Three bombs exploded in rapid succession at a temple, railway station and on a crowded train in India's holiest Hindu city today, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens more.
The co-ordinated attack on the pilgrim city of Varanasi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the river Ganges, follows a resurgence in violence between Muslims and Hindus in northern India.
"Fifteen people have died and about 60 are injured. The blasts were pretty big, and I do not rule out a terrorist hand behind it," Navneet Sikera, senior superintendent of local police, told Reuters.
Most of the dead were killed at the revered Sankat Mochan temple which was packed with pilgrims and worshippers when the bomb exploded at 6.30pm local time.
Madan Mohan Pande, a police inspector, said the shrine was crowded with Hindu faithful making a nightly offering to the monkey-god Hanuman.
Televised pictures showed one man, his face bloodied, lying on a stretcher. An old woman lay on the floor, holding up her arms to helpers, who pulled her away. Debris, body parts and blood covered the temple floor.
Ten minutes later, a bomb exploded next to the ticket counter in the waiting room of the crowded railway station, causing panic and killing at least two more people.
"It was a high-intensity blast," a man identified only as Pradeep told the CNN-IBN television station. "After the blast people were running like anything."
A third explosion occured inside a budget carriage of an express train minutes before it set off for New Delhi. The train was packed with people going away to celebrate the annual Hindu festival of colour, Holi, on March 15.
The attack on Hinduism's holiest site came days after Muslims and Hindus battled each other in the nearby city of Lucknow, and Hindus looted Muslim shops and burned vehicles in the coastal resort of Goa.
It raised fears of a repeat of Hindu-Muslim violence that rocked western India in 2002 after 60 Hindus pilgrims were killed in a train fire initially blamed on Muslims. The rioting left more than 1,000 people dead over three months.
Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, appealed for calm.
Varanasi, 700 km (450 miles) east of Delhi, is to Hindus what Mecca is to Muslims. Usually filled with pilgrims visiting temples and bathing in the holy waters of the Ganges, it also a favoured destination for Western backpackers.