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Updated: July 16, 1996 05:00 PM GMT
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The Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India (CBCI) joined national leaders in offering condolences to the friends and relatives of 59 Hindu pilgrims killed in stampedes in two Indian towns July 15.

Thirty-seven people were reportedly killed when devotees crammed the Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain, a Hindu holy town in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, while marking a festival that last took place 27 years ago.

Another stampede killed 21 people at Haridwar, a sacred city some 200 kilometers north of New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh state.

Offering its condolences, the CBCI urged the federal government to provide better security arrangements and facilities for devotees in places of worship across the country.

"We pray for the souls of our Hindu brethren who died in the stampedes," CBCI deputy secretary general Father George Pereira said.

He told UCA News July 15 that the tragedy would not have occurred if the authorities had made "proper and adequate arrangements" for the millions of devotees who throng holy shrines.

Indian President Shankar Dayal Sharma expressed "grief and shock" at the loss of life in the stampedes, especially during a religious festival.

On July 15, Hindu pilgrims celebrated "somavati amavasya," an astrologically auspicious festival for devotees of Shiva, one of the three main Hindu gods.

The festival, which last occurred 27 years ago, is linked to the appearance of the new moon, on which most Hindu religious holidays are based.

More than 200,000 pilgrims gathered at Ujjain, some 810 kilometers south of New Delhi, considered one of Hinduism´s seven most sacred cities.

Police told reporters that the situation got out of control when bamboo barricades regulating the flow of pilgrims gave way as hundreds rushed into the Mahakaleshwar temple.

Several worshipers were impaled on the bamboo joints, while others slipped on marble stairs that lead to an underground Shiva idol.

Some devotees alleged the tragedy occurred as they were kept waiting while a high-ranking local government official offered prayers inside the temple with the main doors closed.

When the doors opened, they said, the throng surged forward, leading to people being trampled to death.

In Haridwar, where hundreds of Hindu saints live, most pilgrims had completed ritual bathing in the Ganges river and were trying to push their way across a narrow bridge over the river when the stampede occurred.

Similar tragedies have happened in the past. In 1992, more than 50 people died in a stampede in the southern Indian town of Kumbakonam during a religious holiday.


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