The floor suddenly collapsed under the weight of the worshippers gathered inside the Beleswar Mahadev Jhulelal temple in central India for the Ram Navami festival, plunging dozens of people into a deep 60-foot stepwell underneath.
Stepwells were a staple in Indian architecture up to the 19th century. Elaborate multi-level stepwells are now among India’s most popular tourist attractions.
According to the local authorities, more than 80 people were at the Hindu temple in the central Indian city of Indore, when the tragedy struck. The death toll so far has reached 36, officials say.
“The major cause of deaths could be drowning because the well was 60 feet (18.3 meters) deep and there was much water in it,” top local official said, adding that at least 16 people were injured in the disaster, and that the search for more victims continues.
According to a survivor of the collapse, the temple’s floor was made only with “stone slabs and iron rods.”
It was reported that local authorities wanted to demolish the well’s roof in 2022 after residents claimed it had been built in violation of environmental regulations. The demolition was reportedly canceled after the private trust that operates the temple argued that it would have “hurt religious sentiments.”
Indian police have launched a criminal probe against two senior managers of the trust.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed condolences to the victims and their families, and said that he was “extremely pained” by the incident.