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Posted on Nov 18, 06:45PM | IBNS
The cortege of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray reached Shivaji Park for final tribute by people before he was cremated there even as superstar Amitabh Bachchan, politicians Sharad Pawar and L K Advani and industrialist Anil Ambani joined lakhs of mourners, many teary-eyed, in India's financial hub Mumbai to bid farewell to the firebrand leader and self-styled champion of Marathi pride.
Thackeray, whose body was kept in the park for homage, was being given 21 gun salute as a giant poster of his hollering "Jai Maharashtra" overlooked the congregation of top leaders and celebrities of India.
Almost a who's who of big shots from different walks of life turned up, making the funeral as grand an occasion as his king size life as a Maratha strongman.
Nearly one million people accompanied late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's cortege as the truck carrying his body reached Shivaji Park, where he will be cremated.
The cremation will take place at 6 pm. The cortege reached Shivaji Park after a stopover at Sena Bhavan, the Shiv Sena headquarters at Dadar.
Shiv Sena activists showered flowers on the open truck carrying the body.
The cortege passed through several key roads of Mumbai, which is observing a near shut down, and reports said the number of people accompanying the hearse could be as high as one million.
Thackeray began his last journey from residence Matoshree to Shivaji Park shortly after 9.30 am on Sunday. The body was carried on an open truck decorated with flowers, saffron flags and huge posters of the leader.
His son Uddhav Thackeray, heir to his political legacy, was seen in tears as lakhs of people paid their homage to the leader who had made espousal of Maratha pride his political ideology.
Uddhav Thackeray's son Aditya and his wife Rashmi were also seen with the cortege.
Raj Thackeray, nephew of the late leader who later broke ranks to form the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), has also joined the funeral and he was for a while seen on the truck as well.
Thousands of people had gathered all along the way to catch a last glimpse of Thackeray.
Wrapped in saffron, the body was brought out of Matoshree, the late leader's Mumbai residence. It was soon wrapped in a tricolour.
Police were seen struggling to keep the thousands of supporters gathered outside Matoshree at bay as the body was being carried to the truck.
The body is scheduled to be kept at the park till 5pm and the funeral is expected to take place at 6pm.
Reports said 50,000 police personnel have been deployed in Mumbai to maintain law and order.
Thackeray died on Saturday after battling ailments for days, ending an era in Maharashtra and national politics in course of which many opposed to his functioning struggled to come to terms with his brand of firebrand nationalism. He was 86.
Police advised people to return and stay in their homes even as the Shiv Sena asked the public and its supporters to maintain calm.
Shops downed shutters and roads emptied out, as news of the death spread while many people were stranded on roads across the Maharashtra capital as the taxis and auto rickshaws also went off road.
More than 20 lakh people are expected to attend the funeral on Sunday.
Film screenings in city theatres and sports matches were cancelled on Saturday as soon as the news of Sena chief's demise spread.
As the end came at around 3-30 pm and the news was announced in the evening by his doctors, lakhs of his followers, many of whom called him the King of Hindu Hearts, broke down and grieved for the man who founded Shiv Sena in 1966 to enforce the rights of Marathi people in Mumbai and who left an indelible impact on national political architecture with plain speaking and espousal of national pride.