Sixteen people were crushed to death and many others severely injured in a stampede at a religious ceremony on Tuesday near the Ganges river in northern India, officials say.

The stampede in Haridwar was triggered when some of the Hindu devotees tripped and fell while those closely behind continued to push forward, said government spokesperson Amit Chandola.

Thousands of people converged on the river banks for the prayer ceremony.

Chandola said police had recovered 16 bodies from the site, and about 50 people who were injured were taken to a nearby hospital.

Of the 16 dead, 14 are believed to be women and two are believed to be men.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees visit Haridwar every year for bathing in the Ganges, which they believe will cleanse them of sins and free them from the cycle of life and rebirth.

Haridwar is one of Hinduism's most sacred cities in India and is located 173 kilometres north of New Delhi where the Ganges river emerges from the Himalayan mountains.

Stampedes are a common occurrence in India, and particularly at Hindu pilgrimage sites, where crowd control is often inadequate and authorities are unable to cope with the rush of people.