Lucknow, Feb. 10: Several people are feared dead in a stampede at Allahabad railway station, bursting with pilgrims on the most auspicious day of the Maha Kumbh that drew one of the largest congregations in the world.
Official sources put the toll at 13 while unconfirmed reports spoke of at least 20 deaths. Initial reports suggested the stampede was triggered by a footbridge collapse but railway minister Pawan Bansal said he had no such information.
The pilgrims were rushing to catch a train home at 6.30pm after taking the dip at Sangam, the confluence 7km from the station. An estimated 3 crore — some said 4.5 crore — pilgrims took the dip today because it was Mauni Amavasya, considered auspicious for heralding a series of steps for cleansing sins.
Less than an hour before the mishap, two persons had died in a mini-stampede inside the Kumbh Mela ground. An official said the relatives of one victim, an aged man, were speaking in Bengali but he said the identity of the deceased had not been established till this evening.
An official said an estimated 5,000 people were on the railway footbridge when it reportedly collapsed. The passengers ran back when the railing of the footbridge apparently gave way. But police reportedly misunderstood and launched a baton-charge to restore order. The charge aggravated the stampede, according to eyewitnesses.
“Ten bodies, that of seven women and three men, can be seen on platform 6,” Harendra Rao, divisional railway manager, said tonight.
On the mela ground, the pressure of the turnout was telling. Many pilgrims had to wait six to eight hours before they could reach the riverfront. Several celebrities and industrialists were among those who took the dip. ( )
The long wait ensured that a large number of pilgrims turned up together at the station in the evening to take trains back home. Ambulances heading to the station were held up as the approach roads were clogged with a heaving mass of pilgrims returning after the holy bath.
“No one came to us for at least two hours after the fall,” Shankari Pal, a 45-year-old pilgrim from Kanpur, said.
Mauni Amavasya marks the appearance of the sage Manu, the first man according to Hindu belief, on earth.
Mauni Amavasya falls in the month of Magh (January-February). In Magh, which means one that cleanses sin, a Hindu believer is expected to pray to Lord Vishnu, meditate, donate money and materials and observe a vow of silence Ė all these start with the ceremonial bath at the confluence.