ALLAHABAD, India — The pilgrims came, millions upon millions of them, in the greatest tide of humanity ever seen. Again and again, the vast crowds threatened to press too close, to trample the smallest. Then it happened.
As many as 30 people were killed Sunday in a stampede at the train station here as they rushed up steps leading to one of the platforms, the police said. The stampede came at the height of the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu religious festival that occurs once every 12 years by the banks of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers.
“I can’t believe God punished us this way,” said Santos Singh, one of the pilgrims at the station. “My 15-year-old son got injured. I wish police were more responsive.”
About 30 bodies covered in white sheets were visible on the train platform Sunday evening. Several appeared to be children.
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Death and loss have long been associated with the pilgrimage at the Kumbh, which takes place in other locations according to a different cycle. Deadly stampedes occurred at the Allahabad pilgrimage in 1840, 1906, 1954 and 1986. And yet still the pilgrims come. Hindu lore says that when the moon and Jupiter align, the Ganges and Yamuna are joined by a mystical river, the Saraswati, bearing the divine nectar of immortality.
Those who bathe in the conjoined waters are cleansed of their sins and given blessings that extend through several generations, Hindus say. Pilgrims make the trip not just for themselves but for their children and grandchildren.
Government officials estimated that 10 million pilgrims were encamped in Allahabad on Saturday night, with 20 million to 30 million expected to bathe by Monday.
About 80 million pilgrims — roughly the population of Germany — are expected at some point in the Kumbh’s 55-day run. By comparison, 3.1 million people visited Mecca in Saudi Arabia during last year’s annual pilgrimage, the hajj.
Each successive Kumbh breaks the record for the largest gathering in human history.