Descendants Sprinkle Gandhi's Ashes Over Arabian Sea on Death Anniversary

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India commemorated the 60th anniversary of Mohandas K. Gandhi's assassination Wednesday with his great-granddaughter scattering some of his ashes off the coast of this bustling metropolis.

Gandhi, who led the nonviolent 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 honor the leader, Gandhi's followers, in an open truck decorated with flowers, carried an urn of his ashes through the streets of Mumbai to the coast on the Arabian Sea. Some 300 people— from school children to elderly followers — watched as Gandhi's family members took the ashes nearly a mile out to sea on a decorated motorboat.

There his great-granddaughter Neelam Parikh, a frail 75-year-old, immersed the urn and released the ashes into the sea.

"It's an emotional day for us and also a day for deep thought. A day that we should remember him and remind ourselves of his teachings," she said later.

A prayer ceremony was also planned at the New Delhi meeting house where he was killed by a Hindu extremist on Jan. 30, 1948, just months after the nation was born. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, along with other prominent leaders, is expected to attend.

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.

Parikh, who scattered the ashes Wednesday, is the granddaughter of Gandhi's eldest son, Harilal Gandhi, who was estranged from his father. She led the day's ceremony 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 lights his father's funeral pyre.

"It's the correct thing to do, since Gandhi's three younger sons' families have participated in earlier funeral rituals," Usha Gokani, one of Gandhi's granddaughters, told The Associated Press.

The ashes scattered on Wednesday had been kept by Sriman Narayan, a close friend of Gandhi. After Narayan's death last year, his son sent them to a museum.

The museum had planned to display the ashes, but Gandhi's family said he would have preferred them scattered at sea.

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

The last time an urn was found was in 1997 in a bank vault in northern India.

Then Gandhi's great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi, spread the ashes at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers, considered sacred by Hindus.

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.