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Ashes at sea, India pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Some of the final ashes of Indian independence leader and peace icon Mahatma Gandhi were scattered at sea by his great-granddaughter on Wednesday, as the country paid homage on the 60th anniversary of his assassination.

Mahatma Gandhi's great-granddaughter Neelam Parikh tilts an urn containing his ashes into the Arabian Sea near Mumbai January 30, 2008. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Gandhi was shot dead by a Hindu extremist in 1948 at a prayer meeting in New Delhi. After his cremation, urns containing his ashes were dispatched to his followers across the country to be displayed at memorials.

On Wednesday, one of those urns was immersed off the Mumbai coast by the granddaughter of Gandhi’s eldest son Harilal, who remained estranged from his father until his death and did not participate in the funeral rites.

But in a symbolic healing of the rift, it was decided to give a chance to Harilal’s family to take part in some form of funeral ritual for Gandhi.

Harilal’s troubled relationship with his illustrious father has been the subject of many books, films and plays. He even converted to Islam, apparently to spite his father.

Harilal is said to have fallen out with his father for refusing to send him abroad to study. Poor and alcoholic, he died a lonely death in utter penury after spending his last days living in the streets of Mumbai.

“It’s an emotional day for us,” Neelam Parikh, the 75-year-old granddaughter of Harilal, told reporters after scattering the ashes.

In keeping with Hindu tradition, the urn of ashes was taken out into the Arabian Sea in a decorated motorboat after a brief march from the museum where it was kept.

A private owner had handed over the urn to Mani Bhawan Gandhi Sangralaya museum for public display, but Gandhi’s family objected and urged that the ashes rest at sea.

Dhirubhai Mehta, a museum official, said it was impossible to tell how many urns containing Gandhi’s ashes existed.

The day was also marked by memorial prayers across India with the main ceremony taking place at the house where Gandhi was gunned down, months after leading India to freedom from Britain in a non-violent struggle.