Archive for Thursday, August 28, 2003

Dozens killed in stampede at Hindu religious festival

August 28, 2003

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— Crowds of Hindu pilgrims waiting to bathe in a holy river in western India surged over a flimsy bamboo fence, triggering a stampede that killed at least 39 people and injured 125.

Worshippers spilled to the ground as the fence collapsed and were trampled by the thousands of others pushing toward the Godavari River outside the town of Nasik, about 110 miles northeast of Bombay. Many of the dead were women.

"Old women were crying, 'Take me out! Help me,"' said Lalji Mistry, a 35-year-old pilgrim who got away in time. "People, even women, were pushing forward. Due to the weight of the crowd, people started falling down."

Mistry shook his head in disbelief at the crowds that continued to worship at the Kumbh Mela festival, which spread across 40 square miles.

"Many don't know what's going on. They are still worshipping," said Mistry, a marble craftsman from the western state of Rajasthan.

Worshippers believe they can bathe away their sins in the Godavari River, which is considered holy to many Hindus. Thousands of pilgrims pack shoulder to shoulder in the muddy brown water.

Stampedes are not uncommon at major Hindu religious festivals, which can attract millions of worshippers. In 1954, about 800 pilgrims died during the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.

Hindu devotees assemble for the royal bath in the Godavari River at
the Kumbh Mela in Nasik, western Indian. At least 39 people were
killed Wednesday in stampede at the Mela, or fair, as millions of
devotees assembled for the bathing festival.

Hindu devotees assemble for the royal bath in the Godavari River at the Kumbh Mela in Nasik, western Indian. At least 39 people were killed Wednesday in stampede at the Mela, or fair, as millions of devotees assembled for the bathing festival.

Most recently, 51 pilgrims died in 1999 after rope meant to channel worshippers snapped in a landslide at a Hindu shrine in southern India. Fifty people died in 1986 in a stampede in the town of Haridwar.

Police in Nasik estimated that nearly 1.6 million people attended the festival Wednesday. About 60 million people are likely to participate at various times during the festival, which started July 30 and ends Monday.

Witnesses said rescue workers pleaded with crowds to make way so ambulances could rush the injured to hospitals. Workers heaved dozens of injured people into cars and police vehicles.

Nasik Mayor Dashrath Patil said the injured included two police officers trying to control the swelling crowd. He said 26 of the dead were women.

The stampede happened as thousands of other devotees lined up at the nearby Kalaram temple, where the Hindu god Rama is the presiding deity. After the holy dip, worshippers pay their respects to the god at the main temple and visit thousands of other smaller temples along Panchwati's narrow roads.

The Kumbh Mela festival is held when the Sun and Jupiter enter the constellation of Leo, once in 12 years.

It is based on the Hindu myth about gods and demons who fought over a pot of nectar that would give them immortality.

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