NEW DELHI (AFP) - A stampede outside a Hindu temple early on Monday killed at least 11 pilgrims in eastern India after thousands tried to jump a queue that stretched for kilometres during a holy Hindu month, a police officer said, with others injured in the crush of up to 150,000 people.
The authorities said devotees who had massed outside overnight had rushed towards the Baidyanath Jyotirlinga temple complex in Jharkhand state after news circulated that the gates were opening.
Several devotees still sleeping in the enormous queue, more than 6km long, were trampled in the crush over a kilometre from the main gate between 4am and 4.30am, said S. N. Pradhan, additional director general of police in Jharkhand.
A particularly large crowd of pilgrims had gathered before dawn on Monday, considered an auspicious date to visit the complex during the month of Shravan, which includes a main temple and 21 smaller ones devoted to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.
"The first prayer ceremony is conducted by the temple priests and then the doors of the temple are opened for the devotees," Mr Pradhan told AFP.
"Many tried to rush to the head of the queue which led to chaos and as some of them fell, the devotees got trampled," Mr Pradhan said.
"Eleven people have now been confirmed dead after one more person succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. Initial reports suggest most of around 20 others who were injured in the stampede are out of danger."
Photos showed the bodies of kanwarias, devotees to Lord Shiva dressed in saffron rags, laying on a concrete slab.
Pilgrims were seen being taken on stretchers into a hospital while television footage also showed others being bandaged outside.
"Our initial estimates are that there were around 100,000 to 150,000 devotees there," Mr Pradhan said.
Mr Nishikant Dubey, a lawmaker whose constituency includes the temple, said there were not enough facilities to manage the crowds, despite the fact it has long drawn thousands of pilgrims.
Mr Dubey said pilgrims were anxious to get into the complex after trekking for long distances on foot to demonstrate their religious devotion.
"By the time many people reach the city, some after having walked over 60 miles on foot, many are very restless while having to stand in such a long queue," Mr Dubey told AFP.
Mr Pradhan said additional police and other security were being deployed to the area around the complex to cope with the crowds.
"These additional forces will now help manage the huge crowds that are arriving daily to visit the temple," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he was "pained" by the loss of lives and he prayed that "the injured recover quickly".
The Jharkhand government said 200,000 rupees (S$4,300) would be given as compensation to families of those killed, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.