IN WHAT appears to be a man-made tragedy, four devotees, including three women and a 65-year-old man, were trampled to death and 15 others were seriously injured in an early morning stampede within the Jagannath Temple premises in Puri on Saturday.
The tragedy occurred when the devotees rushed inside the sanctum sanctorum to witness the mangal aarti on the fourth and last auspicious day before the Kartik Purnima. Five days preceding the Kartik Purnima, which falls on Sunday, are considered extremely auspicious for the darshan of the Lord.
Prior to opening, the Singha Dwar (Lions’ Gate) of the sanctum sanctorum was packed with devotees. The stampede occurred when the left side door was opened around 5.30 a.m. Not a single securityman was present to man the crowd. Many senior citizens, especially women, standing near the door could not withstand the mad scramble, and were crushed.
According to temple rituals, the three deities — Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra — take rest at night and the doors of the sanctum sanctorum are thus closed after midnight normally. But in these five days, the doors remain open for twenty-four hours. Many angry devotees blamed the “avoidable tragedy” on a two-hour closure of the doors prior to the aarti. “The government has already ordered a judicial probe,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told HT.