At least 109 people have died in a stampede near a Hindu temple in India's central state of Madhya Pradesh. Many people were severely injured in the disaster, the second of its kind to occur at the shrine.
Police said the stampede occurred on Sunday at a bridge near the Ratangarh temple in the Datia district of Madhya Pradesh.
At least 109 people were crushed to death or died in the river below, officials said on Monday
Among the dead are believed to be 31 women and 17 children.
"The stampede occurred as the pilgrims tried to cross the bridge on the Sindh River near the shrine. There were around 25,000 people on the bridge at the time," Deputy Police Inspector DK Arya said.
The pilgrims were allegedly thrown into panic by rumors that the bridge was in danger of collapsing after being struck by a heavy vehicle around lunchtime.
Police wielding sticks had charged the crowd in an effort to contain the rush, Arya commented. People retaliated by hurling stones at officers, and one officer was injured.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement saying: "On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families."
Popular religious festival
Five hundred thousand people had gathered at the temple, situated some 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of the state capital, Bhopal, to offer prayers as the Hindu Navaratri festival (see picture above) draws to an end.
The festival, dedicated to the goddess Durga, draws millions of worshippers to temples, especially in northern and central India.
India has seen a large number of stampedes during religious festivals in the past.
Some 102 Hindu devotees were crushed to death in January 2011 in the state of Kerala, while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of people rushed to reach a 15th-century hilltop temple in Jodhpur, also during the Navaratri festival.
tj/kms (dpa, AFP)