36 killed in India festival stampede
Hindu pilgrims were gathering to bathe in Ganges River
A railroad station crush left 36 people dead Sunday among tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims flocking to the banks of the Ganges River for the world's largest religious gathering, authorities reported.
The stampede occurred about 7 p.m. after someone fell from a platform bridge in Allahabad, the scene of this year's Kumbh Mela festival, North-Central Railway spokesman Sandeep Mathur said. He said the station was overcrowded with pilgrims, but denied reports that the bridge had collapsed.
In addition to the 36 killed, more than 30 people were injured in the stampede, according to Mathur. Earlier, 10 people were reported dead.
An estimated 40 million people came to Allahabad, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, on Sunday to bathe at the confluence of the Yamuna and Ganges rivers and the mythical Saraswati River. It's the most significant Hindu pilgrimage, occurring every 12 years, Indian cultural and political observer K. G. Suresh said.
"The Hindus believe that a dip in the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and the Saraswati on this occasion helps get rid of all worldly sins," Suresh said.
Sunday was the main day for bathing of the 55-day Kumbh Mela. In Hindu mythology, Allahabad is one of the four places where drops of the "nectar of immortality" contained in a pitcher fell to earth as gods and demons fought for it.
The holy bathing began on Saturday afternoon and peaked after midnight, festival official Satish Kumar Sharma said.
More than 12,000 police officers were guarding the nearly 20-square-kilometer (7.7-square-mile) site, India's government said.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was "deeply shocked" by the deaths and promised to extend "all possible help" to state authorities.
"I send my heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved families and wish those injured a speedy recovery," Singh said in a statement issued by his office. He pledged that those injured and the families of those killed would receive compensation.
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