At least 63 people were killed and 35 injured in a stampede after the entry gate of an overcrowded spiritual ashram in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, collapsed on Thursday.
The tragedy occurred around noon when thousands of followers of swami Kripaluji Maharaj had made a beeline for his ashram in Mangarh village near Kunda town in Pratapgarh district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, about 180 km from Lucknow.
UP Additional Director General of Police Brij Lal said, "63 bodies had been recovered until about 3 pm from the scene of the tragedy. However, more casualties were feared as quite a few of the injured were serious and even critical."
He said, "While those with minor injuries were hospitalised in Kunda, the critical ones were rushed to the Allahabad medical college."
Thousands of followers of the Radha Krishna sect had converged at the 'Bhakti Dham' ashram of Kripaluji Maharaj to attend an annual bhandara (free lunch) hosted by him on the occasion of his wife's death anniversary.
"While the lunch on his wife's death anniversary was an annual feature, what drew people in unmanageable numbers was Krapaluji Maharaj's announcement that he would also be distributing some utensils on the occasion," local MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh told rediff.com from Kunda.
Better known as Raja Bhaiya, the legislator termed the incident as 'extremely unfortunate'.
Krapaluji Maharaj was, however, not available for comment.
An eyewitness said, "As soon as the gate came crashing down on the people underneath, there was utter panic, which triggered the stampede. It turned the entire place into a mass cremation ground."