| A victim’s daughter at the Nashik crematorium. (AFP)
Nashik, Aug. 28: A procession led by sadhus in swank cars may have caused the stampede at the Kumbh Mela.
Several witnesses said a group of sadhus from the Chatur Sampradaya entered Shahi Marg, the stampede scene, after the time-slot they were allotted.
Sadhus had been ordered to take their bath by noon, after which the lanes were to be opened to the public. But some sadhus from the sampradaya entered the lane well after the deadline, shop-owners and police officials, who witnessed the disaster, said.
“They entered the lane around 12.30 after the scheduled time when there were already thousands of people in the street. The sadhus were in smart cars — a Qualis, a Sumo and three or four others, and even on an elephant,” said Yogesh Vispute, who owns a jewellery shop in the lane.
“At the other end, people who had already bathed were trying to come back the same way. Some of them couldn’t find the exit. For others, Shahi Marg, which is the lane taken by the sadhus on their way to the bath, is most sacred,” he said.
“This narrow stretch of 200 metres had almost 50,000 people. Every time someone bent to pick up a chappal, there would be chaos. We asked them to leave their chappals and move on.
“But then the sadhus started to throw silver coins as prasad. This is the practice, but this time it proved fatal. There was a scramble. The stampede followed.”
Police agree that coin-throwing started it, though the pressure was mounting at the other end.
The sampradaya, however, denied any of its members were responsible for the stampede. “We took the bath very early,” said Rashbehari Das, one of the four mahants of the sect.
Shahi Marg being barely 10-foot wide, around 20-30 people were trampled to death instantly. Many were saved as residents opened their houses and establishments. “We took in at least 2,000 people,” said Iyer of the Shringeri Sankaracharya Math.
“Other volunteers from the lane, who were trying to manage the crowds from before, pushed thousands of people into the Golwada Mitra Mandal.”
An estimated 50 lakh people took the holy bath yesterday.
Fourteen-year-old Sachin Yadav, who was pulled inside the Golwada establishment, said: “There was a camel also in the sadhus’ procession.”
“The police stopped the flow of people into the lane and drove the sadhus in the cars out of the lane,” said Chandan Pamwani, who owns a watch shop. “But the damage was already done.”
The disaster could have been averted if the sadhus did not enter at that time and returning bathers had followed directions.
The stampede was aided by the layout of the area. Ram Kund and Lakshman Kund, where the holy bath was being organised, are open on all sides. Many lanes lead to the kunds from all sides and they look identical, and some were marked for entry and some for exit.
“But with several lakhs of people taking the bath at one point, it would have been impossible to tell which was which. There were not many signs either on the streets saying which was the way out,” Vispute said.
Not many entry-exit signs were seen even today.