A stampede caused by rushing devotees crushed at least 150 people to death and injured over 300 others in the famous Chamunda Devi temple in a 15th century fort in the Rajasthan city of Jodhpur on Tuesday on the first day of the Hindu festival of Navaratri. A handful of people triggered the crush when they fell while climbing the steep slope towards the temple, which is located inside a hilltop fort -- a major tourist attraction.
Relatives outside a local hospital in Rajasthan mourn their kin
It was one of the worst incidents of its kind in India. The death toll continued to rise on Tuesday as many of the estimated 300 injured battle for life in local hospitals.
Hours after the stampede, people continued to run frantically from one hospital to another, looking for their missing kin. All over Jodhpur -- about 330 kilometres from the state capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur -- families prepared to light funeral pyres.
The authorities and temple officials did not make a clear statement about what had led to the horrific tragedy but Rajasthan’s police chief, K S Bains, speculated that a power failure might be to blame.
"There were a large number of devotees going up the shrine. In the early hours of the morning, for a brief period, there was a power failure. The preliminary assessment is that some people slipped because because of the power failure and there was a cascading effect."
Thousands had gathered for Navaratri
The disaster took place at around 6 a.m. local time on Tuesday, less than three hours after the temple, which was built in the imposing Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur in 1460, opened for prayers on the occasion of the Hindu festival of Navaratri.
According to one account, 8,000 to 10,000 men, women and children were gathered in the complex; all of them using a narrow pathway leading to the temple.
Jodhpur’s district collector, Naresh Pal Gangawar explained what had happened: “There was a ramp in the Chamunda Mata temple. And near the ramp there were 2 to 3 blocks. It was crowded and people were jostling for space which led to people slipping and then the stampede happened.”
Most of the dead male
Almost all the dead are believed to be male because the stampede occurred in the male section of two parallel and winding barricades set up on a pathway on the mountain slope.
With no drivable road reaching up to the temple, devotees had to carry the dead and wounded for about half a kilometre. They then put them into ambulances and private vehicles so that they could be rushed to hospital.
It is one of the worst tragedies to hit the state of Rajasthan and is the worst temple tragedy in India. Earlier this year, 145 people died in a similar stampede at the Naina Devi shrine in Himachal Pradesh.