Varanasi/Lucknow: An explosion rocked the holy town of Varanasi on Tuesday evening, killing a two-year-old girl and injuring at least 20 including some foreign tourists.
IG, Varanasi, RP Singh said on phone that the actual number of the injured and the cause of the blast was not immediately known.
Official sources said the blast took place at Dashashwamedh ghat on the bank of the river Ganga.
“It was a low intensity blast which occurred around 6.20 pm. As a result of the blast 4 to 5 people got injured,” home secretary GK Pillai told reporters.
“Subsequent to that, we understand that there was a small stampede ... as a result of which between 15 and 20 people also got injured. All the injured have been taken to the hospital.”
When asked if the explosion was a militant attack, he said it was “too early to say”, adding that a general alert had been sounded across the country.
The blast took place when thousands of devotees and the foreign tourists had assembled at the ghat for having darshan of the Ganga aarti, police sources said.
The sound of chanting of mantras reverberating in the air during the Ganga aarti in this holy town turned into wails of people with the bang of an explosion.
The crowd, including a large number of foreign tourists, were witnessing ceremonial aarti of river Ganga at the ghat in Varanasi. Soon after it got over and people were getting ready to leave when a loud explosion struck the area.
Soon after the explosion, there was minor stampede in which some railings were also broken. TV images showed blood-soaked debris scattered outside the temple by the river Ganga.
“We had gathered here for a Ganga mayee aarti and were getting ready to leave when a loud noise was heard and we ran for our lives. Ghats had been the target previously also,” said an eyewitness.
Uttar Pradesh Police said probably the bomb was kept inside a crack on the stairs of the ghat but refused to comment on its composition. The stairs made of huge stones broke into small pieces and an under-construction wall came crashing down.
Sources said the injured also include some foreigners.
“We heard a very massive blow immediately. I saw people running,” an eyewitness Devendra Singh told NDTV television channel.
“I have seen the police, ambulance and the police vehicles coming in ... They have asked us to move and I am moving out from that place and going back to the hotel,” he said.
A high level meeting is currently on in Lucknow where senior officials are working out a plan to contain any possible tension due to the explosion.
In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh ADGP (law and order) Brijlal told reporters that security in the state had been beefed up ahead of Muharram.
Additional PAC and RAF personnel had been dispatched to sensitive districts, he said.
These districts included Lucknow, Meerut, Moradabad, Aligarh, Agra, Firozabad, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Allahabad, Mau, Varanasi, Faizabad and Azamgarh, he said.
The country remains jittery about the threat of militant strikes, especially since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 which killed 166 people and raised tensions between India and Pakistan.