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Indian Police Investigating Cause of Deadly Stampede

Police have launched an investigation into the cause of a fire and stampede at a Hindu temple in western India in which more than 250 people died. Some 300,000 people were at the temple for an annual religious pilgrimage when the disaster occurred.

Police say they are trying to determine the chain of events at the Mandhardevi Temple on Tuesday, and whether foul play was involved.

The annual pilgrimage in the state of Maharashtra involves the ritual breaking of coconuts at the temple doors. Officials say this made the floor slippery with coconut water, and some of the pilgrims entering the temple on Tuesday slipped and fell.

They were apparently trampled to death by the hordes coming up the hill behind them. At around the same time, fire broke out in the shops surrounding the temple. This caused a panic and trapped some of the 300,000 pilgrims on the narrow lanes leading uphill to the temple.

Some of the dead were crushed or smothered in the stampede, and some were burned to death. The exact sequence of events is still being investigated. The police say there are also trying to determine if the fire was an accident or was deliberately set.

On Wednesday, relatives of the dead were identifying the bodies and claiming them for cremation.

Subrao Patil, a district official, says almost 200 bodies have been sent back to their villages.

The Mandhardevi temple is located in the town of Wai, some 240 kilometers south of the city of Bombay. It is a popular site for hundreds of thousands of Hindus who make a pilgrimage there on the day of the full moon every January.

Stampedes during mass gatherings in India are fairly common. In the worst incident, about 800 people died in a stampede in 1954 during a religious festival in the northern city of Allahabad.