Half a million bathe in India's Ganges; crush kills 7

Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:27am EST
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By Sunil Kataria

HARIDWAR, India (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Hindus bathed in waters considered sacred across large parts of India to mark the start of a religious festival on Thursday, with at least seven people killed in a stampede in the country's east.

At least half a million men, women and children braved chilly winds to bathe in the icy waters of the Ganges in the holy Himalayan town of Haridwar at the "Kumbh Mela," or Pitcher Festival, held every 12 years in different Indian cities.

Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges during the almost four-month-long festival cleanses them of their sins, speeding the way to the attainment of nirvana.

The ritualistic bathing takes place in other venues as well, with massive crowds often leading to accidents.

In West Bengal state in the east, six women were among seven people killed in a stampede as thousands bathed at the confluence of Ganges river and the Bay of Bengal, officials said.

"The stampede happened when pilgrims were rushing to get into a boat," said Surajit Kar Purakayastha, a senior police officer said in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal.

More than 50 million people from India and abroad are expected to visit the holy city of Haridwar over the next few months, authorities said.

People gathered near the river banks in northern Uttarakhand state before dawn and began bathing as soon as the sun rose.   Continued...

<p>Hindu devotees take holy dip in the waters of the Sangam, confluence of three rivers, the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati during Kumbh Mela in the northern Indian city of Allahabad January 14, 2010. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges during the festival days cleanses them of sin. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash</p>