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Page last updated at 06:35 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Seven die in India festival stampede

Pilgrim on the way to Gangasagar festival
Tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims attend the Gangasagar festival

Seven Hindu pilgrims have been killed in a stampede at a religious festival on the Ganges river in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

More than 20 pilgrims have been injured in the incident, which took place when hundreds of devotees tried to board a ferry to take them to the festival.

Every winter, Sagar island hosts the festival, the Gangasagar Mela. Pilgrims bathe in the river.

Tens of thousands of devotees also pray at the temple of the sage Kapil Muni.

Separately, hundreds of thousands of devotees bathed in the cold waters of the Ganges river at the beginning of a three month-long Hindu religious festival, Kumbh Mela, in the town of Haridwar in north India.

'Unfortunate'

Thursday morning's stampede in West Bengal was triggered by a rush of pilgrims to the Gangasagar Mela.

"These pilgrims were trying to board the first boat service to the Sagar Islands at Kakdwip when the stampede started. It is very unfortunate," senior local official Khalil Ahmed said.

Police official Surojit Kar Purokayastha said, "The rush [of pilgrims to take places on a ferry] became a stampede and seven people were killed."

Five of the dead were women, and two were children, the police said.

In October 2008, 224 people were killed in a stampede at a Hindu temple in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Meanwhile, devotees have been braving freezing temperatures to take a holy dip in the Ganges in Haridwar.

Thursday marks the start of the Kumbh Mela and devotees believe that taking a dip in the Ganges during the festival will wash away all their sins.

"After 4am [2230GMT] devotees are continuously coming for a holy dip. Many of the devotees took dip before sunrise. And now after sunrise, the rush will exceed again," news agency Reuters quoted senior police official, Alok Kumar, as saying.

In the morning hours alone, about 200,000 to 300,000 people had bathed in the river, Mr Kumar said.

Millions of people, including women and children, have also been bathing in the Ganges river in the northern city of Allahabad.



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