SANTOKHGARH, India – Mukesh Chabba lit the funeral pyre on which seven of his relatives — including his wife and daughter — were cremated, the day after a stampede at a remote mountaintop Hindu temple killed 145 people.
Chabba and 11 other family members had been visiting the temple Sunday to celebrate the recent birth of his son. Only five of them survived.
The 31-year-old farmer laid to rest his parents, his wife, his 2-year-old daughter, his brother and sister-in-law and their 17-year-old daughter as hundreds of weeping villagers and relatives looked on.
Chabba was able to save his infant son by passing him to a young man who was on a ledge above the main path, he said.
"There was a lot of shouting and pushing. People fell down and could not get up. They just suffocated," he said.
Families, many of whom lost several members, began mass funerals on Monday. By midday most of the bodies had been claimed and taken away for funerals and only 15 remained unidentified, said C.P. Verma, a senior local police official.
An estimated 25,000 people were at the remote temple in the foothills of the Himalayas to celebrate Shravan Navratras, a nine-day festival that honors the Hindu goddess Shakti, or divine mother.
Rumors of a landslide apparently started the panic, Verma said. Pilgrims already at the temple began running down the path where they collided with devotees winding their way up.
With a concrete wall on one side and a precipice on the other, there was nowhere to escape and they were crushed. A guard rail broke and dozens of people fell to their deaths.
Bodies of the devotees — many dressed in brightly colored holiday clothes — carpeted the path, intertwined with flattened iron railings. Many still held the flowers and food they planned to offer at the temple.
Police say 145 people, many of them women and children, were killed and 37 injured at the Naina Devi Temple in the Bilaspur district, about 155 miles northeast of New Delhi.
Deadly stampedes are a relatively common occurrence at temples in India, where large crowds — sometimes hundreds of thousands of people — congregate in small areas lacking facilities to control big gatherings.