JODHPUR, India (Reuters) - At least 147 people died in a stampede at a temple in the Indian desert state of Rajasthan as Hindus gathered to begin one of the most important religious festivals of the year, police said Tuesday.
A handful of people fell while climbing a steep slope toward the Chamunda temple, sited inside a hilltop fort near the city of Jodhpur, triggering the crush, a Reuters photographer at the scene said.
“People were falling over one another. Many ran but were trampled under the feet of thousands,” Anubhav, a witness who only gave his first name, said.
Other witnesses said too many people were trying to pass through a narrow part of the climb at the same time. Many suffocated after they fell.
“We have a final figure of 147 people died and 55 injured,” Rajiv Dasoth, an inspector-general with the Rajasthan police, said. “The situation is under control and all the injured are being taken care of in hospitals.”
Officials said the crowds were especially large Tuesday, as pilgrims gathered for the start of the nine-day Navratri festival.
“Some people fell on a ramp leading to the temple and it caused more casualties,” Dasoth said, adding a barricade separating women and children from men broke, leading to more casualties.
Local television showed volunteers carrying bodies and trying to revive them on the street. One child cried over her father’s lifeless body, wailing “Daddy, please get up.”
In India, stampedes are relatively common at temples, where thousands of people gather to pray during festivals and police fail to control the surging worshippers.
Last month, a similar crush outside a Hindu temple in the mountains of northern India killed at least 145 pilgrims.
Authorities ordered an investigation into that disaster, which occurred after rumors of a landslide triggered panic among pilgrims at the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh state.
In January 2005, at least 265 Hindu pilgrims, including several women and children, were killed in a stampede near a remote temple in Maharashtra state.
In Rajasthan Tuesday, dead bodies were piled high in a local hospital, while the injured writhed in pain, the Reuters photographer said.
“We will definitely conduct an inquiry and if we find people were negligent, we will definitely take action,” Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told reporters.
Reporting by Bappa Majumdar and Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Simon Denyer and Mark Williams