KALMUNAI, Sri Lanka – "Baby 81," the infant claimed by nine couples after he miraculously survived the Indian Ocean tsunami, was reunited with his parents Wednesday in the joyous conclusion to an agonizing custody battle that captured hearts around the world.
Smiling with relief, Jenita Jeyarajah (search) took the baby, dressed in blue, from a doctor's arms in a courtroom packed with onlookers after the judge said DNA tests confirmed the baby is her 4-month-old son Abilass.
"Look how happy he is! He knows the scent of his parents!" gushed the father, Murugupillai Jeyarajah (search). "After returning to us, he still hasn't cried."
The couple went straight from the court to a Hindu temple to give thanks for their son's return and smash a coconut in ritual fulfillment of a vow. Relatives joined them, chanting prayers and raising their hands in worship as the father carried the child around the shrine.
It was just the first of many temples the couple planned to visit Wednesday.
The relieved parents also paid a brief visit to the rubble of their home, where the raging waters snatched the boy from his mother's arms on Dec. 26.
He was later found on a beach among bodies and debris and taken to the Kalmunai hospital.
Baby 81, so-called because he was the day's 81st admission, was quickly claimed by nine couples, including the Jeyarajahs, symbolizing the anguish of thousands of families who lost children in the disaster.
Later Wednesday, the Jeyarajahs reached their temporary residence — a modest, concrete, one-story house where Jenita's aunt lives with her family.
The baby was put in a small cot on the tiled living room floor, while the parents entertained a sea of visitors and proudly showed their son.
Abilass sported a "mottu" on his forehead — a black stain to ward off evil that was painted by nurses in the hospital. His name is rooted in the Sanskrit word "abhilasha," meaning aspiration or desire.
The excitement overwhelmed Murugupillai's father, 60-year-old Sinnaphurai, who fainted in the courtroom and had to be taken to the same hospital where his grandson had stayed
The Jeyarajahs initially couldn't prove he was theirs because their home and family records were swept away by the tsunami.
The hospital refused to release the baby until the matter was settled in court although the other couples never pursued their claims.
It has been a wrenching seven weeks for the couple.
Forbidden to even pick up their son, the Jeyarajahs at one point barged into the hospital to get the baby and were briefly detained after a scuffle with the staff. The parents then threatened to commit suicide unless the baby was returned to them.
On Feb. 8, the couple and the baby traveled separately to a Colombo clinic for DNA testing, paid for by UNICEF (search).
At Wednesday's court proceedings, Kalmunai Judge M.P. Mohaideen officially declared the couple to be the boy's parents, apologized for the inconvenience and wished Abilass a prosperous future.
Murugupillai, a barber, said he planned to stay with Abilass for several days before returning to work.
"I want to teach my child well and bring him up as any other parents would," Murugupillai told The Associated Press, cradling the boy in his arms.
According to U.N. estimates, children accounted for a staggering 40 percent, or 12,000, of Sri Lanka's tsunami death toll of nearly 31,000. About 1,000 children were orphaned by the tsunami and another 3,200 lost one parent.