Allahabad Stampede Kills 36 Kumbh Mela Pilgrims

ALLAHABAD (TIP): A stampede ata railway station in Allahabad killedat least 36 Hindu pilgrims onFebruary 10, the busiest day of theKumbh Mela at which some 30 millionhad gathered to wash away their sinsin the sacred Ganges river.Twenty-seven of the dead werewomen, mostly elderly and poor. Aneight-year-old girl was also crushed todeath. A Reuters witness saw a womanweeping at the train station,surrounded by six bodies dressed inbrightly coloured saris.Up to 100 million pilgrims andHindu ascetics are expected to attendthe two-month long Kumbh Mela,world’s largest religious festival,which comes to an end next month.

It is held every 12 years in atemporary city covering an arealarger than Athens, spread over awide sandy river bank in Allahabad atthe point where the Ganges andYamuna rivers meet the Saraswati, amythical river.The festival grows in size everytime it is held and is considered theworld’s largest temporary gathering ofpeople. Officials said some 30 millionvisited the site on Sunday, consideredthe most auspicious day to bathe inthe river.Officials gave contradictoryversions of what caused the crush. Arailway official told Reuters police hadbeen using batons to control thecrowd, triggering panic.

A stategovernment official said a footbridgehandrail collapsed, sending peopleslipping down the stairs and starting astampede.A spokesman for Indian railwayssaid authorities had found 36 bodiesand 30 people were injured. Theinjured were being treated at hospitalsin Allahabad.”Since there were huge crowds anda lot of panic, it took time before thebodies could be extricated,” saidanother official, R. M. Srivastava,the top security official in UttarPradesh.Deadly stampedes are common atIndia’s vast pilgrimages andreligious festivals. In 2008, 145 peopledied when a panicking crowd pushedpeople over a ravine near theHimalayan temple of Naina Devi.

Thousands of police andvolunteers are used for crowdcontrol during the Kumbh Mela,manning the river bank when thepilgrims and naked, dreadlockedascetics dash into the water to bathe.The festival has its roots in aHindu tradition that says the godVishnu wrested a golden pot fromdemons containing the nectar ofimmortality.In a 12-day fight for possession,four drops fell to earth, in the citiesof Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain andNasik. Every three years a KumbhMela is held at one of these spots,with the festival at Allahabad theholiest of them all.More than 2,000 years old, thefestival is a meeting point for Hindu”sadhu” ascetics, some of whom livein forests or Himalayan caves andwho belong to dozens of inter-relatedcongregations. The sects have theirown administration and electleaders, but are also known forviolent clashes among themselves.

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