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35 Indian Pilgrims Die in Stampede at Religious Festival - 2003-08-27

In Western India, more than 35 people, mostly Hindu devotees, have been killed and scores injured in a stampede at a religious festival. Many of the victims were women.

The tragedy occurred as hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims were preparing to take a holy dip in Godavari river in Maharashtra state's Nashik town, about 175 kilometers northeast of Bombay.

It was one of five most auspicious days of an important religious festival known as the Kumbh Mela, which is held in the town every 12 years. The festival began last month.

There are conflicting accounts of what triggered the stampede that took place in a narrow lane leading to the river.

Some officials say people were trampled to death when they started to push each other to take a dip in the river. Several eyewitnesses said the stampede began when one of the barricades along a narrow lane collapsed. Some reports said the stampede broke out as pilgrims scrambled to pick up money thrown by holy men.

There was chaos for some time as rescue workers tried to reach the victims to take them to hospitals.

But the tragedy did not deter other pilgrims who had gathered at different spots along the river, and tens of thousands of people continued to bathe in the river, apparently unaware of the tragedy close by.

Similar tragedies at Hindu religious festivals have occurred in the past. In 1999, more than 50 pilgrims died in a stampede triggered by a landslide at a Hindu shrine in Southern India.

Millions of Hindu pilgrims throng the Kumbh festivals, which are held in rotation in four towns. The festival is based on a Hindu myth that gods spilled four drops of nectar on these towns during a fight with demons. Hindus believe that bathing in the rivers that run along these towns washes away sins.

Authorities estimate that 60 million pilgrims will have take part in the Kumbh festival in Nashik by the time it concludes September 1.