DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least 10 Hindu pilgrims were killed and dozens more were injured southeast of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on Friday when an annual bathing ritual turned into a stampede, the police said.
The police said they believed the stampede was set off by a rumor that a bridge was collapsing. As the rumor spread, thousands of people crowded onto a narrow pathway that led to one of the riverside platforms used for bathing, crushing three men and seven women underfoot, according to the police superintendent, Khandekar Mahid Uddin.
Every year, Hindus travel great distances — including from Nepal, Bhutan and India — to gather on the banks of the Brahmaputra River and take part in a ritual bath. Mr. Uddin said that the authorities could not determine how large the crowd on Friday was but that it was larger than usual, possibly more than one million people, because the festival fell during a long weekend in Bangladesh.
He said the crush may have been exacerbated by a sense of urgency, since the pilgrims aim to bathe during an auspicious time period, which this year lasted for only 12 hours.
“There was a rush from the devotees,” Mr. Uddin said. “Also, though the bridge had not collapsed, the rumor spread a feeling of fear.”
Kajal Debnath, the president of the Puja Observation Committee of Bangladesh, a Hindu religious organization, said that many Hindus believe that if they bathe in the early morning hours, they will be cleansed of their sins. He complained that businessmen had seized space along the route taken by the pilgrims to build shops, rendering it very narrow.
Bangladeshi news sources said that the ritual began before dawn on Friday and that many pilgrims bathed in the dark. They also reported that the death toll may rise, because victims’ bodies may have been carried away by the river.
Hindus make up about 8 percent of Bangladesh’s population of around 150 million.