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When holy chants turned into wails

September 30, 2008 14:05 IST

"Daddy, please wake up. Daddy, please wake up�" the wail of a five-year-old girl punctuates the sombre atmosphere that gripped the 15th century Hindu temple where devotees had gathered early Tuesday morning on the occasion of holy Navratra.

Little knowing that her father has died in one of the worst-ever stampedes in Rajasthan in recent years, the girl kept crying next to the motionless body.

Tragedy struck the Chamunda Temple when a stampede occurred, causing heavy casualty.

Chamunda is the 'kul devi' of Rao Jodha, the former king of Jodhpur [Images], who brought her idol in 1460 AD and installed it in the Mehrangarh Fort. The girl had come to the temple with her father to seek blessings of the goddess, considered to be the presiding deity of the place, on the occasion of Navratri festival.

Eyewitnesses said panic was triggered when some devotees slipped on a slope from the temple premises situated on a hill top. Chants of hymns by pilgrims going to the temple early in the morning soon gave way to loud wails and within minutes a pall of gloom descended on the entire area.

Heaps of bodies lay in the temple premises and volunteers were seen carrying them to the nearby hospitals for post mortem.

The temple compound presented the look of a chaotic jumble of bodies scattered all over.

Most of the dead were men as the stampede occurred in the separate queue for them along the route to the temple. People were seen running helter-skelter in the melee as there was a mad rush to locate their near and dear ones.

"I had come here with my grandfather. I haven't found him. I pray to god that he is alright," a distraught devotee from Jaipur [Images] said as he proceeded towards the nearest hospital.

The sight at the local hospital was equally heart-rending. People lay writhing in pain as the medical staff found themselves caught in a emergency situation, that too, in the early hours when the staff strength is rather low.

According to Rajasthan Police chief K S Bains, nearly 100 people were injured in the incident. Some pilgrims blamed the local administration for the incident, saying proper arrangements should have been made well in advance as everyone knew that the temple draws huge crowd on such occasions.

"There is only one route for entry and exit to the temple. The administration should have made proper arrangements to control the onrush of pilgrims to avoid any mishap," Mohan Lal, a 45-year old businessman, said.

By rough estimate, about 20,000 devotees had gathered for the occasion when the tragedy struck around 5.30 am. As the devotees on the two-km route surged towards the hillock shrine, some slipped and fell leading to the stampede, some witnesses recalled.

The situation went out of control as devotees, carrying offerings, jostled with each other and tried to rush towards the temple door breaking the barricades, they said.

The queue meant for women and children was largely unaffected. Tuesday's incident is reminiscent of the stampede outside the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh [Images] in which over 150 people were killed last month.

In 2005, over 300 people, mostly women and children, were killed in a stampede at a remote temple in Satara district of Maharashtra.

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