Chennai: J Jayalalithaa - Tamil Nadu's iconic leader who was regarded as 'Amma' (mother) by millions of her supporters, was laid to rest with full state honours near the MGR Memorial at Chennai's famous Marina Beach on Tuesday evening.
The charismatic Dravidian leader, who held sway over Tamil Nadu politics for more than three decades with a pro-poor image, was given a tearful adieu by millions of her supporters as she was laid to rest near her mentor MGR on the shores of Marina Beach.
President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, his counterparts from several states, Governor Vidyasagar Rao, DMK leader MK Stalin and superstar Rajnikanth were among the dignitaries who paid homage at Rajaji Hall where the body of 68-year-old Jayalalithaa lay for public viewing 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 Marina Beach.
She was assisted by Jayalalithaa's nephew Deepak in performing the last rites.
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 was earlier taken from her Poes Garden residence to Rajaji Hall, hours after she died at a private hospital late last night after battling for life for 75 days.
More than 5,000 police were deployed across Chennai. But, apart from minor scuffles at Poes Garden, Jayalalithaa’s neighbourhood there were no incidents of violence from anywhere.
Tamil Nadu had government declared a week-long mourning, during which schools and colleges will be shut for three days. No state transport corporation buses plied on Tuesday and millions stayed indoors.
The Centre too announced a day of mourning as a mark of respect for the departed leader.
Prime Minister Modi was among the first few leaders to pay their respects to the departed politician.
President Pranab Mukherjee’s arrival was delayed after his plane developed a technical snag and returned to Delhi. He later reached Chennai in another plane. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was also present.
“Jayalalithaa ji’s connect with the citizens, concern for welfare of the poor, the women and marginalized will always be a source of inspiration,” PM Modi said.
In New Delhi, lawmakers observed a minute’s silence before both houses of Parliament were adjourned for the day in respect for the AIADMK leader, a former member of Rajya Sabha.
US Ambassador Richard Verma mourned her death. "On behalf of the US, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Jayalalithaa and the people of Tamil Nadu."
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said he was saddened by her death and noted that she had a "towering presence in Indian politics". Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu are separated by a strip of sea.
Jayalalithaa leaves behind a legacy of populist schemes, including giving away free cellphones, laptops and kitchen grinders that endeared her to millions of voters. She also drew foreign investors to India’s second largest state economy.
She defended the giveaways as welfare measures aimed at helping the poor. She herself was known for leading an extravagant lifestyle, and had twice been jailed for corruption.
Born as J Koamalavalli on February 24, 1948, in what is now Karnataka, the former child actor was given the nickname Jayalalitha, a blend of the names of both her grandparent’s residences. She reportedly added an ‘a’ on advice from a numerologist.
It was a name that would go on to dominate Tamil politics for almost three decades.
(With Agency inputs)