6 children drown cleaning pond for India festival: Police

PATNA, India - Six children drowned Tuesday while cleaning a platform on the banks of a pond in eastern India in preparation for a Hindu festival, and two more are still missing, a police officer said.

Television footage showed relatives carrying the limp bodies of near-naked children on their shoulders to a hospital in impoverished Bihar state.

A police officer said the children died while trying to clean up a platform at the pond in Saharsa district used for rituals and prayers to Hindu gods.

The incident occurred ahead of a major day Wednesday of the four-day festival of Chhath, dedicated to the Hindu sun god, when thousands throng rivers to bathe and pray.

"They were drowned while the cleaning pond and its banks for Chhath. Bodies of six were recovered and two children are still missing," Saharsa police superintendent Pankaj Sinha told AFP by phone from state capital Patna.

The children were aged as young as 10, according to local media.

It was unclear whether the children slipped and drowned or waded too far into deep water. Few children in India's impoverished regions can swim.

Volunteers often contribute to cleaning up the banks of rivers and other waterways for religious celebrations, with the Chhath festival, which started on Monday, particularly popular in Bihar and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state.