India is unarguably one of the most religious countries in the world today. This country, which is home to more than a billion people, is a melting pot of various religions, sects, holy practices and beliefs. The country is also home to more than a million shrines, where thousands flock almost every day to offer their prayers. Festivals such as Navratri, Sankranti and Diwali, as well as other auspicious days, trigger a larger attendance at these places. However, with crowd control being an issue, many such religious gatherings have also been events where untoward incidents such as stampedes and other similar mishaps occur. Over the past few decades alone, thousands of people have lost their lives in stampedes at such holy shrines and their surrounding regions. Here are 10 terrifying incidents of stampedes which occurred at different religious places across India. It is high time that the temple authorities and government initiate better preventive measures to ensure that such tragedies are averted in the future.
1. Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
The Kumbh Mela, the world’s biggest religious gathering, also witnessed one of the worst stampede tragedies of all time. This horrific chapter of Indian history occurred in the year 1954, at the holy town of Haridwar, located in the Allahabad district of Uttar Pradesh. More than 4 million people had gathered at the town to take a dip in the holy Ganges on the inauspicious day of ‘Mauni Amavasya.’ It is said that barricades were placed to control any kind of predicament, but sections of the crowd broke the barricades, resulting in a horrific stampede. If reports are to be believed, approximately 800 people lost their lives in this tragedy and a thousand others were injured in the rush.
2. Sabarimala, Kerala
Millions throng the Swamy Ayyappa temple, located in the Sabarimala town of India, every year during the festival of ‘Makarasankranthi,’ the harvest festival. Like every other year, in 2011 also, hordes of people had gathered at the shrine and nearby places, however, they had no clue about the tragedy that was about to come. The unfortunate incident occurred after many pilgrims were making their way back home after the ‘Makarjyothi’ celestial event. The catalyst of the stampede was an SUV that moved towards the huge crowd at a precarious speed, raising a sense of panic among the people, who felt that the vehicle would topple. In a bid to save their lives, it is said that the people who felt they were in collision course with the vehicle started running, creating chaos and a stampede. More than a hundred people died in this stampede, most of them belonged to the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
3. Naina Devi Temple, Himachal Pradesh
The picturesque Naina Devi shrine, located on a hilltop in the state of Himachal Pradesh, draws many devotees and tourists every year. In August 2008, thousands of people had visited the temple to offer their prayers. It is being said that while these devotees were scaling the hill to reach the entrance of the shrine, one of the shelters made for the devotees caved in, leaving the visitors panic stricken. The sound emanated by the crash of the shelter against the rock made the devotees mistake it to be a landslide and ran to save their lives, resulting in a stampede. Approximately 150 people were brutally killed in this incident, of which 40 were children, and another 150 people were severely hurt.
4. Chamunda Devi Temple, Rajasthan
The Chamunda Devi temple is an ancient shrine, dedicated to the Hindu goddess of the same name. The temple attracts crowds during the nine-day long ‘Navratri’ festival, which is also celebrated as the season of Durga Puja, in other parts of the country. On one day in September 2008, during the festive season, more than 25000 people had visited this temple to offer their prayers to the goddess. In a bid to get a glimpse of the idol, the people rushed towards the main door, creating chaos and a deadly stampede. Approximately 224 people were killed in this horrifying incident and more than 400 people were left wounded. Condolences were offered by people from all over the country, to the families of the victims.
5. Mandher Devi Temple, Maharashtra
Tragedy struck in January 2005 at the Mandher Devi temple, located in the Satara district of Maharashtra, making it one of the most forgettable events to have occurred in the state. More than 300,000 people had visited the Mandher Devi shrine in Maharashtra on the occasion of the annual festival. The devotees were scaling a steep slope, which led to the entrance of the shrine. A few slipped down the slope, causing a stampede of small magnitude. Meanwhile, while many had already lost their footing, the nearby shops had caught fire due to a cylinder explosion, causing these devotees to panic and the rush led to yet another stampede. Many bodies were also charred due to the fire that incinerated the shops, killing around 291 people.
6. Kripalu Maharaj Ashram, Uttar Pradesh
Hundreds of devotees had visited the Ashram of the spiritual leader Kripalu Maharaj and the Ram Janki temple located in the same vicinity in March 2010 in the Kunda town of Uttar Pradesh. A charity event was organized at the place, where food and clothes were being distributed for free. While the bustle prolonged for hours together, it is said that an unfinished gate at the Ashram collapsed, leading to panic amongst the visitors. Gripped by fear of getting their heads opened by this falling grid of metal, the people ran for cover, which triggered a stampede resulting in 63 people losing their lives.
7. Mahamaham, Kumbakonam
The temple town of Kumbakonam located in Tamilnadu, was scarred by a ghastly incident that occurred in the year 1992. The ‘Mahamaham Festival,’ is an event held at the Mahamaham tank, located in the town, once in every 12 years. On one unfortunate day, during this festival, a building collapsed, leading to chaos and a stampede which killed around 50 people. Ironically, the Chief Minister of the state Jayalalitha, had also visited the Mahamaham tank on the same day, in a bid to take a dip, and escaped unhurt.
8. Chhath Festival, Bihar
The annual Chhath Puja is one of the most awaited events of Bihar, an event which draws thousands of people, including people of Indian origin from other parts of the world. During one such gathering in 2012 at Patna, the capital of the state of Bihar, a stampede occurred, killing around 18 people. Many also believe that this incident was caused by the collapse of a bridge, which led to the river.
9. Ratangarh, Madhya Pradesh
One of the worst mishaps to occur in recent times, the tragedy at the ‘Ratangarh Mata’ temple in the state of Madhya Pradesh stole the lives of 115 people. Around 25,000 people walked across a bridge leading to the temple during the festival in 2013, leading to the collapse of one of its railings. People feared that the bridge might break in half and some hurried towards the land, while the others jumped into the river below and drowned. A compensation of Rupees 1, 50, 000/- was sanctioned by the Madhya Pradesh state government as compensation to the families of the dead victims.
10. Kumbh Mela, Nashik
The Kumbh Mela hit the headlines yet again, this time in 2003, at the holy town of Nashik, Maharashtra. It is said that barricades separated the devotees from the Sadhus, who were supposed to take a dip at the river Godavari first. One of these holy men threw a coin at this huge crowd standing on the other side of the barricade, which led to a chaotic situation, as everyone tried hard to get their hands on the coin. This incident killed around 57 people, of which majority were women and children.