Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Saturday, 30 January 2010

Mahatma Gandhi ashes scattered in sea off South Africa


About 200 family and friends attended the ceremony

Some of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi's ashes, kept for decades by a family friend, have been scattered off the South African coast.

The ashes were sprinkled on to the Indian Ocean in a Hindu ceremony attended by about 200 people to mark the 62nd anniversary of Gandhi's death.

They were handed over to the family last year after the family friend died.

After Gandhi's assassination, his body was cremated and the ashes distributed among family, friends and followers.

According to Hindu custom, ashes are scattered over a body of water shortly after cremation.

Correspondents say it is difficult to estimate how many people received a portion of Gandhi's ashes.

Flowers in the sea

Boats carrying about 200 family members and friends were joined by South African navy vessels in the sea near Durban for the ceremony.

Ela Gandhi with the Mahatma's ashes
Ms Gandhi is an activist in South Africa

"Before the immersion took place, the Hindu priest recited hymns," an AFP news agency photographer said.

"Gandhi's great grandson poured the ashes into the sea and afterwards people threw flowers as a sign of their final goodbyes."

Gandhi's 69-year-old granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, who is a respected activist in South Africa, attended the ceremony and addressed those present about the late leader's legacy.

"I think one of the important messages of his death is the intolerance that goes on in this world, the intolerance of people for other people on the basis of religion, on the basis of race, on the basis of ethnicity, of class and of caste and so on," she said.

"All these intolerances end up in violence, end up in wars and so on."

Silver container

The family friend, Vilas Mehta, decided to keep some of Gandhi's ashes as a memento, not realising that according to Hindu custom they should be immersed, Ms Gandhi told the BBC earlier.

Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa, 1902
Gandhi fought for the rights of Indians in South Africa

She handed over a "little silver container" to her daughter-in-law on her death bed and told her to "keep it very safe".

"The daughter-in-law thought the family should have the ashes and she brought it to us last year, said Ms Gandhi.

"We started thinking - what shall we do with it? We had a couple of options. But then our broader family said, the ashes must be immersed."

In 2008, some of Gandhi's ashes, kept for years by an estranged son, were donated to a museum in Mumbai which arranged a ceremony to scatter them in the Arabian sea.

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic on 30 January 1948.

Gandhi made South Africa his home for 21 years, working as a lawyer and activist.

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