27 pilgrims die in stampede during Hindu festival (PHOTOS)

The Hindu pilgrims had gathered to take a dip in the Godavari river at the start of the Maha Pushkaralu festival before the stampede started in the Rajahmundry district

Those caught up in the disaster spoke of their terror and said it had taken "helpless" police an hour to bring the situation under control

At least 27 pilgrims have died in a stampede which occurred on the banks of a holy river in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

According to BBC, local officials say the Hindu pilgrims had gathered to take a dip in the Godavari river at the start of the Maha Pushkaralu festival before the stampede started in the Rajahmundry district.

Nearly 24 million pilgrims are expected to take part in the 12-day festival. Pilgrims believe that taking a bath in the river will rid them of their sins, reports say.

"The incident happened as the first set of worshippers were coming out of the river after taking a dip and then got in the way of others who wanted to be in the water at an auspicious time," AFP news agency quoted senior police official A Srinivasan Rao as saying.

BBC reports that V Satyanarayana, a pilgrim who was at the site, said the stampede lasted nearly 20 minutes.

"It was a frightening situation, with women and children crying for help," he told Associated Press. "The policemen on duty were helpless and it took more than an hour to bring the situation under control."

Reports gathered that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who bathed in the river at the festival on Tuesday morning, said in a series of tweets that he was monitoring the situation and urged people not to panic:

Deadly stampedes during religious gatherings are fairly common in India.

In October 2013, 115 people died during a stampede at a Hindu festival in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

It was learnt that most Hindu faithfuls were crushed after panic broke out on a bridge near the Ratangarh temple while others drowned when they jumped from the bridge into river waters below.

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