The stampede was set off when a group of pilgrims in a jeep drove into a crowd of worshippers walking along a narrow forest path as they returned from offering prayers at the hilltop Sabarimala shrine in the state of Kerala in southern India, said local police official Sanjay Kumar.
The annual two-month festival attracts millions of worshippers to the remote temple to the Hindu deity Ayyappan. The ceremony Friday marked the end of the festival, and an estimated 150,000 devotees were thought to have taken the narrow path out of the densely forested hills where the stampede took place, the Press Trust of India reported.
Millions of devotees make the pilgrimage each year and nearly 2,000 police officers were deployed near the shrine to prevent such accidents from happening, PTI reported. A small stampede last week killed one pilgrim, PTI reported.
The difficulty in reaching the temple delayed relief operations, PTI reported.
Deadly stampedes are relatively common at temples in India, where large crowds — sometimes hundreds of thousands of people — gather in tiny areas with no safety measures or crowd control.
In March, 63 people were killed when poor villagers scrambled for free food and clothing being given away at a ceremony at a temple in Uttar Pradesh. In 2008, more than 145 people died in a stampede at a remote Hindu temple at the foothills of the Himalayas.