Indian mourners shave heads in show of respect for late former Tamil Nadu leader Jayalalithaa Jayaram

Supporters get their heads shaved and hold portraits of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaraman in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Supporters get their heads shaved and hold portraits of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaraman in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. PHOTO: EPA

CHENNAI, INDIA (AFP) - Thousands of ordinary Indians flocked on Wednesday (Dec 7) to the seaside grave of Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram, a day after a burial ceremony restricted to politicians, film stars and relatives of the reclusive but hugely popular leader.

Men wearing white dhotis lined up on plastic chairs beside hastily-erected police barricades around the grave to have their heads shaved, a Hindu mourning tradition usually reserved for the death of a close relative.

Many of the mourners were poor women who had travelled long distances in intense heat to pay final respects to the revered former chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, who died late on Monday aged 68.

Among them was Vanita, 50, who ekes out a living rolling the cheap Indian cigarettes known as bidis.

Vanita, who like many people in southern India uses only one name, said she had travelled to the state capital Chennai to see Jayalalithaa many times, and once asked for her help getting treatment for a heart complaint.

 
 

"She made sure I got the operation I needed. She even gave me money for medicine. And the next time I met her she remembered me and asked how I was," said Vanita, pulling her sari to one side to reveal the scar from her surgery.

 

"She once said, 'I am everything to my children and they are everything to me'," she said of the woman who was known simply as "Amma" or mother to her adoring fans.

The former movie star, a populist champion of the poor, enjoyed god-like status in Tamil Nadu and was one of India's most powerful female leaders.

She was buried on Tuesday alongside M.G. Ramachandran, her on-screen lover and predecessor as chief minister, at a ceremony attended by the stars of the film world and top political leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Media reports said her nephew was among the few relatives who attended, and there has been intense speculation about who stands to inherit the vast wealth she accrued during her time in power.

An estimated one million people lined the streets to watch her glass coffin transported to the burial site amid tight security in a city that has seen outbreaks of violence after the deaths of past leaders.

Most shops and restaurants reopened on Wednesday as the city began returning to normal, although schools and colleges will remain closed for another two days.

The atmosphere at her graveside was largely calm, the peace occasionally broken by anguished cries of "Amma" from the mourners.

One elderly woman screamed and beat her head repeatedly with her hands, banging herself against the police barricades around the grave.

"She took care of everything and we wanted for nothing," said 47-year-old Paramashiva after having his head shaved.