India’s most unusual temples

People often say that god exists in everything, and in India people take that idea to its logical conclusion. Dotted around this spectacular subcontinent are surprising shrines to sportsmen and Bollywood superstars, and temples paying homage to humble household objects. Even rodents get their time in the religious spotlight. Here’s a pick of the most unusual temples in India.

Karni Mata Temple, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Rajasthan punches above its weight when it comes to surprising temples, and at the Karni Mata temple at Deshnoke near Bikaner, the sewer rat is elevated to divine status. The 25,000 writhing rodents that seethe over the piles of food offerings left at this early 20th-century shrine are worshipped by devotees as the reincarnated children of the goddess Karni Mata, patron deity of the royal house of Bikaner. Visit and you’ll have rats literally crawling across your feet, but we advise against taking any of the prasad (sacred food) offered to pilgrims.

Deshnoke has its own tiny train station, within walking distance of the temple, but its just as easy to charter a vehicle in Bikaner, or swing by on one of the buses that zip between Bikaner and Jodhpur along Highway 62.

Master Blaster Temple, Atarwalia, Bihar

Few would deny that Sachin Tendulkar, scorer of the highest ever tally of international runs, is a cricketing god. The legendary batsman officially retired from the game in 2013, but the Master Blaster is still adored with almost religious devotion, literally at Atarwalia in Bihar, where a statue of Tendulkar is venerated in the first temple dedicated specifically to cricket. This unusual shrine was the brainchild of Bhojpuri actor Manoj Tiwari, and it comes with its own cricket ground and sports academy.

Atarwalia is a dusty detour off the highway between Varanasi and Aurangabad in Bihar, hear the town of Bhabhua, but you can continue by road from Aurangabad to Gaya and Bodhgaya, where the historical Buddha achieved enlightenment.

Om Banna Shrine and its sacred motorcycle
Another busy day at the Om Banna shrine © Clément Bardot/CC by-SA 4.0

Om Banna Shrine, Jodhpur, Rajasthan

The Enfield Bullet motorcycle is the king of the Indian road, so it seems only appropriate to give it the full religious treatment. At the Om Banna shrine in Pali near Jodhpur – known locally as ‘Bullet Baba’ – a miraculous motorcycle is the focal point for devotion, after it reportedly teleported back to the scene of the accident that killed its rider in 1991. Motorcyclists stop by daily to shower the venerable Enfield Bullet with flowers and light incense sticks and sacred lamps to pray for safe passage on India’s perilous highways.

The Bullet Baba shrine sits beside Highway 62 between Jodhpur and Pali, an easy leaping-off point for the outrageously elaborate Jain temples at Ranakpur. From Ranakpur, it’s an easy trip south to Udaipur with its palaces and mirrored lake.

Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara, Jalandhar, Punjab

For many Indian workers, a visa to work overseas is a golden ticket for a higher wage and a better life. Millions pray for an H1B or H2B visa to work in America, and devotees hope to tip the odds in their favour by leaving offerings of model airplanes at the Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara in the village of Talhan near Jalandhar. Locally, the Sikh gurdwara is known as hawai jahaj, the airplane shrine, and as many as 100 model aircraft can arrive at the shrine daily, left by devotees hoping for a ticket to a new life abroad.

Jalandhar is a busy city of over a million in the dusty plains northwest of Delhi, but most visitors zip past on the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi to Amritsar. Stop by, and you can visit a string of temples, monuments and museums.

Brahma Baba Temple, Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh

There’s nothing unusual about praying for more time, but at Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, things go the other way. Devotees flock to the temple to offer clocks to the supreme deity in the hope of having wishes granted. As the story goes, a local man left a clock as an offering in the tree beside the shrine and his dream of becoming a truck driver was fulfilled. Word got out, and today, pilgrims from all religions visit the shrine to offer their own timepieces in the hope of a similar result.

Jaunpur is off the tourist trail, but worth a visit in its own right for its interesting collection of Mughal monuments, including the imposing Atala and Jama Masjid mosques and the Shahi Bridge, built on the orders of the emperor Akbar. It’s an easy detour northwest from Varanasi.

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