milk in Karni Mata Temple, India

Rats drinking milk in Karni Mata Temple, India.
[ Image Source ]

As with pigs, Western culture assumes that rats are in essence unclean, and certainly unsanitary, by nature. But in both cases, we have done these intelligent animals an injustice. We house pigs in mud wallows; left to themselves, they would live clean and dry, as we see when they become feral. Rats live among our refuse because that is where they can make a living in relative safety; in nature, they too tend toward a far cleaner, seed- and grain-centered rustic existence.

Some of us know better than to accept the traditional stereotypes of our society, for in childhood — and, in a few cases, in adulthood — we have come to know and appreciate one or more pet rats.

Girl with two pet rats

Girl with two pet rats.
[ Image Source: Unknown ]

It’s refreshing, for one who learned French with such enlightening standard phrases as “Je detest les rats” (“I detest rats”), to see that there is a place where some lucky rats may find sanctuary, although, as a former rat keeper, I would suggest a diet containing more nuts, seeds and grain, and less milk.

I’m also a bit nonplussed by the dead pigeon. But that’s not the rats’ fault.

Originally published as a review of a photoessay on the sacred rats of
Karni Mata temple.
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