Five pilgrims injured in stampede in Chandranath, more than 2,000 fall ill

At least one million pilgrims from different areas of the country and India gather at the Chandranath Dham during the Shiv Chatudashi Mela every yearKrishna Chandra Das

A rumour spread among the pilgrims on Saturday night that two had died as the stairs to descend from the hill had collapsed. Following that, the route to the hill was closed down.

The authorities later gave permission to descend using alternative ways after the sun rose on Sunday. At the time, five were injured in a stampede while trying to get down from the hill. Apart from that, at least 2200 pilgrims fell ill due to extreme pressure of the crowd in a small place.

Such was the scenario on Sunday at the Shiva Chaturdashi Mela (fair) at the Chandranath Dham of Sitakunda in Chattogram. The three-day Hindu religious festival started on Friday at the Chandranath Dham at the top of a hill some 1,200 feet above the sea level. The festival lasts for three days usually. However, this year it will be held for four days due to the tithi (lunar position). At least one million pilgrims from different areas of the country and India gather at the Chandranath Dham on this occasion.

Dulal Dey, additional secretary of the fair committee, told Prothom Alo that they didn't have any such report that the stairway collapsed. The pilgrims got stuck on the hill after closing down the entry of Swayambhunath temple and the pressure of the crowd became unbearable. They started passing the pilgrims on an alternative route from early in the morning.

He further said a few pilgrims sustained injuries in stampedes while trying to get on the hill. Arrangements have been made for their treatment at hospitals.

At least 2200 pilgrims got sick due to extreme pressure of the crowd in a small place
Krishna Chandra Das

“The number of pilgrims has crossed all the previous records. We have never seen such a huge crowd here. It has become difficult to control the crowd now,” Dulal Dey added.

This correspondent spoke to Sanjay Chowdhury, a pilgrim who went to Chandranath Dham. He said he was getting down through the steep stairways after visiting Chandranath Dham at around 3.00am. Suddenly he heard people talking about two pilgrims who died after falling into a ditch as the stairs collapsed.

Following that, movement on that way was stopped by the authorities. However, they could not get back to the top of the hill due to the extreme crowd. Therefore, he and his family members had to pass the night standing on one of the stairs.

They got down from the hill after the road towards the Eco Park was opened for the pilgrims early in the morning.

Meanwhile, the authorities closed down the road towards Panighata area to reduce the crowd on the hill. Early in the morning, five pilgrims sustained serious injuries in a stampede after falling due to the pressure of the crowd. The injured are Bina Das, 50, Lipi Karmakar, 32, Sheshen Das, 30, Kamala Karmakar, 32 and Champa Hawladar, 44.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Nantu Karmakar, husband of injured Lipi Karmakar, said they were moving towards the Chandranath Dham when they suddenly felt a thrust from the crowd in the upward section of the hill.

Although Lipi fell on the ground due to the shoving, she didn’t fall into any ditch.  However, she had to get 10 stitches. Her relative Kamla Karmakar sustained head injuries, Nantu Karmakar added.

Speaking to Prothom Alo regarding this, upazila health official Nur Uddin Rashed said some five to six seriously injured pilgrims were brought to the health complex. Besides, some 1,700 pilgrims were provided with medical assistance in the last 24 hours. They have been provided with medicines free of cost.

The Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikkya Parishad, Janmashtami Parishad, Hindu Mohajot and several other organisations are also providing medical services in the festival free of cost. Nearly 500 hundred pilgrims received medical service from them.

Officer-in-charge (OC) of Sitakunda police station, Tofail Ahmed said, “We have never seen such a huge crowd here ever. The stairway on the way to get down from the hill is steep. Therefore, we had to close that way to avoid any accidents. Later, we opened an alternative way for the pilgrims to get down from the hill.”