Thousands of devotees hurried to catch a closer view of a Hindu preacher, pushing and jostling on slippery ground, according to witnesses, just before a deadly crush at an overcrowded event in India claimed the lives of 121 people and led to a police search for the organizers. The stampede took place on Tuesday in Phulrai Mughal Garhi village, Hathras district, in the heavily populated northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where preacher Suraj Pal Singh, also known as 'Bhole Baba', was conducting a monthly gathering. Police reported that around 250,000 people had assembled in a canopied area near a highway, despite authorities granting permission for only 80,000. The incident resulted in at least 121 fatalities and 31 injuries, including 112 women and seven children.

The chaos began after the one-hour afternoon session ended and the preacher was departing in his vehicle, witnesses explained to Reuters on Wednesday. The entrance and exit were designed for 10 to 20 people to pass through simultaneously, but when Baba's car started to leave, thousands rushed forward, attempting to follow him on foot for a closer look, according to Sankalp Gautam, 22, whose aunt Kusum Devi was injured and hospitalized. Devi fell and was trampled as she tried to assist one of her sisters who was struggling to stand. The sister was injured and later died in the hospital, Gautam recounted.

Farmer Lakhan Singh, whose home overlooks the venue, described watching the crowd from his terrace. He noted that the preacher spoke about living well and caring for each other before exiting and getting into his car, which led to a traffic jam caused by the attendees' vehicles. Many people tried to get close to the preacher, rushing towards his car, and were pushed away by his supporters, leading to several people falling down a slope in a heap, Singh added.

Rameshwar, a farmer living about a mile from the venue, witnessed groups of women attempting to bow before the preacher's car, only to be jostled and fall off the road. He described a pile-up on both sides of the road and the efforts to move the bodies into available vehicles. Authorities have not identified the organizers of the event but have initiated investigations to determine what went wrong and whether there were any oversights by the authorities. Police are also attempting to locate the preacher, whose organizers' mobile phones were found to be switched off.

For Chedilal, 65, who had attended three such congregations, this one, accompanied by his daughter Ruby, 30, who traveled over 300 km to join him, turned tragic. He recounted the event as going smoothly until people began to leave, when a significant commotion erupted near the women's exit, exacerbated by water sprayed from a pipe that made the ground muddy. He then heard terrifying screams from women. Chedilal spent the night searching for his daughter, whose body was discovered at the district hospital the following morning.