104 killed in temple stampede in southern India amid Hindu festival   2011-01-15 13:07:43 FeedbackPrintRSS

Hindu devotees pray at the Sabarimala temple during the Maravilakku festival marking the final of a two-month pilgrimage to the Lord Ayyappa temple in Kerala, south India. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

NEW DELHI, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- With the recovery of four more bodies overnight, the death toll in Friday's stampede at a temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala has reached 104, while 100 others injured are recuperating in a local hospital, said police.

Police have recovered all the bodies through rescue work conducted overnight despite heavy mist and the remoteness of the hilly terrain, said the state's Director General of Police Jacob Punnoose through telephone interview.

The toll may go up, he added.

The tragedy happened a little after 20:00 p.m. Friday when an out-of-control vehicle carrying pilgrims coming from a religious festival ploughed into a crowd and turned turtle, triggering the stampede near the Hindu shrine of Sabarimala at Pulmedu in the town of Vandiperiyar in Idukki district.

Sabarimla is a mystic place where divine light is said to appear on its own and to see that, devotees from all over the world walk for 40 days deep inside jungle to reach a hill top.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had gathered at the hill shrine on the last day of an annual religious festival, which runs for two months and attracts millions of visitors every year, a temple official said.

Those killed were mostly from the neighboring states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, a temple official said.

Meanwhile, Indian President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi as well as Kerala's Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan have expressed their grief and condolences over the tragedy.

The prime minister sanctioned a compensation of 100,000 rupees (2,000 U.S. dollars) each to the relatives to those killed and 50, 000 rupees (1,000 U.S. dollars) to those injured in what is being claimed as one of the country's worst tragedies. The Kerala government declared a three-day mourning.

Kerala's Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said that the state government will meet all the expenses for treating the injured even if they have been admitted to private hospitals in Idukki and Kottayam districts.

"A thorough investigation will be done and the state government will meet all the expenses for transporting the bodies to their homes," he added.

Stampedes at public events in India are quite common as large numbers of people gather into congested areas. On Jan. 14, 1999, the collapse of a hillock had also caused a fatal stampede at the Pamba base camp near the temple in Kerala, leaving at least 53 pilgrims dead.

People in southern India celebrated the harvest festival Pongal. The four days' harvest festival marked the auspicious beginning of Uttarayan, that is the Sun's journey towards the north.

The delicious Pongal food marked the beginning of the first day of the festival.

Marking the day of Makar Sankranti, royal ornaments meant to adorn Lord Ayyappa reached Sabarimala temple Friday.

Every year, the ornaments are taken from Pandalam to Sabarimala in Kerala over a three day procession.

Legend has it that these ornaments were given to Lord Ayyappa by his foster father -- the king of Pandalam. The deity was adorned with the ornaments Friday, ending the two month long Sabarimala festival.


Backgrounder: Chronology of the world's worst stampedes since start of 2010

BEIJING, Nov. 23 (Xinhuanet) -- At least 347 people were killed and 394 others injured in a stampede on Monday night as millions of Cambodians celebrated the last day of the annual Water Festival in the capital Phnom Penh. Full story

Editor: Fang Yang

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