People rushed to the nearest of only four exits available to the heaving crowd of 5 lakh that had gathered to watch Ravan Vadh, running through semi-darkness in the arena where only about one in five light bulbs was working, eyewitnesses and officials said.
The rumour and stampede began around 6 pm, soon after VIP guests, including Chief Minister Jeetan Ram Manjhi, had driven out, and the bulk of the police and administration officials were busy ensuring their smooth exit.
Not all of the four exits at the Maidan could reportedly be opened in time, leading to immense pressure building on the gate opening to Exhibition Road where the high-mast streetlights were not working, and an under-construction overbridge had blocked most of the carriageway.
Many of the injured were being treated at Patna Medical College and Hospital. Dozens of people were searching for their missing children hours after the stampede.
Most of the injured have suffered multiple fractures, Health Minister Ramdhani Singh said. We are preparing a list of the dead and injured. We are still to gather all information, he said.
Additional Director General of Police (Headquarters) Gupteshwar Pandey said 32 people had died. He refused to say what caused the stampede or who was responsible for the tragedy.
This is not the time to seek reactions and fix responsibility. That is a matter of probe. Every year, Ravan Vadh is organised at Gandhi Maidan. It is unfortunate that a stampede took place, he said.
The historic Gandhi Maidan sprawls across the heart of Patna, and is the same place where bombs went off at an election rally addressed by Narendra Modi last October. The roads around the Maidan are among the broader ones in Patna, but still get extremely congested in the evenings even on normal days.
Two years ago, 22 people were killed in a stampede at Adalat Ghat on the Ganga. BJP Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Nand Kishore Yadav said on Friday, The administration learnt no lessons from the Adalat Ghat tragedy. Special arrangements should have been made for the Dusshera celebrations.
Prime Minister Modi spoke to Chief Minister Manjhi and announced ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of the dead. Separately, the state government announced Rs 3 lakh for every death.
PMCH Deputy Superintendent Sudhanshu Singh said 20 women, 10 children and two men had been killed. Seven of the 10 children were girls. Twenty-six of the injured were being treated at the hospital, he said.
Manjhi has ordered an inquiry by the home secretary and ADGP Pandey, the Chief Ministers office said. Like Pandey, Principal Secretary, Home, Amir Subhani too said the cause of the stampede would be known only after the probe.
There was a rush towards the exit, and several women and children were run over in the frenzy, Patna District Magistrate Manish Kumar Verma said. Governor D Y Patil has expressed grief over the incident, a statement from Raj Bhawan said.
RJD president Lalu Prasad expressed his condolences. I am unable to come to Patna due to health problems, but I am keeping a close watch on the incident, he was quoted as saying by RJD state media in-charge Pragati Mehta.
(With PTI inputs)