A stampede sparked by a night-time road accident in dense forest has killed more than 100 Hindu pilgrims in Sabarimala, Kerala, police and officials said on Saturday.
Kerala's deputy general of police told reporters that 102 people had been killed on Friday night. Officials at a Hindu temple estimated the death toll at around 100, Kerala Temple Affairs Minister Ramachandran Kadannappally said by telephone.
Kerala's chief minister has called for an emergency meeting of the state government, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged up to 100,000 rupees compensation to each of the families of those killed, the Press Trust of India reported.
"It is an unfortunate incident. The Prime Minister has called us and assured that all measures will be taken. My government will decide on a suitable compensation amount," VS Achuthanandan, Kerala Chief Minister, told CNN-IBN.
Hundreds of thousands had gathered at the hilltop shrine of Sabarimala on Friday evening, the last day of an annual two-month religious festival.
A bus carrying pilgrims back to the neighbouring state of Karnataka collided with a jeep and went out of control, crushing people walking nearby, Kadannappally said. Panicked pilgrims rushed forward, triggering a stampede.
"The rescue operations are extremely difficult as the incident occurred in a dense forest where the roads are very narrow," he said.
"They came down the hillside... this happened primarily because the area was totally dark," Jacob Punnoose, Kerala Deputy General of Police told Times Now TV channel.
Stampedes at large public gatherings are common in India, especially at popular places of worship. Large numbers throng congested areas with few or no safety regulations and inadequate crowd management measures.
Fifty-two pilgrims were killed in an almost identical stampede at Sabarimala in 1999. An investigation into the deaths found the state government guilty of negligence in ensuring public safety.