New Delhi: Schoolchildren, slum kids, politicians and diplomats were among thousands who paid homage to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, at his memorial here on Sunday when the nation celebrated his 142nd birth anniversary. Many who had queued up since early morning recounted his lasting message of truth and non-violence.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani were among those who paid floral tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat -- the memorial to the Mahatma on the banks of the Yamuna river. It was the Congress president`s first public appearance after her surgery in the US.
Representatives of nine religions - Buddhism, Baha`ism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Sikhism - took part in an interdenominational prayer meeting at Rajghat.
With devotional songs like "Raghupati raghav raja ram" and "Vaishnav jana to" playing in the background, several Gandhians and others joined the schoolchildren in paying tributes to Gandhi.
Among other visitors were Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath.
A minute`s silence was observed at the black stone memorial with `Hey Ram` inscribed on it by all the leaders. Several other leaders are expected to visit the memorial throughout the day.
Crowds, including a number of kids from slums and shelter homes, thronged the Gandhi memorial and some of them sang devotional songs and showered flowers at the memorial.
"I`ve come here for the first time and I was very excited to perform on Gandhiji`s birthday before the leaders of our nations. I will cherish this opportunity forever," said Anoop, a 13-year-old from Salaam Balak Trust, a shelter in north Delhi.
Hundreds of people queued up in front of Rajghat since early Sunday to pay their homage.
"Even years after his death, the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi have acquired greater importance. From educational institutes to the film industry, everyone is drawing inspiration from him," said Sanjeev Gupta, a government employee.
Many people came to Rajghat after being inspired by civil society leader Anna Hazare`s peaceful protest against stringent anti-corruption law in the country in August this year.
"I used to think that Gandhian principles were all about preaching and it is impossible to use them in real life, but I was totally impressed by Anna Hazare`s movement. He showed the world how principles of peace and non-violence are so relevant event today," said Shekhar Singh, a college student.
Several organisations in the national capital like Gandhi Smriti and Gandhi Museum have organised special exhibitions on Gandhi to create awareness among youngsters about his teachings and his role in helping India gain Independence.
The birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti across the country. It is also marked as the International Day of Non-Violence.
Gandhi, born this day in 1869 at Porbandar in Gujarat, played a key role in India`s independence struggle. He was assassinated on January 30, 1948.