In the worst-ever temple tragedy in Himachal Pradesh, 146 devotees, including 30 children and 38 women, were killed and more than 50 injured on Sunday in a stampede at the Naina Devi shrine triggered by rumours of a landslide.
The bodies, mostly of people from Patiala, reached Bhai Jaitta civil hospital in Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, which is about 40km from the temple site, for post mortem, Ropar Deputy Commissioner B Purshartha said.
Rumours of a landslide and rolling down of boulders from a nearby hilltop spread fear among the devotees resulting in the stampede as a large number of people trekking up and returning from the shrine ran into each other in a bid to escape.
Braving heavy rains, an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 pilgrims had gathered at the popular temple to offer prayers on the occasion of 'Navratra', a nine-day religious festival involving fasting in reverence to Goddess Durga worshipped as the symbol of power.
The incident took place at around 1000 hrs, Additional District Magistrate of Bilaspur C P Verma said.
Thirty-eight women and 30 children were among the victims, said Verma and Himachal Principal Secretary (Home) P C Kapoor. The rest of the dead were men.
As men, women and children waited in a serpentine queue to have a glimpse of the deity, suddenly all hell broke loose with people running helter skelter following the rumour of the landslide.
Children and women clutching the hands of their near and dear ones got separated in the rush to escape the landslide, realising little that they were hurtling to another form of death.