320 killed in Hindu temple stampede

By HARBAKSH SINGH NANDA  |  Jan. 25, 2005 at 6:20 PM
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NEW DELHI, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A stampede triggered by coconut milk at a Hindu temple in western India have left at least 320 people dead and scores others injured, police officials said.

Most of the victims are reported be women and children who were participating in the festivities at the Mandradevi shrine in the town of Wai in Satara district, 150 miles from Bombay.

Police officials said that more than 250,000 pilgrims had congregated on the hilltop shrine for the four-day annual religious fair that concluded Tuesday.

During festival's final day ceremonies, thousands of devotees broke the coconuts, an auspicious ritual. Several people slipped on the coconut milk that spilled on the marble floors of the temple, triggering a stampede, Superintendent of Police C.P. Kumbhar told reporters.

Thousands of devotees who had lined outside the shrine to pay their obeisance kept on jostling and pushing to find their way into the temple without realizing that the commotion inside the shrine.

In the free-for-all, scores of devotees were crushed to death on the temple premises, The Tribune daily reported.

A few moments later, thousands of panic-stricken devotees attempted to rush their way down from the hilltop, causing another stampede. Several of the food stalls in the narrow path to the shrine caught fire when angry crowd began uprooting their tents.

With cooking gas cylinders exploding all over, the fire spread to the barricades meant for orderly movement of pilgrims and scores of people were burned to death.

"This led to a huge stampede leading to the disaster," Kumbhar said.

The Times of India said that a large number of goats are sacrificed during the fair, making the blood-dampened ground even slipperier.

Another reason for the stampede was given as a short circuit in the electrical installation near the temple, which caused an explosion on the adjacent transformer, the Press Trust of India reported.

Police officials said that a large number of women, children and elderly pilgrims who were pushed down to the ground died from asphyxiation.

Maharashtra state Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said: "We have received information of some deaths, but do not know the exact figure."

Maharashtra Governor S. M. Krishna said, "I convey my heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved families and pray for the speedy recovery of injured."

"What happened here was terrible," a local journalist, Pankaj Kelkar, told television channels from the site.

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