Oh, the Power of Faith and Frenzy
More than thirty pilgrims who had come to wash away their sins at the confluence of two actual and one no-longer existent river, died in a stampede at the Allahabad railway station a couple of days ago on their way back to wherever they came from. This was another tragedy: an unexpected byproduct of an act of deep faith. There have been previous accidents of this kind. In 1954 a few hundred people died during this event.
Every years millions go to Mecca – a required visit for all Muslims. So it was that in 1990 in the Al-Ma’aisim tunnel, more than a thousand pilgrims died in a stampede. Since then hundreds more have perished in holy Mecca during their devout trip. It is said that in 1834, during a fire ritual in Jerusalem a good many Christian pilgrims caused a stampede when they were leaving the church. According to one report, hundreds of people died in that rush..
One might be tempted to condemn pilgrimages on this account. But that would be a rash linking of cause and effect. Pilgrimage to holy spots is part of every religious tradition. Dipping into the water for purifying oneself or ridding oneself of one’s sins is older than John the Baptist.
We live in an age when transportation to holy places is easier than in past centuries, so the influx of pilgrims is much greater.
Scores have died in soccer-match stampedes over the years, as also in stampedes at night club fires and cruise-ship capsizing. When hundreds of thousand gather in a place – with or without religious fervor – stampedes and deaths are more likely to occur than when people file into a theater to watch an opera or listen to a lecture.
What is impressive in all these instances is the power of faith in religious contexts, and that of frenzy in sports: Most people who go for these are well aware of possible accidents in such contexts. It is no secret that there is a high risk of fatalities when accidents intrude in large gatherings of people engaged in harmless entertainment, enjoyment, or experience. But often faith and frenzy are stronger than fear and probability.
So such events will continue, as such accidents too.
February 11, 2013