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An eerie silence descended on the pilgrim town of Varanasi with the bridge over the Ganga linking it to Chandauli bearing tell-tale signs of a major stampede this morning.
Heaps of footwear and other belongings lay scattered as people ran berserk on rumours that the bridge was about to collapse under the weight of devotees crossing it to participate in a religious event.
What was billed as a weekend congregation of followers of Jai Guru sect, turned out into a big tragedy as people in large numbers mourned the death of their near and dear ones.
The stampede broke out when thousands of devotees tried to cross the bridge at once.
Followers of Jai Gurudev, leader of a local sect, were moving in a procession and far too many were on the narrow roads to the Rajghat bridge than sanctioned, say officials.
Gurudev, who died in 2012, is among several charismatic self-styled godmen who enjoy cult-like following among thousands of followers.
His was the name used by Tulsidas Maharaj, a religious leader in northern India. He was imprisoned for 20 months during a period of political unrest in 1975 and led the Doordarshi political party in the 1980s and 1990s, unsuccessfully campaigning for election to the Indian national parliament. He died in 2012 at an unconfirmed age of 116.
One man died of suffocation because of the surging crowds, which led to a commotion.
Rumours that the bridge had collapsed fueled more chaos, Uttar Pradesh DGP Javeed Ahmed said.
"They (organisers) had sought permission for 5,000 people but many more people reached and joined the procession. We are investigating crowd management and will take action against those responsible," he said.
"There was a lot of chaos, all of us were pushed and shoved. Many people have died including my mother," said an eyewitness.
Ambulances with hooting sirens and red and blue lights flashing were seen making repeated trips to state-run district hospitals in Varanasi and Chandauli to ferry those seriously injured even as some gasping for breath, anxiously waiting for their turn to be evacuated.
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