The Naina Devi temple, situated in the Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh and 160 km from Simla, a popular tourist spot, attracts huge crowds during festival times, as now.
Rumours of landslide and hurtling down of boulders from a nearby hilltop triggered off a huge stampede, it is stated.
Most of the dead were women and children. A majority of the victims were from neighbouring Punjab.
Temple officials said between 20,000 and 25,000 devotees were at the temple, a turnout much higher than the usual 10-15,000 because of local Navaratra festival.
As rumours of a landslide spread, devotees started fleeing in panic. But they ran straight into the pilgrims making their way up a steep gredient, which was already teeming with people eager to seek the blessings of the goddess above.
Predictably an impassable jam resulted. When some tried to beat the stampede by jumping over the protective barriers on either side, the railings only gave way and people hurtled to their death. Those who could not jump the railings were trampled upon, witnesses said.
The gruesome accident took place around 400 metres from the main temple, and rescue work was hit by inclement weather and lack of coordination among various agencies.
The crowd of devotees had gathered on the occasion of the 10-day Shravan Ashtami fair that began on Saturday. According to mythology, an eye of Sati, Lord Shiva's consort, fell at the site during his tandav (dance of destruction), earning the place its name 'Naina Devi' - goddess's eye.
It is one of the most popular shrines in north India, agency reports said.