Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 16:03 UK

Funeral held for Punjab preacher

Women mourn as they pay their last respects to Sant Ramanand in Jalandhar, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, Thursday, June 4, 2009
Tearful devotees queued for a glimpse of the body in Jalandhar

Thousands of devotees have attended the funeral in India's Punjab state of a preacher killed in Austria.

Police were deployed and troops put on alert as mourners gathered in and around the city of Jalandhar to witness the cremation of Sant Ramanand.

The preacher was killed by a rival Sikh group during a religious ceremony in Vienna on 24 May.

The killing led to riots across Punjab by tens of thousands of his sect's lower caste Hindu and Sikh supporters.

Sikhs carry the coffin containing the body of Sant Ramanand in Jalandhar in the northern Indian state of Punjab, Thursday, June 4, 2009

But the cremation took place without any violent incidents.

Tearful mourners queued up all day to pay their last respects to the preacher.

Mr Ramanand was a senior leader of the Dera Sach Khand sect which is made up almost equally of lower caste Hindus and poorer Sikhs.

The city of Jalandhar is believed to be a stronghold of the sect.

The BBC's Asit Jolly in the Punjab capital, Chandigarh, says it is thought the attack took place because Sikh hardliners see the sect - which incorporates Sikh customs within its teachings - as a heretical offshoot.

Many mainstream Sikhs also find the sect's beliefs offensive, our correspondent says.


Following the riots that swept across Punjab after Mr Ramanand was killed, local police were eager to ensure security.

Thousands of policemen patrolled the streets of Jalandhar and in nearby towns and villages to prevent any trouble.

"The army has been put on alert as thousands of Sant Ramanand's followers are expected to pay their homage. We will not allow any disturbance," the AFP news agency quoted senior police official RK Jaiswal as saying.

Protesters brandish swords, steel rods and bamboo sticks in Amritsar on 25 May 2009
The killing led to widespread riots in Punjab

Mr Ramanand's body was brought by a special flight to the village of Ballan, the sect's headquarters on the outskirts of Jalandhar, about 75km (47 miles) from Amritsar.

Mr Ramanand was attacked during clashes at a religious ceremony by six men armed with knives and a pistol at a temple in Vienna.

Another preacher, Sant Nirajnan Dass, was among 15 people who were injured in the attack.

It led to widespread riots in Punjab where supporters of the sect set fire to trains, vehicles and dozens of public and private buildings. At least three protesters were killed in the violence.

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