Allahabad stampede kills 36 Kumbh Mela pilgrims

ALLAHABAD Mon Feb 11, 2013 12:25pm IST

1 of 3. A woman cries as she sits among the bodies of people who were killed when part of a railing from a bridge collapsed at Allahabad railway station February 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

Related Topics

ALLAHABAD (Reuters) - A stampede at a railway station in Allahabad killed at least 36 Hindu pilgrims on Sunday, the busiest day of the Kumbh Mela at which some 30 million had gathered to wash away their sins in the sacred Ganges river.

Twenty-seven of the dead were women, mostly elderly and poor. An eight-year-old girl was also crushed to death. A Reuters witness saw a woman weeping at the train station, surrounded by six bodies dressed in brightly coloured saris.

Up to 100 million pilgrims and Hindu ascetics are expected to attend the two-month long Kumbh Mela, world's largest religious festival, which comes to an end next month.

It is held every 12 years in a temporary city covering an area larger than Athens, spread over a wide sandy river bank in Allahabad at the point where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet the Saraswati, a mythical river.

The festival grows in size every time it is held and is considered the world's largest temporary gathering of people. Officials said some 30 million visited the site on Sunday, considered the most auspicious day to bathe in the river.

Officials gave contradictory versions of what caused the crush. A railway official told Reuters police had been using batons to control the crowd, triggering panic. A state government official said a footbridge handrail collapsed, sending people slipping down the stairs and starting a stampede.

A spokesman for Indian railways said authorities had found 36 bodies and 30 people were injured. The injured were being treated at hospitals in Allahabad.

"Since there were huge crowds and a lot of panic, it took time before the bodies could be extricated," said another official, R. M. Srivastava, the top security official in Uttar Pradesh.

Deadly stampedes are common at India's vast pilgrimages and religious festivals. In 2008, 145 people died when a panicking crowd pushed people over a ravine near the Himalayan temple of Naina Devi.

Thousands of police and volunteers are used for crowd control during the Kumbh Mela, manning the river bank when the pilgrims and naked, dreadlocked ascetics dash into the water to bathe.

The festival has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot from demons containing the nectar of immortality.

In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell to earth, in the cities of Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Every three years a Kumbh Mela is held at one of these spots, with the festival at Allahabad the holiest of them all.

More than 2,000 years old, the festival is a meeting point for Hindu "sadhu" ascetics, some of whom live in forests or Himalayan caves and who belong to dozens of inter-related congregations. The sects have their own administration and elect leaders, but are also known for violent clashes among themselves.

(Reporting by Sharat Pradhan; Editing by Neil Fullick)

FILED UNDER:

Economic Pulse

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Banking Sector

Banking Sector

India's laggard state lenders face tough sell on capital raising plan  Full Article 

Falling Oil Prices

Falling Oil Prices

Saudis signal no push for oil cut as market to "stabilise itself"  Full Article 

Raising Stake

Raising Stake

Nippon Life to raise stake in Reliance Capital fund unit  Full Article 

Sterilisation Camps

Sterilisation Camps

Sterilisation targets remain in all but name, critics say  Full Article 

Share Buyback

Share Buyback

Samsung Electronics to buy back $2 billion in shares  Full Article 

Bird Flu Scare

Bird Flu Scare

India orders culling after bird flu outbreaks in Kerala.  Full Article 

Microsoft in China

Microsoft in China

Microsoft to pay China $140 million for 'tax evasion'   Full Article 

Flashback: 26/11

Flashback: 26/11

The three-day attack in November 2008 left 166 dead.  Slideshow 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage