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Gandhi's ashes to be scattered today

The nation commemorates 60th anniversary of Bapu's assassination while his family prepares to scatter his ashes in the Arabian sea.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2008 12:54 IST

India commemorated the 60th anniversary of Mohandas K Gandhi's assassination on Wednesday while his family prepared to scatter the peace icon's ashes in the Arabian sea.

Gandhi, who led the non-violent struggle for independence from Britain, is still revered as the moral conscience of the nation and pictures of his wizened, smiling face are everywhere in India, from the country's rupee notes to murals along the highway. To honour him, Gandhi's followers carried his ashes through the streets of Mumbai to the coast of the Arabian sea, where his descendants planned to throw some of his ashes into the ocean. An open truck decorated with roses and marigold flowers carried the urn containing the ashes to the sea-front as family and followers sang the leader's favorite hymns. Several of Gandhi's great-grandchildren rode in the truck.

Gandhi's ashes were preserved by an Indian businessman who sent them to a museum in Mumbai last year. The museum had planned to display the ashes, but Gandhi's family said he would have preferred them scattered at sea.

A prayer ceremony also was planned at the New Delhi meeting house where he was killed by a Hindu extremist in 1948, just months after the nation was born. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the head of ruling Congress party, are expected to attend. Sonia Gandhi is the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister and Mohandas Gandhi's close friend.

The family of Gandhi's eldest son, Harilal Gandhi, who was estranged from his father, will scatter the ashes as a gesture of reconciliation. Harilal Gandhi had a troubled history with his father and did not attend his funeral, breaking with Hindu tradition under which the eldest son should light the father's funeral pyre. Harilal's family will have the opportunity to do something they have never done before, Usha Gokani, one of Gandhi's granddaughters, told The Associated Press.

"It's the correct thing to do, since Gandhi's three younger sons' families have participated in earlier funeral rituals," she added.

Hindus cremate their dead and the ashes are supposed to be scattered in rivers or the sea after 13 days. But after he was killed, Gandhi's ashes were sent to villages and towns across India for memorial services by his followers. It's not known how many urns containing his ashes still exist.

"I hope this is the last of the ashes," Gokani said. "This is more appropriate than preserving (the ashes) in a permanent display."

Gandhi's strained relationship with his eldest son has fascinated Gandhi scholars and has been the focus of several books, movies and plays. Harilal Gandhi, who died in June 1948, converted to Islam, reconverted to Hinduism and finally became an alcoholic. One of their disagreements stemmed from Gandhi's refusal to help his son get a scholarship to study abroad, out of his belief that he should treat all people equally.