BOMBAY, India – Thousands of Hindus panicked during a religious procession in western India on Tuesday, triggering a stampede that killed about 200 people, police said. An equal number were injured.
Accounts differed as to what caused the stampede near the village of Wai, some 150 miles south of Bombay (search), in Satara district.
Sharad Jadhav, Satara's second-highest official, said overcrowding was to blame, but police said it was triggered by a fire.
"A fire caused by a short circuit in a makeshift shop near the temple created panic among the pilgrims. Some tried to flee the area, starting the stampede," said K.K. Pathak, the inspector-general of police. The situation grew worse when a narrow path leading to the temple became jammed with pilgrims.
Police officer Chandrakant Kumbhar told The Associated Press by telephone from Wai that about 200 people were killed and "an equal number" were injured. He said the people panicked after some shops along the corridor caught fire.
Nearly 300,000 people were estimated to be participating in the procession.
Hindus congregate every year at the hilltop temple of the Hindu goddess Mandra Devi (search) on a full moon night, which this year fell on Tuesday. They began arriving Monday.
Stampedes are not uncommon at major Hindu religious festivals, which can attract millions of worshippers. Authorities often are unable to cope with the huge crowds.
In August, at least 39 Hindus were killed when pilgrims stampeded on the banks of a holy river in Nasik, a town 110 miles northeast of Bombay.
Fifty-one pilgrims died in 1999 after a rope meant to channel worshippers snapped in a landslide at a Hindu shrine in southern India, and 50 people were killed in 1986 in a stampede in the northern town of Haridwar.
In the worst accident, about 800 pilgrims died during a Hindu festival in 1954 in the northern city of Allahabad (search).