Monday, August 04, 2008

Pilgrims return to India shrine

Relatives of the dead and injured in the stampede
Thousands of devotees had gathered to celebrate an annual festival

Worshippers have returned to a Hindu temple in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, a day after a stampede at the shrine left 146 people dead.

About 50 people have been injured in the stampede at the Naina Devi temple.

Heavy rains and a rumour of a landslide and falling boulders caused widespread panic, leading to the stampede.

Many of the victims were children, trampled to death during the panic. Eyewitnesses blame insufficient police arrangement for the high casualties.

Tens of thousands of devotees had been gathering to celebrate the annual nine-day festival of Shravan Navratras.

An investigation is now under way into the incident at the temple located in the Bilaspur district, about 160km (100 miles) from the Himalayan hill town of Shimla.

A stampede at the shrine had killed 55 people in 1983.

'Question of faith'

The temple opened early on Monday with worshippers queuing up to pay obeisance.

"The tragedy is unfortunate. But that has not affected the flow of devotees," temple priest Rajesh Kumar was quoted by news agency IANS as saying.

Path after the stampede
Many of the victims were women and children

"It's a question of faith. The tragedy does raise a question in your mind but faith is supreme. Life has to go on," Ram Prakash, a devotee from the state's Mandi district said.

Meanwhile, grieving relatives have been searching through the rows of bodies and officials say 132 bodies have been identified so far.

At least 14 bodies remain unidentified, they said.

Hospitals in Bilaspur and Anandpur Sahib (in Punjab) have seen a stream of people trying to find their injured relatives.

Most of the worshippers who died in the stampede are believed to be from the neighbouring state of Punjab.

Thousands of Hindu worshippers were climbing up a 4-km (2.5-mile) trail leading to the hilltop temple, chanting and singing hymns, when the stampede happened.

Children lost their grip on their mothers' hands and were crushed under the feet of scared pilgrims attempting to leap over broken railings to save themselves, witnesses said.

Television footage showed the narrow path strewn with torn clothes and bags of flowers and offerings.

The chief minister of Himachal Pradesh has announced compensation to those injured in the stampede, and to the families of those killed.

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