Stampede, fire kill hundreds near Indian temple

 

As many as 300 Hindu pilgrims may have been crushed or burned to death in a stampede and fire near a temple in western India today.

A fire broke out in roadside stalls when more than 150,000 people were on an annual pilgrimage to the popular Mandher Devi temple, on a hilltop near Wai, about 260 kilometres southeast of Bombay.

Scores were crushed to death on the steep and narrow hill path leading to the temple and many others were charred.

Dishevelled and mangled bodies were lined up and tin-roofed stalls were smouldering near the temple and the adjoining settlement, situated on a craggy hilltop about 1,220 metres high.

Witnesses said the stampede started around midday after pilgrims slipped on the temple's steep stone steps, which had become wet from coconuts broken as an offering to the local deity Kalubai.

A fire then broke out in shops nearby and gas cylinders exploded, officials said.

The 300-year-old temple is popular among lower caste Hindus who undertake the annual pilgrimage on a full-moon day in January and participate in a 24-hour-long festival that includes ritual animal sacrifices to the goddess.