Late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was laid to rest next to her mentor and former CM MG Ramachandran along the Marina Beach in Chennai on Tuesday. A practicing Iyengar in her private life, Jayalalithaa was buried near the MGR memorial. While her close-aide Sasikala, along with Jayalalithaa’s late-brother’s son Deepak Jayaraman, performed the last rites at the funeral, the decision to opt for a burial rather than a cremation has raised eyebrows.
Many political analysts believe that being the leader of a Dravidian party, whose followers in theory believe in rationalism and atheism, she was given a burial just as her predecessors MGR, Annadurai and Periyar were buried. Quoting a senior government secretary, Indian Express writes, “She was beyond any caste or religious identity. Even most of all the Dravidian leaders, including Periyar, Annadurai and MGR, were all buried and we do not have a precedent of consigning their body to flames even after death. So, we bury them with sandalwood and rose water.”
However, TN Gopalan, a veteran journalist points out that rituals were carried out by Sasikala and Deepak in the presence of Brahmin priest before the burial. “It may have been a question carrying on MGR’s legacy and being honoured in the same tradition. When Periyar was buried it was considered a sign of rebellion. But MGR wanted to be known as a disciple of Periyar and Anna, and that’s why he had a burial,” he notes.
While there would have been obvious practical difficulties in cremating the body at Marina Beach, Gopalan says that her burial also allows for a memorial to be erected, keeping Jayalalithaa’s memory alive in the public imagination. “Sasikala has political compulsions to erect a memorial. No one else has vote catching potential in the AIADMK. Just like people haven’t forgotten MGR, a memorial for Jayalalithaa would be political opportunism for Sasikala,” he explains.
If Jayalalithaa had been cremated, the last rites would have had to be conducted by a blood relative. Although Deepak was present at the funeral, Sasikala and her family may have deliberately opted for a burial to avoid giving him pride of place. Deepak’s sister Deepa had attempted to visit Jayalalithaa a number of times at Apollo Hospital in Chennai, where she was admitted but was prevented from entering the premises.