Guwahati : It was the end of an era as the mortal remains of the bard from Assam, Bhupen Hazarika, went up in flames Wednesday with his son Tej lighting the funeral pyre amid sobs and wails from a sea of humanity.
Heartrending scenes were witnessed at the Gauhati University campus, close to the banks of the great Asian river Brahmaputra. As the funeral pyre was lit at 10.26 a.m., chants of ‘Bhupen Hazarika amar raho’ rent the air and people broke down, with some crying loudly and others barely managing to hold back their tears.
An overwhelmed Tej pleaded with the surging crowd to control themselves and maintain calm even as Hazarika’s companion of 40 years, Kalpana Lajmi, cried inconsolably, unable to check her emotions.
“I am speechless with the overwhelming response and love for my father,” an emotional Tej told IANS after performing the last rites of the 85-year-old legend.
An estimated 100,000 people were present at the funeral site, some atop trees, and others trying witness the last rites from every possible vantage point available in the area.
A 21-gun salute was offered by the Assam Police with doctors and forensic experts taking the foot impressions of the man for posterity.
Among those present at the funeral were Governor J.B. Patnaik and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. Also around was leader of the opposition in parliament and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj, besides a galaxy of celebrities and eminent citizens.
The final journey of one of India’s oldest performing singers began around 7 a.m. with a multitude of people following the cortege from the historic Judges Field to the funeral site at the Gauhati University campus.
It was a tearful last journey of the bard whose baritone voice enthralled and mesmerised fans. Lajmi and 60-year-old Tej accompanied the flower bedecked hearse to the funeral site.
Hazarika died Saturday at a Mumbai hospital following a prolonged illness.
Estranged wife Priyamvada Patel, 82, who stays in Toronto in Canada, said she was saddened by Hazarika’s death.
“I am saddened to hear about the death of my son’s father. I am down with some knee ailment and so could not come,” Priyamvada said over the phone.
“I spoke to him on the phone some 10 years ago when he was unwell.”
The last rites were to be performed Tuesday, but the government had to postpone the ceremony to Wednesday following a massive public demand. Thousands came out of their homes to pay their last respects to Hazarika whose coffin was kept at Judges Field since Sunday night.
Hazarika began singing when he was just 10 years old and churned out hit after hit, numbering more than 1,500 songs until his health failed about two years ago. At 13, he sang about building a new Assam and a new India – the lyrics were his own, very powerful and contemporary.
A Dada Saheb Phalke award winner, Hazarika was born in 1926 in one of Assam’s remotest corners – Sadiya in the eastern district of Tinsukia. He grew up in the northern town of Tezpur and later went to Banaras Hindu University and completed his graduation and post-graduation in political science.
He studied with an aim to pursue a career as a lawyer in Assam, but destiny made him a mass-based singer.
In 1948, Hazarika went to the US on a scholarship to study Mass Communication at Columbia University, New York.
It was there that he got soaked in American folk music and later on that influenced him to bring in the folk elements in his songs – although he mostly sang the folk tunes of Assam.