The disaster in Datia comes only seven years after another stampede outside the same temple when more than 50 people were crushed to death while crossing the river, after which authorities built the bridge.
“Datia cops learnt no lessons from 2006 stampede”, read a headline in The Hindustan Times, saying the tragedy “underlines the sheer ineptitude of the authorities responsible for the safety and security” of devotees.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a senior figure in the Bharatiya Janata Party, was facing calls to resign over the tragedy.
“Had there been adequate police, administration and health officials at the temple site, the loss of lives could have been averted,” said Kantilal Bhuria, the leader of the Congress party in the state.
Police and witnesses said at least 20,000 people were on the bridge over the River Sindh when the stampede broke out.
Manoj Sharma, one of the survivors, described a scene of utter mayhem.
“People were jumping off the bridge to save themselves, but they could not swim against the tide. I also saw children being tossed from the bridge, only to be washed away,” he told the Times of India.
“I saw a mother desperately trying to protect her baby amidst the swelling, rushing crowds. But both died before my eyes. It was most horrific incident of my life,” he said.
Sharma said crowd control measures were totally inadequate.
“It was a huge administrative lapse on part of the state government. There were no policemen to control the crowds. Big vehicles carrying devotees were allowed to ply on the bridge and this caused the tragedy.”
Uma Shankar Gupta, the state’s home minister, said authorities had not yet determined why the stampede had broken out, but downplayed suggestions that security to deal with the crowds was inadequate.
“There were safety measures in place, this is an annual event,” he told reporters.
“We don’t yet have information on how this happened, as our focus is on the rescue effort.”
India has a long history of deadly stampedes at religious festivals, with at least 36 people trampled to death in February as pilgrims headed home from the Kumbh Mela religious festival on the banks of the river Ganges.
Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the state of Kerala, while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshippers rushed to reach a 15th-century hill-top temple in Jodhpur.
Chief Minister Chouhan announced payouts of 150,000 rupees ($2,500) to the families of those killed in the latest incident, and 50,000 rupees to the injured.