DISASTERS AND STAMPEDES AT TEMPLES, PILGRIMAGES AND FESTIVALS IN INDIA

TEMPLE AND FESTIVAL DISASTERS IN INDIA


with crowds like these routinely showing up for festivals and pilgrimages it is no surprise that stampedes and other crowd disasters sometimes occur

Deadly stampedes are common at India’s vast pilgrimages and religious festivals. They are often brought on by overcrowding and an absence of adequate safety measures. Large crowds — sometimes hundreds of thousands of people — gather in tiny areas with no safety measures or crowd control. In 2005, about 265 pilgrims were killed in a stampede near a temple in the western state of Maharashtra. In 2008, 145 people died when a panicking crowd pushed people over a ravine near the Himalayan temple of Naina Devi. In March 2010, 63 people were killed when poor villagers scrambled for free food and clothing being given away at a ceremony at a temple in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

In April 2000, 28 people were electrocuted in the eastern Bihar town two of Daltongunj, 500 kilometers southeast of Delhi, after a flagstaff carried by a chariot in a Hindu procession struck an electric cable, which fell on the crowd below, setting the chariot on fire and electrocuting Hindu devotees and people in the crowd. In 1999, 51 pilgrims died when a safety rope snapped at a Hindu shrine in southern India, and 50 were killed in 1986 in a stampede in the northern town of Haridwar. In 1954, some 800 are thought to have died in the northern city of Allahabad - the worst such incident recorded. [Source: BBC, Reuters]

Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the southern state of Kerala, while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshippers rushed to reach a 15th-century hilltop temple at Jodhpur in Rajasthan state. In October 2007, 15 people were killed and 48 were injured at a railway station in a stampede of pilgrims traveling to the city of Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges. In November 2006, four people were killed and 18 others injured in a stampede at the Jagannath temple in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. In 2006, a stampede outside a temple in Datia killed 50 people as they crossed a river, prompting authorities to build the bridge.

In August 2003, 39 people were killed and 125 were injured when the collapse of a barricade set off a stampede at a religious festival that drew more than a million Hindu devotees to the Godavari River, about 175 miles northeast of Bombay. One witness told AP, “There were some 50,000 people behind one barricade and they were pushing, The barricade suddenly broke and they just fell down. People at the back just began walking on them and that's how the stampede happened."

According to the New York Times: As wealth grows among India’s middle class, domestic travel is growing, including visits to temples and religious sites. The trend is increasing overcrowding problems, particularly during religious festivals. [Source: Heather Timmons and Hari Kumar, New York Times, August 5, 2008]

Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs

Kumbh Mela Violence

Violence sometimes breaks out between rival akharas over gaining access to the best spots on the river at the best time. Burns wrote, "A pitched battle flared between two orders, the Niranjani and the Juna, after members of one of the groups delayed evacuating the most sacred of the ghats. The fighting, involving ceremonial swords, staves and trishuls---trident-like staffs---left more than 100 sadhus and police injured. Several policeman were thrown into the Ganges and several ashrams burned down."

Nehru visited the Kumbh Mela in 1954. That year thousands died in a stampede to get to the river. In 1960s free cholera injections were given out to prevent an outbreak of that disease. A stampede at Hardwar in 1986 left 60 people dead.

At the mela in Hardwar in 1998, a special police unit with 30,000 men was brought in to maintain order among the sadhus. The police wore flak jackets and carried automatic weapons. They surrounded the 13 major akharas until hours before the most propitious times.

1954 Kumbh Mela Stampede


world crowd disasters, blue circles are events with over 100 dead

A stampede that occurred in at Kumbha Mela in Allahabad on February 3, 1954 killed around 800 and injured around 2,000. The disaster occurred on the main bathing day of Mauni Amavasya (New Moon).The figures for the tragedy varied according to different sources. The Guardian reported more than 800 people dead and over 100 injured. Time reported "no fewer than 350 people were trampled to death and drowned, 200 were counted missing, and over 2,000 were injured". According to the book Law and Order in India over 500 died. The disaster and the high fatality rate were blamed on crowd control failures and the presence of a large number of politicians. [Source: Wikipedia +]

An estimated 5 million pilgrims took part in the Kumbh Mela, in 1954 the first after India became independence. The occasion was used by politicians to connect with the Indian populace. Another problem was the fact that the Ganges River had changed course and moved in closer to the embankment and the city, reducing the available space for pilgrims and restricting their movements. The tragedy was triggered by a surge of the crowd that broke through the barriers separating them from a procession of sadhus and holy men of various akharas, resulting in a stampede. +

After the stampede, Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru suggested that politicians and VIPs refrain from visiting the melas. Better crowd control measures were put in place. Subsequent Kumbh Melas remained relatively stampede free even as event grew considerably in size.

Kumbh Mela Train Station Stampede in 2013

On February 10 during the 2013 Kumbh Mela, crowds coming from the railway station converged on a small bridge at the edge of the Kumbh grounds and a stampede ensued, killing at least 36 people. What exactly started the stampede and why it got so bad remain a mystery. Sharat Pradhan of Reuters wrote; “A stampede at a railway station in Allahabad killed at least 36 Hindu pilgrims on the busiest day of the Kumbh Mela at which some 30 million had gathered. 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. [Source: Sharat Pradhan, Reuters, February 11, 2013 >|<]

“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. >|<

Rahul Mehrotra of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design told Smithsonian magazine: “It’s terrible and regrettable, of course, and there are some crowd management techniques that, if implemented, would almost certainly have prevented that.” Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews wrote that one possible cause for the stampede may have been that the pilgrims no longer formed a psychological crowd. The others around them were no longer part of a larger whole but competitors for seats on a train bound for home. When asked to describe her feelings in the crowd at the station, one pilgrim said, “People think they are more powerful than you, they can push you around.” [Sources: Smithsonian magazine, Laura Spinney, National Geographic, February, 2014]


crowds at the Mela in Haridwar in 2010


145 Killed in Temple Stampede in Northern India

In August 2008, at least 145 people, mostly women and children crushed to death under the feet of thousands of pilgrims, were killed in a stampede at a temple in Himachal Pradesh in northern India. Thousands of pilgrims stampeded down a narrow path after hearing rumors of a landslide. Trapped between a wall and a precipice, they had nowhere to go when those running down the will collided with those on their way up. The stampede was triggered by rumors of fighting near the temple, police said. Witnesses, however, said a railing broke and police hit fleeing worshippers with canes. Many of the victims were children. Rescuers use cable car to evacuate injured from mountaintop temple

Geetinder Garewal of Reuters wrote: “Hindu worshippers were snaking up a 4-km (2.5-mile) trail leading to the hilltop Nainadevi temple in Himachal Pradesh state, chanting and singing hymns, when the stampede occurred....“Thousands of worshippers had gathered at the temple in Bilaspur district, some 150 km (95 miles) north of the town of Chandigarh, to pray to the Hindu goddess Nainadevi during the annual festival... Television pictures showed slippers, torn clothes and bags with flowers and offerings littering the narrow path winding up the hill. People crowded into hospitals looking for injured relatives. [Source: Geetinder Garewal, Reuters, August 3, 2008 ==]

“At least 40 children and 45 women were among the dead, police and health department officials said. Authorities said at last 48 other people were seriously injured and they were looking for more injured pilgrims in private clinics. Dozens of health workers were treating injured pilgrims on blood-spattered floors, as rescuers laid heaps of bodies beside them, television pictures showed. "We need more medicines and blood, but we are trying to do our best with what we have," a doctor said.” ==


crowd in Naina Dev, Himachel Pardesh

According to the New York Times: The Naina Devi temple is located on a hilltop that is reachable by a tram ride or a half-hour walk up a stepped path. Tens of thousands of pilgrims travel to the temple daily during special nine-day periods to celebrate the Hindu mother goddess in a festival called Navratras. Indian officials estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 pilgrims had gathered at the temple Sunday, despite the heavy rains. This is not the first time that overcrowding and panic have led to stampedes at the Naina Devi, officials said. The last stampede there, in August 1983, left 53 dead and more than 30 injured after a hillside market collapsed. [Source: Heather Timmons and Hari Kumar, New York Times, August 5, 2008]

CNN reported: “The incident came during the second day of a nine-day religious festival at the temple. The emergency rescue was hampered by a narrow road being one of the only ways to reach the temple, police said. As the word spread about the deaths, large crowds of mourners and onlookers gathered at the base of the temple, causing police to close a section of road leading to the area. [Source: CNN, August 3, 2008]

Causes of Temple Stampede that Killed 145 in Northern India

Geetinder Garewal of Reuters wrote: Police said the pilgrims might have panicked after heavy rains caused large stones from a retaining wall along the trail to fall. The pilgrims started fleeing down the slope, breaking an iron railing and trampling falling women and children under their feet, said Daljit Singh Manhas, a senior police officer. "We have confirmation now that 145 people have been killed," he told Reuters. "We found eight to 10 stones which had fallen off and probably scared the people, causing the stampede." [Source: Geetinder Garewal, Reuters, August 3, 2008 ==]

“Witnesses said people had jumped over broken railings and bodies to save themselves. Children lost hold of their mothers' hands and were crushed under the feet of scared pilgrims. "Many children and women were shouting for help and I saw people tumbling down the hillside," pilgrim Dev Swarup, 48, told Reuters by telephone from Bilaspur. "There were rumors of boulders coming down on us and we all ran like the others," said Swarup, his voice choked with emotion. ==


Naina Devi Temple's hilltop location

“More than 10,000 people were trying to get into the temple when the stampede began and police had been struggling desperately to keep the situation under control. "There were too many rumors, we tried our best to keep things under control but it went out of hand," one officer said. Most of the worshippers were from the neighboring state of Punjab, and their numbers rose sharply as the festival entered the weekend.” ==

Heather Timmons and Hari Kumar of the New York Times wrote: “Heavy rains in the morning led many to take cover in a shelter, local officials said. Visitors on their way down the hill claimed large stones had begun sliding down the hillside, while others heard rumors of a bomb, some witnesses said. “Because so many pilgrims were gathered at the shelter, the way up and down was blocked,” said Suresh Kumar, a spokesman in the police control room at the temple. “When pilgrims started pushing down and the way was very crowded, the stampede took place.” “Metal guard rails meant to protect temple visitors from slipping down steep drops were knocked down by the crowds, sending some tumbling down the hillside. Pilgrims said officials on hand could not control the crowd, and watched helplessly as thousands broke barricades and ran downhill. [Source: Heather Timmons and Hari Kumar, New York Times, August 5, 2008]

168 Killed in Temple Stampede in Jodhpur

In September 2008, at least 168 people were killed, most of them crushed to death, after thousands of pilgrims stampeded, panicked by false rumors of a bomb a Hindu temple in Jodhpur in western India. Associated Press reported: Television footage showed dozens of bodies lying on the sidewalk, while nearby frantic people tried to revive unconscious devotees, slapping their faces and pressing on their chests. One child sat on the ground next to the body of a woman, rubbing her forehead and crying “Mother, Mother.” [Source: Associated Press, September 30, 2008 /*/]


Jodhpur Temple stampede bodies

“The disaster occurred just as the doors of the temple were being opened for worship at dawn for more than 12,000 people celebrating a key Hindu festival in the historic city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan state. The chaos began with false rumors of a bomb, said Ramesh Vyas, a pilgrim who was standing in line. Tensions are high because India has been hit by a spate of bomb attacks. The latest explosions Monday night in the western cities of Malegaon and Modasa killed six people and wounded 45. /*/

“Devotees had broken coconuts as religious offerings and so the temple’s floors were slick with coconut milk, causing pilgrims to slip and fall as they scrambled to escape, Vyas said. Other pilgrims had crammed a narrow 1 1/4-mile path leading to the temple, leaving little room for those fleeing to escape. The chaos was made worse by the fact there was a power outage at the time. Some pilgrims slipped on the ramp leading to the shrine, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Director-General of state Police K. S. Bains as saying. At least 168 people were killed in the stampede, Naresh Pal Gangwar, the district collector, told the Associated Press.” /*/

115 Killed at Temple Stampede Near Bhopal

In October 2013, at least 115 people were killed in a stampede at at the Ratangarh temple in the Datia district in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. The victims drowned or were crushed to death on a bridge as hordes of pilgrims panicked after rumours that the bridge was going to collapse. It was the second deadly crush at the site in seven years. In 2006 stampede outside a temple in Datia killed 50 people as they crossed a river, prompting authorities to build the bridge.


aftermath of the Ratangarh temple stampede

Girish Sharma of Reuters wrote: “Nearly 150,000 pilgrims had gathered at the Ratangarh temple to celebrate the end of the Hindu holy festival of Navratri. Devotees thronging towards the temple across a long, concrete bridge panicked when some railings broke, triggering the stampede, Dilip Arya, a deputy inspector general of police, told Reuters. Many victims were crushed by the crowd while others drowned when they fell or jumped into the fast-flowing Sindh river, swollen by heavy rain. Most of the dead were women and children. Many pilgrims were injured and in hospital, Arya said. Rescuers had combed the river in the hunt for victims. [Source: Girish Sharma, Reuters, October 14, 2013]

“Reuters images taken soon after the accident showed bodies of women and children on the bridge with discarded travel bags and food and water containers strewn about. Police were investigating the cause of the accident. Arya dismissed accounts from some survivors that police had sparked the panic by using sticks to try to control the crowd.

The Ratangarh temple was built by Hindu warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji after defeating the Muslim Mughals, who ruled most of India for 600 years. There was a stampede on the same 400-metre (440-yard) bridge in 2006 and 50 pilgrims were swept away to their deaths after they jumped into the river to escape the crush.

102 Killed in Indian Festival Stampede in Kerala

In January 2011, at least 102 people were killed and 44 others were injured during stampede of pilgrims returning from one of India's most popular Hindu festivals in Kerala in southeast India. Associated Press reported: “The stampede was set off at night when a group of pilgrims in a jeep drove into a crowd of worshippers walking along a narrow forest path as they returned from offering prayers at the hilltop Sabarimala shrine in the state of Kerala, said local police official Sanjay Kumar. All the injured were hospitalized, some in serious condition, Kumar told The Associated Press. "We have recovered 102 bodies. The rescue work is almost over," he said. The area was flooded with pilgrims and the stampede occurred nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the temple site, Kumar said. [Source: Associated Press, January 14, 2011]

“The annual two-month festival attracts millions of worshippers to the remote temple to the Hindu deity Ayyappan. The ceremony Friday marked the end of the festival, and an estimated 150,000 devotees were thought to have taken the narrow path out of the densely forested hills where the stampede took place, the Press Trust of India reported. Millions of devotees make the pilgrimage each year and nearly 2,000 police officers were deployed near the shrine to prevent such accidents from happening, PTI reported. A small stampede a week earlier killed one pilgrim, it said. The difficulty in reaching the temple delayed relief operations, PTI reported.

Nearly 100 Dead in Indian Temple Blaze

In April 2016, nearly 100 people were killed and more than 200 were injured when a massive fire swept through a temple in southern Kerala where people had gathered for a fireworks display to mark the start of the local Hindu new year. According to Reuters: “Thousands of devotees had packed into the Puttingal Devi temple in the coastal district of Kollam. The fireworks display began at midnight and went on for hours. The fire started when one of the crackers fell onto a shed where the fireworks were stored, said residents near the temple site, about 70 kilometers from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. [Source: Reuters, April 10, 2016 /=\]

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Kollam with a team of doctors to help state authorities cope with the large number of injured people, moving swiftly to pre-empt criticism over lack of public safety. "The fire at the temple in Kollam is heart-rending and shocking beyond words," he said in a Twitter post. "My thoughts are with families of the deceased and prayers with the injured." /=\


Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister of Kerala Shri Oommen Chandy survey damage at Puttingal temple, Paravur, in Kollam, Kerala on April 10, 2016


“The Puttingal temple is one of the oldest in the state. It was built on the site of an ant hill where locals believe a goddess appeared centuries ago. The explosion from the fireworks was so strong that some parts of the temple roof caved in. Local media showed bulldozers trying to clear the area of the debris. Kerala's Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said 97 people were dead in the temple fire, many of whom were trapped by flames in the temple building. He said 245 were injured. Television images showed people, some clutching children with burn injuries, being taken to hospitals. The federal government also ordered the military to help the Kerala state authorities with two navy ships sailing to Kollam with medical supplies. /=\

“With Kerala in the midst of an election for a new state assembly, the temple fire quickly turned into a political issue as local leaders demanded an investigation into the fireworks display. In Kerala, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party trails its rivals the Congress party and the communists. The BJP has focused on building up grassroots strength in the state for decades. /=\

“Kerala's Chief Minister Chandy said the Kollam district administration had denied the temple authorities permission to carry out the fireworks display, and that the government will investigate how they went ahead. "There was no permission to even store the fireworks," he said. Police has registered a case against the temple authorities for negligence. The temple trust was not immediately available for comment. /=\

“Kerala is studded with temples, managed by rich and powerful trusts that often flout local regulations. Each year temples carry out fireworks displays, often competing to stage the most spectacular ones. There are judges who decide the winners. Kollam district magistrate A. Shainamol said people living in the neighborhood of the temple had complained about the danger of these fireworks in the past.” /=\

250 Killed in Temple Fire and Stampede Near Mumbai

In January 2005, at least 258 people were killed in a fire and stampede that occurred as 300,000 people converged on the hilltop Mandher Devi temple in Wai, 260 kilometers southeast of Mumbai (Bombay). Witnesses said the tragedy began when some pilgrims slipped on the steep steps to the temple, where some slippery coconuts had been left as offerings to the goddess Kalubai. Fires then wept though stalls selling flowers, fruit and food. Some said the fires were set intentionally by relatives of people hurt in the first stampede. Other said the fires were caused by a short circuit from a knocked down electric pole. In any case the fires set off another wave of stampedes. Most of the dead were crushed to death. The pilgrimage is popular with members of lower castes and is held during a full moon. The 24-hour-long festival features a number of animal sacrifices to the goddess Mandher Devi.


Mandher Devi temple in Wai

The disaster occurred during an annual celebration to worship a local goddess, Kalubai the in the town of Wai in a remote part of Maharashtra. Up to 400,000 people were estimated to have been attending the pilgrimage. The stampede occurred on a narrow road leading to the temple. The chaos started when a few impatient devotees started to push through the 200,000 Hindu worshippers who were making their way uphill to the Mandhara Devi shrine.

The BBC reported: Indian police say fires that triggered a deadly stampede by Hindu pilgrims in which more than 250 died were started deliberately by fellow pilgrims. Local police chief Chandrakant Kumbhar said problems began on Tuesday when devotees inside the temple slipped on water from coconuts cracked open as part of the ritual worship. Reports say some of them were then trampled by surging queues of worshippers trying to get inside the temple. "When their relatives, who were still climbing the stairs, heard the news (of people being trampled) they became angry and set fire to some shops," Mr Kumbhar said, Associated Press reported. [Source: BBC,, 26 January, 2005 \*/]

“In the ensuing chaos, witnesses say an overhead electricity cable was toppled and cylinders of cooking gas, stored in the shops, began exploding. Hundreds of people fleeing the flames were forced into narrow passageways and crushed to death. "The crowd began pushing and I saw people falling like sacks on top of each other," 45-year-old Namdeo Yerunkar told Associated Press. Rescue workers are looking for bodies among the charred remnants of shops along the route to the temple, while police are trying to establish who was responsible for the fire. \*/

Dozens Killed in Stampedes in Patna

In November 2012, at least 18 people were killed and several others injured in a stampede at Patna's Adalatganj Ghat during the Chhath pooja in the evening. India Today reported: “Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said that the Chhath tragedy had not taken place because of the collapse of any bamboo bridge. He said that the mishap occurred because of a stampede. "It is not yet clear as to what caused the stampede," Kumar said. Appealing to the people not to pay attention to any rumour, he said that the guilty would be punished after the inquiry report. [Source: India Today, November 19, 2012 ~~]

“The incident occurred when a temporary bridge built over the Ganga for the convenience of devotees collapsed partially. Many people fell off the bridge, leading to the stampede. Eyewitnesses said that the venue was very crowded at the time of the incident as thousands of devotees had thronged the river bank to offer Arghya to the Sun before the dusk. According to Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) sources, 14 bodies had reached the hospital, even as at least four more were reported killed in the incident. Over 20 people were said to be injured in the incident. Many of them were reported to be critical so the death toll was likely to increase, hospital sources said.” ~~


candlelight vigil for the 2014 Patna stampede

In October 2014, at least 32 people were killed and 15 others are injured after a stampede at Gandhi Maidan in Patna after Dussehra celebrations in the evening. Alok Pandey of NDTV wrote: “ The incident occurred at a narrow road outside the landmark Gandhi Maidan as people were returning after watching Dussehra celebrations. Eyewitnesses say the stampede started after two people spread a rumour that an electrical wire had snapped off and fallen down. The administration, however, has not confirmed this. Officials say there are about 25 women and five children in those killed. [Source: Alok Pandey, NDTV, October 3, 2014 |=|]

“Dussehra celebrations at the Gandhi Maidan are the biggest in Patna and at least 50,000 people turn up every year to watch the burning of gigantic effigies here. The event is organised jointly by the district administration and a private organiser. Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manji was also present at the Gandhi Maidan for the celebrations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sanctioned Rs. 2 lakh each for the next of those killed, and Rs. 50,000 for those critically injured. |=|

Reports suggest not all gates of the venue were open for the huge number of people who were leaving. The lighting too was very poor. Officials say some people fainted during the stampede and were rushed to the Patna Medical College Hospital, which is just two kilometres away. "People have dispersed from the spot now. A few dozen people could be injured. Senior officials are at the hospital including the Health Secretary and treatment is being ensured," said Amir Subhani, Home Secretary, Bihar. |=|

Ten Killed in Stampede at a Body Rolling Event

In August 2014, 10 people were killed in a stampede at a Hindu temple in Madhya Pradesh in central after thousands of Hindu devotees had gathering at several temples around a hill in the state’s Chitrakoot area when ropes set up to control the crowds gave way. AFP reported: Hundreds of pilgrims gathered at a holy hill in Madhya Pradesh state for a ritual that involves rolling on the ground along a path around the site. Rope barriers designed to contain the pilgrims appeared to have given way, sparking panic during the ritual at Chitrakoot in the state’s east. “Ten people were killed and over 60 are suspected to be injured in the stampede,” said ML Meena, a senior state government official. “During the parikrama (rolling), there was a situation of suffocation and then people started falling over each other and that’s what triggered the whole thing,” police Additional Superintendent Amit Saxena said. [Source: Agence France-Presse, August 25, 2014]


rolling babas

The bodies of the victims were placed side by side, with clothes, shoes and belongings scattered around. Tearful relatives helped police carry the injured to waiting ambulances. “The place is still very chaotic and crowded, but police and ambulances have reached the spot,” a local police spokesman said. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced 200,000 rupees (Dh12,000) for the families of those killed.

The devotees gathered on Kamadgiri hill, 520 kilometres from the state capital Bhopal, for Somvati Amavasya, a new moon event to honour Lord Shiva. Pilgrims roll in a clockwise circle along the “path of worship”, a five-kilometre circular stretch around the hill, which has a chain of temples along its base. “The accident occurred when the rope barriers set up to contain thousands of Hindu pilgrims during circumambulation of Kamadgiri hill gave way ... resulting in a stampede,” said Inspector General Pawan Srivastava.

Pilgrims Killed Reaching for Garlands and Bathing During an Eclipse

In January 2008, at least five people have been killed and 15 others injured in a stampede at a Hindu temple in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The BBC reported: “The incident occurred at the Shri Durga Malleswara temple in Vijayawada city, 170 miles (270 kilometers) from the state capital, Hyderabad, an official said. The five were killed when thousands of devotees pressed forward to garland the statue of goddess Durga. Five of the injured were in serious condition, officials said. [Source: BBC, January 3, 2008 +++]

“More than 100,000 devotees had gathered at the hill-top temple the Associated Press quoted Andhra Pradesh Endowment Minister, Ratnakar Rao, as saying. Mr Rao said the dead included four women. The rituals had continued after the stampede, he said. The city's police chief, CV Anand, blamed the temple management for the tragedy. He said police had alerted the temple authorities that a huge crowd was expected for the ceremony and had asked them to ensure adequate crowd control. The temple has only one gate which is used for both entry and exit.” +++

In July 2009, two people were killed in Varanasi morning when thousands of people gathered at the banks of the Ganges to watch the solar eclipse. "One person died because of drowning and the other got crushed in a stampede. The names of the deceased are yet to be determined" said P.C. Meena, deputy inspector general of police (DIG). The stampede occurred due to the heavy rush of pilgrims at the ghat, DIG P C Meena told PTI. An estimated 60,000-70,000 people had gathered at the ghat to take the dip. The injured have been rushed to hospitals. [Source: Times of India, July 22, 2009]

Pilgrims Killed in Bus Crashes


Sikh pilgrims on a bus to Manikaran

In January 2008, at least 38 Hindu pilgrims were killed and dozens injured when an overcrowded bus plunged into a gorge in western India last night. News Agencies in India reported: “The private luxury bus was travelling to Nasik in Maharashtra state after visiting a popular Hindu shrine when the brakes failed above a 183 meter gorge. Most of the passengers were from Mumbai, and the dead included 12 women and four children. The bus was negotiating a hairpin bend when the brakes failed. The driver jumped out of the vehicle. The bus broke into two pieces because of the impact of the fall. The driver has been detained by police for reckless and negligent driving. [Source: Agencies, January 22, 2008]

In July 2017, at least 16 Hindu pilgrims were killed and many more were injured after a bus crash in Jammu and Kashmir state, just days after gunmen shot dead eight pilgrims on their way to same place, Amarnath Cave. “Sixteen people are now confirmed dead, 19 with serious injuries and eight others with minor injuries,” Jammu and Kashmir police said. [Source: Agence France-Presse, July 16, 2017 />/]

AFP reported: “The bus plunged into a gorge in the northern state where hundreds of Hindus make the annual pilgrimage to a Himalayan cave revered as the abode of the god Shiva. Some of the worst injured were being airlifted to hospital, while others were taken to local clinics for treatment, police said. Tens of thousands of Hindus from all over India travel to Kashmir every year to visit an ice formation in the Amarnath caves that is worshipped as a symbol of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.” />/

In May 2017, 23 pilgrims from Indore were killed in bus accident in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi The Hindustan Times reported: “At least 23 pilgrims from Indore district of Madhya Pradesh were killed when the bus they were travelling in fell into the Bhagirathi river in Uttarkashi. According to sources, the pilgrims had gone to Dehradun by train and were on their way to Kedarnath by bus when the accident occurred around 7pm near Nalupani, around 11 km from Dharasu. Indore collector P Narahari said seven other persons were also injured in the accident. All the victims were from Betma, Hatod and other nearby villages of Indore district. They were part of a group that had gone from Indore for a pilgrimage of ‘Char dham’ in two buses. [Source: Hindustan Times, May 24, 2017]

Attack by Militants Kills at Least Seven Hindu Pilgrims in Kashmir

In July 2017, seven Hindu pilgrims were killed when a tourist bus was hit by bullets during a firefight between militants and police in Kashmir during the pilgrimage to Amarnath. It was the deadliest attack against Hindu pilgrims in region since 2000 Michael Safi wrote in The Guardian, “Six women and one man were killed in the evening attack in the southern district of Anantnag. The attack comes amid heightened religious tensions across northern India and another summer of violence in Kashmir. The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted he was “pained beyond words at the dastardly attack” on Hindus participating in the Amarnath Yatra. [Source: Michael Safi, The Guardian, July 10, 2017 *^*]


Amarnath pilgrims

“The pilgrimage went ahead despite police intelligence of a planned militant attack. Unprecedented security measures, including surveillance cameras, bulletproof bunkers and phone jammers, had been implemented to protect the estimated 115,000 pilgrims. The pilgrimage was suspended because of security fears on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Burhan Wani, an anti-India militant whose death triggered weeks of protests and the longest curfew in the history of Indian-controlled Kashmir. *^*

“Police in Kashmir said the attack began with militants firing on a security bunker and a police checkpoint in Anantnag. “The fire was retaliated. A tourist bus was hit by bullets in which about 18 tourists were injured,” they said in a statement. “Among them six persons died while [the] rest are being treated.” One pilgrim taken to a hospital in Anantnag said: “There was a lot of firing. We don’t know what happened. We were going to Katra [in the Jammu region] from Srinagar.” *^*

A former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Omar Abdullah, tweeted the attack was “the one thing we had all feared this year”. The internet has been temporarily suspended in Kashmir but in a sign of the authorities bracing for a backlash, sources in the telecommunications sector told the Guardian the internet would also be temporarily shut down in Jammu, a region in the state with a greater Hindu population. *^*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except for the bodies in Jodhpur, The Independent, and Ratangarh temple, Associated Press

Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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