Gandhi's ashes submerged in India's holy rivers


ALLAHABAD, India -- An urn containing the ashes of slain former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was submerged at the confluence of India's two holy rivers Tuesday as Hindu priests chanted ancient Vedic hymns and army soldiers pounded a steady beat on their drums.

The former premier's son, Rahul, lowered the primary urn containing Gandhi's ashes into the fork of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers at 12:35 p. m. from a wooden platform built in the middle of the waterway specially for the occasion.


Mourners watching from the shore cried out 'Rajiv Gandhi is immortal' as the young man placed the copper urn ringed with garlands of marigolds into the swirling water and watched it drop quickly out of sight.

Gandhi's Italian-born wife, Sonia Gandhi, and daughter, Priyanka, viewed the hourlong Hindu religious ceremony along with leading members of the former prime minister's Congress (I) Party. A helicopter showered flower petals on the group as they arrived.

Guided by a Hindu priest, Rahul Gandhi recited prayers, tossed flower petals and milk into the river and performed other rituals before lowering the urn into the waterway amid the beat of army drums and the chanting of Vedic hymns.


The Nehru-Gandhi family has traditionally had its remains placed at the confluence of the rivers. The site is particularly sacred to Hindus, who believe the mythological river Saraswati joins the Yamuna and Ganges there.

The ashes of Rajiv Gandhi, whose family has governed India almost continuously since independence in 1947, were immersed at the sacred site exactly one week after his assassination last Tuesday while campaigning in south India.

Similar ceremonies were taking place throughout the country Tuesday as Congress party officials and government representatives disposed of the remaining 33 urns of ashes taken from Gandhi's funeral pyre.

The ashes were to be immersed in the five holy lakes of the western desert state of Rajasthan, scattered by airplane across the snow-capped Himalayas and placed at other sacred sites across the nation.

The primary urn arrived from the capital by special train accompanied by Sonia, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi as well as a large number of officials from the former premier's Congress (I) Party.

Hundreds of mourners outside the station chanted 'Long live Rajiv Gandhi' and 'Rajiv Gandhi is immortal' as the former premier's son carried the copper urn from the train and placed it on a flower-covered gun carriage for the procession through town.


The urn was taken to the Nehru-Gandhi ancestral home, Anand Bhavan, where it was placed for 1 hours on the same concrete platform that once held the ashes of his grandfather, Indian independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru, and mother, assassinated premier Indira Gandhi.

About 15,000 mourners viewed the urn at the house, which has been turned into a museum, but strict security arrangements prevented them from approaching too closely.

The urn later was taken by gun carriage and motorboat to the site of the immersion, which took place 1 hours early.

Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a bomb blast one week ago moments as he was about to address a campaign rally in southern Tamil Nadu state. Police believe a woman assassin approached the former premier, bowed and then triggered a bomb strapped to her body.

The explosion killed Gandhi, the suspected assassin and 16 other people. Authorities believe a Sri Lankan rebel group -- the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam -- may be behind the killing, despite denials from Tiger officials in London.

While prime minister, Gandhi sent Indian peacekeeping troops into Sri Lanka to enforce an accord between the government and Tamil militants. The Liberation Tigers rejected the agreement and began a war against the Indian soldiers.


The Times of India reported Tuesday that authorities also were examining the possibility other Tamil militant groups may have been involved. The Times said authorities learned that Tiger leaders had opened a dialogue with Gandhi, making them a less likely suspect.

The newspaper, citing sources close to the investigation, said Gandhi met once and possibly twice with a Tiger emissary earlier this year and that Gandhi had expressed a willingness to continue the dialogue over Tamil grievances against the Colombo government.

Police in southern Tamil Nadu state detained a young Tamil woman from Sri Lanka in connection with the case. She was later released after authorities determined she had nothing to do with the assassination, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Authorities have been searching for a woman seen in the company of Gandhi's assassin shortly before the bomb blast at the rally. The woman is suspected of being an accomplice in the attack.

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