"I was to join my friend this morning to offer prayers but I was a little late," recalled a dazed-looking Jodhpur university student who gave his name as Manish.

"When I arrived, I saw chaos, people rushing around the place. I looked for my friend and after a while found him. He was unconscious but without serious injuries," Manish told AFP.

He said that many people were trying to get in to the temple at the time of the incident, as the auspicious time for offering prayers was about to begin.

Ajay, a factory worker who was taken to hospital unconscious, said: "I was pushed onto the ground. Before I could get up people were running over me, stamping over me. I woke up here."

Overcrowding

Malini Agarwal, Jodhpur's police superintendent, said severe overcrowding apparently caused the crush.

Television footage showed devotees carrying limp bodies to police vehicles, with others trying to ressuscitate relatives and loved ones.

The stampede came at the start of Navaratri, a nine-day Hindu festival which is one of the most important in the Hindu calendar.

Vasundhra Raje, the Rajastan chief minister, ordered an investigation into the disaster and announced a donation of $4,300 for the families of the dead.

In August, at least 145 pilgrims died in a stampede outside a Hindu temple on the top of a mountain in northern India.

The authorities ordered an investigation into that disaster, which occurred after rumours of a landslide triggered panic among pilgrims who ran down a narrow mountain trail from the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh state, only to meet thousands of people walking up.

In January 2005, at least 265 Hindu pilgrims, including several women and children, were killed near a remote temple in Maharashtra state.