Bal Thackeray funeral: Shivaji Park sees Raj, Uddhav, moment

Minutes before the funeral pyre was lit, and as immediate family members took turns to place logs on the body of Bal Thackeray, there was a moment son Uddhav looked at estranged cousin Raj and asked if he had completed his part of the ritual.

An emotional Raj, who had just placed a log by the feet of the senior Thackeray, nodded and moved aside to regain composure.

Post-Bal Thackeray death, for the people gathered at Shivaji Park since 4 am, it was a moment they could take home.

Around sunset, as the flames rose high, the brothers were together, flanked by their sons, Thackeray's constant help Thapa, attendants from Lilavati Hospital, family's spiritual advisor Bhaiyuji Maharaj and close relatives, with an emotionally charged crowd raising mobile phones to capture the last journey of their inspiring leader.

A "multi-level security" event, the funeral that received state honours saw the traditional 21-gun salute, with political leaders such as L K Advani, Nitin Gdakari, Sushma Swaraj, Sharad Pawar, Chhagan Bhujpal and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in attendance. Others included actor Amitabh Bachchan and industrilist Anil Ambani.

Through the day, the ground saw hectic preparations with Sainiks diligently decorating the pyre since 8.30 am. The logs were placed, makeshift cremation space painted and flowers arranged.

Across access routes and Dadar railway station, police took down details of groups to estimate the crowd. The arrangements included four JB-assisted cameras capturing every important development in the pyre pit, to be relayed across LED screens on both ends of the ground. While the whole day had been a long and patient wait, with followers refusing to budge, women were inconsolable when the pyre was finally lit. While some chose to weep silently, others broke down.

Physically challenged Arjun Patil of Jalgaon (25) arrived at 10 pm on Saturday. He said he "owed it to Balasaheb to come see him one last time".

Gurdev Kaur said, "I wanted to come here (Shivaji Park) before I went to the gurudwara."

After a seven-hour train journey from Solapur, a group of 70 Sena followers of over 20 years arrived at the park at 4.30 on Sunday.

A group of youngsters from Ratnagiri, members of Yuva Sena, felt they had to be present to say final goodbyes to their idol. Among them, Gaurav Joshi (20) said: "There was magic in Balasaheb's speeches. He was our deity."

Women supporters, placing the funeral above household chores, arrived in droves. Two women from Kalyan said they had ventured alone and taken the first train to be at Shivaji Park at 5 am.

"We have been outside Matoshree for three days. We love Balasaheb as much as anybody else does, but all the attention is given to VIPs and we feel left out," said Hema Thombre.

Shivaji Park, otherwise a sports ground, and also Sena's Dussehra landmark for Thackeray's fiery speeches, was in a sombre mood with spiritual songs reminding the reason for the congregation.

At 2 pm, with the funeral procession still midway, Shiv Sainik Vinay Raut came on stage and estimated the crowd to be around 20 lakh. "Like all of you here, they are watching the leader for one last time, as they wait in balconies, across lanes, atop bus stops, and electric poles."

He was true on the emotion, but not on the count. The official estimate of the crowd inside the ground, between 5 pm, when the body was finally brought in, and 6 pm, when the pyre was lit, was around 5 lakh.

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