It was the end of an era, as lakhs of grieving men and women on Tuesday bid a tearful adieu to J Jayalalithaa, the charismatic Chief Minister who held sway over Tamil Nadu politics for more than three decades with a pro-poor image, as the AIADMK supremo was buried here with full state honours.
President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu, Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, his counterparts from several states, Governor Vidyasagar Rao, DMK leader M K Stalin and superstar Rajnikanth were among the dignitaries who paid homage at Rajaji Hall where the body of 68-year-old Jayalalithaa lay in state since early morning.
Sasikala Natarajan, the close confidante of Jayalalithaa for over three decades, was beside the body throughout the day and later conducted the religious rituals before the sandalwood casket was lowered at a site close to MGR memorial on the shores of Marina beach.
No sooner had the brief rituals concluded at around 6 PM, the casket carrying the mortal remains of the five-time chief minister was lowered after a gun salute amid emotional chants of ‘Amma Vazhga’ (Long Live Amma) by a sea of humanity which had converged at the burial site.
Various leaders including Naidu, Rao, Gandhi, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, Paneerselvam, Speaker Dhanapal and former Governor K Rosiah placed wreaths at the feet of the body that was draped in a silk saree in her favourite green colour and a sandalwood garland placed around her neck. Earlier, thousands of people hailing ‘Puratchi Thalaivi Amma’ (Revolutionary Leader Amma) walked with the cortege that was part of a military convoy in which her coffin was carried, wrapped in the national flag and covered with flowers.
Amid heavy security cover, the funeral procession made steady progress to the destination, a distance of three km from Rajaji Hall in the government estate, passing through Madras University and the burial site opposite the British-era iconic PWD building.
Big photographs of Jayalalithaa, an actor-turned- politician, were placed all around the coffin even as people showered the hearse with flowers, as Sasikala accompanied the body.
With the Central government ordering a state funeral, personnel from the three armed forces paid their respects and gave a guard of honour before Sasikala conducted the last rites with the aid of a Brahmin priest.
The rituals include sprinkling of water, offering of rice, showering of flower petals and sandalwood pieces.
Jayalalithaa, a spinster who never shied away from flaunting her religious identity and beliefs, was surprisingly buried and not cremated. She was laid to rest by the side of her mentor and actor-turned-politician M G Ramachandran, a former chief minister. Lakhs of people had packed the area around Rajaji Hall where men and women wept in grief as they attempted to reach the body of their Amma or “mother”.
The mortal remains of Jayalalithaa were earlier taken from her Poes Garden residence to Rajaji Hall, hours after she died at a private hospital late Monday night after battling for life for 75 days.
2 tonne flowers, 40 workers in Jaya’s procession truck
Over two tonne of flowers from several destinations were used by about 40 workers who worked for 10 hours to prepare the Army truck and gun carriage for the final journey of Jayalalithaa.
The flowers were of two varieties, one being the decorative kind, including cut flowers like zebra plant, asparagus and daisy and the other, more traditional varieties like rose and white marigold (Vellai samandi in Tamil). Working at a brisk pace, knitting garlands to decorate the army truck and gun-carriage, Velu, a senior florist from Koyambedu market said, “The choice of flowers should sync with the sombre mood on the occasion, that is the most important thing.”
He said a total of “well over 2,000 kilos of flowers” were used for making garlands and flower hangings. The garlands were used to on the army truck, the gun carriage and the memorial site for Jayalalithaa, he added.
Cut flowers and marigold were sourced from different destinations, including Bengaluru, he said. “40 of us have been working since 3 AM on Tuesday knitting the flower garlands, piecing together cut-flowers and giving it the required shape and look.”
Although the task was quite laborious, he said, “We are satisfied to see that it soothes people who are grieved over the demise of Amma.”