[Representational Image]IANS

At least 31 people were injured in a stampede at the Sabarimala Temple during the annual Manadalam festival on Sunday evening around 6:40 pm. Twelve out of the 31 are said to be critical. 

The mishap took place when an iron railing collapsed due to the rush of pilgrims. A massive crowd of devotees, who had been waiting for over seven hours on the northern side of the Lower Tirumuttom near Malikappuram to enter the premises of the Ayyappa Temple through the Northern Gate, moved forward leading to the collapse which further caused the stampede.

The police said that there was a huge crowd of devotees at the hill shrine over the last few days. There was massive rush on Sunday since it was the last day of the Mandala Puja that lasts for 41 days. The incident took place when the "Thanga Angi" procession reached the temple. The ritual involves people carrying ornaments that are to be put on Lord Ayyappa during the Mandala Puja. The procession had started from the Aranmula Sree Parthasarthy temple, four days before the Mandala Puja.

Temple Affairs Minister Kadakampally Surendran was quoted by the Indian Express as saying that the government would ensure treatment for the injured. "The situation is under control and more police have been deployed," he said. Personnel from the police, Rapid Action Force (RAF), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and volunteers of the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangom (ABASS) rushed to rescue the pilgrims trapped in the stampede. All the injured were rushed to the Sannidhanam Government Hospital for medical treatment and were later shifted to Pampa in the foothills, the Hindu reported. An Emergency Rescue Vehicle was also deployed to shift those who were critically injured to the hospital. A team comprising doctors from the Kottayam Medical College Hospital also reached Pampa to assist in giving first-aid to the injured.

An eyewitness told the Hindu that the several hundred pilgrims had been waiting on the northern side of the Lower Tirumuttom since 12 noon. The police had blocked access by putting up a rope between the iron railings of the barricade. The tragedy struck when the iron railings collapsed under the weight of the crowd. This is the second time a stampede has taken place at Sabarimala on the eve of the Mandalam festival. In 2000, a similar stampede at Saramkuthi had claimed the life of one person and injured several others.