With tears in their eyes and choked voices, lakhs of Shiv Sainiks from across the state gathered at Shivaji Park on Sunday, waiting for the hearse that carried the body of their beloved leader to arrive, chanting: “Balasaheb, parat yaa [come back, Balasaheb], Balasaheb, amar rahe [long live Balasaheb].”
As Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s body reached the spot on Sunday evening and people realised they would not be able to see their leader up from close, the mood grew even more sombre, even more tearful.
They had started arriving at Shivaji Park as early as 5am, filling up the entire ground – around five lakh people attended the funeral. The earlier plan had been to leave Matoshree at 7am and get to Shivaji Park by 9am so that people would have the time to pay their respects. However, the funeral procession reached the ground only early evening.
Many of his followers had to get the last glimpse of their beloved leader from the large screens set up at the ground. As they watched Thackeray being consigned to flames at the same spot from where he inspired them with fiery speeches, many Sainiks held up their phones to record the moment.
The crowd observed silence as a contingent of the city police gave a gun salute and his son Uddhav lit the pyre while Padmaja Phenani rendered Ramraksha (praise to Lord Rama).
The mood in the VIP tent, where top politicos – Thackeray’s rivals and colleagues – and celebrities had gathered, was as sombre.
Rajeshwar Deshmukh, 57, who rushed from Parbhani to Mumbai for the funeral, recalled the first time he met Thackeray in the 1980s. “I saw Balasaheb speak at Nashik and was drawn to him because of his sharp wit and oratory skills. I was lucky to meet him while working in Sena’s media cell.”
“I am here as Thackeray was a mass leader and great personality,” said Alimia Umar Sathe, a resident of Mahim.
Maruti Keluskar from Vile Parle said: “There won’t be another Balasaheb. He made an auto driver like me a civic corporator.”