MUMBAI, India — At least 27 people were killed Tuesday in a stampede in southern India, just hours after the start of a religious festival, an official said. More than 30 people were injured, some seriously, said C. H. Narendra, a spokesman for the Health Ministry in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which includes Rajahmundry, one of the cities along the Godavari River where the festival is being held. Twenty-four women and a young boy were among the dead, Mr. Narendra said.
The stampede occurred about a quarter-mile from the Godavari’s banks, just hours after Andhra Pradesh’s chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, opened the 12-day Maha Pushkaralu festival by bathing in the river with a group of other ministers. Mr. Naidu’s office later announced that families of those killed would receive 1 million rupees, about $16,000, in compensation.
A. Srinivasan Rao, a deputy police superintendent in Andhra Pradesh, said that “clearly some disturbance must have triggered the stampede,” though the exact cause was unclear.
About 1.5 million Hindu pilgrims are estimated to have come to Rajahmundry, a city of roughly 350,000, for Maha Pushkaralu, which is held every 144 years on the banks of the Godavari. The Pushkaralu festival marks Jupiter’s crossing into the constellation of Leo, which happens every 12 years; during the festival, pilgrims come to bathe in the river, which is believed to be spiritually cleansing. The Maha Pushkaralu, held on the 12th recurrence of that cycle, is considered especially auspicious.
Mr. Narendra said 30 million to 40 million people were expected to come to Rajahmundry during the festival’s 12 days. Stampedes at religious gatherings occur frequently in India. Since 2008, there have been seven that killed at least 20 people, two of which killed more than 100. In 2013, 36 people died at the Maha Kumbh Mela festival in the northern city of Allahabad, another festival held on the banks of a sacred river every 144 years, NY Times reports.