Karni Mata (Hindi: करणी माता or Karniji) (date of birth and death unknown but traditionally believed by followers to be 2 October 1387 – 23 March 1538,) was a female Hindusage born in the Charan caste. She is worshiped as the incarnation of the goddess Durga by her followers. She is an official deity of the royal family ofJodhpur and Bikaner. She lived anascetic life and was widely revered during her own lifetime. At the request of the Maharaja of Bikaner, she laid the foundation stones for two important forts in the region. The most famous of her temples is in the small town ofDeshnoke, near Bikaner in Rajasthan, and was created following her mysterious disappearance from her home. The temple is famous for itswhite rats, which are treated as sacred and given protection in the temple. Contrary to some reports, the temple is not affiliated with Jainism. Another temple dedicated to her during her lifetime differs from others in that it does not contain an image or idol of her, but rather contains a foot-print to symbolize her visit to that place. Karni mata is also referred to as Nari Bai.
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According to tradition, Karni mata was originally the wife of depoji Charan of the village of Sathika. However, she later expressed to her husband her unwillingness to engage in matrimonial relations. He initially humoured her, thinking that she would relent in time. Instead of doing so Karni arranged for him to marry her own younger sister Gulab so that he might have a proper married life. She herself remained celibate all her life, with the concurrence and support of her husband.
Karni lived in her in-laws’ village for about two years before leaving with her followers and a herd of cattle to live a nomadic life, camping at sunset. One such camp was made at the village of Jangloo; but a servant of Rao Kanha, who was ruler of the place, denied them access to water for the people and cows. Karni Mata declared her follower Rao Ridmal of Chandasar as new ruler of the village and continued on her journey. When she reached near Deshnok, Rao Kanha himself came to oppose her camping but he died.
Karni Mata stopped wandering further, and settled there. Her husband Depoji died in 1454.
In 1453, she gave her blessing to Rao Jodha of Jodhpur for conquering Ajmer,Merta and Mandor. In 1457 she went toJodhpur at Rao Jodha’s request, to lay the cornerstone of the fort at Jodhpur.
Her first temple was constructed in the village of Mathania during her lifetime by her follower Amara Charan. In 1472, she arranged the marriage of Rao Bika, the fifth son of Rao Jodha, and Rang Kunwar, daughter of Rao Shekha of Pungal, to turn the enmity of the Rathor and Bhatian families into friendship. In 1485, she laid the foundation stone of the fort of Bikaner at the request of Rao Bika. In 1538, Karniji went to visit the Maharaja of Jaisalmer. On 21 March of that year she was travelling back to Deshnok with her stepson Poonjar and a few other followers. They were near Gadiyala and Girirajsar of the Kolayattehsil in Bikaner district when she asked the caravan to stop for water. She disappeared there, reportedly at the age of 151 years.
The most famous temple dedicated to Karni Mata is at Deshnoke, 30 km from Bikaner. It is also known as the Temple of Rats.
Another dedicated temple is Shri Manshapurna Karni Mata Temple, located on the Machla Hills, near Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Park in Udaipur,Rajasthan. One can reach to the temple either by stairs starting from Manikyalal Verma Park or by ropeway.
Between the years 1620 to 1628, Maharana Karan Singh developed a residential area at Machla Magra forUdaipur’s safety. It was during this time that the Karni Mata Temple was built. Though for a long period the temple was deserted, in 1997 the Shri Manshapurna Karni Mata Development Committeerebuilt it.
Another noted temple dedicated to Karni Mata is in the historical city of Alwar, Rajasthan. It is situated in heart of city, very near to the Sagar Palace and Bala Qila.