Kerala bids a tearful farewell as Oommen Chandy is laid to rest without state honours — as he desired

With thousands in attendance, Chandy's mortal remains were laid to rest at the St George Orthodox Church cemetery at Puthuppally.

ByK A Shaji

Published Jul 21, 2023 | 12:05 AM Updated Jul 21, 2023 | 12:05 AM

Oommen Chandy farewell

In perhaps the biggest farewell given to a public figure by the people of Kerala, the mortal remains of two-time chief minister and Congress heavyweight Oommen Chandy were laid to rest at a specially-erected tomb in the cemetery of his home parish, the St George Orthodox Church at Puthuppally in Kottayam district.

Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Mathews III, supreme head of the Malankara Orthodox Church to which Chandy belonged, led the funeral services, with 20 Metropolitans of the Church as co-priests.

An estimated 2,000 other priests, including Cardinal George Alenchery of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, also took part in the funeral service, which began at around 9 pm, almost four hours behind schedule, and culminated around midnight.

With his half-built new house in Puthuppally and his ancestral house witnessing a sea of humanity seeking a glimpse of the “man of the masses”, the family and Congress leaders delayed the scheduled funeral.

The decision was made after consulting the district collector and major bishops of the Church.

According to Chandy Oommen, Oommen Chandy’s son, the family thought extending the funeral to 9 pm was appropriate. His father was a man of compassion who took popular opinion into account, he said.

Obituary: A ‘man of the masses’ with a career marked by compassion

No state honours

The funeral was held without the state honours that are customary for former chief ministers. Chandy — known for his simplicity and frugal living — wanted a common person’s funeral.

Earlier, the state Cabinet sought the family’s response on a state funeral for Chandy, who represented Puthuppally in the state Assembly for 11 terms and 53 consecutive years.

When the state chief secretary conveyed the government’s keenness to accord state honours to Chandy, the family — his wife, son, and two daughters — decided against it. They gave their decision in writing as well.

The ceremony was attended by a galaxy of Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi.

Floral tributes were paid to him earlier by Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Governor Arif Muhammad Khan, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, West Bengal Governor CV Anandabose, former Union Defence Minister and Chandy’s long-time friend AK Antony, and Congress leaders Ramesh Chennithala, and VD Satheesan.

Thousands witnessed the funeral rituals held for about 30 minutes inside the cemetery.

Oommen Chandy, undergoing treatment for cancer at a Bengaluru hospital, breathed his last in the early hours of Tuesday, July 18.

He had been under treatment in Bengaluru since February this year after he was airlifted from Kerala.

Related: Au revoir Oommen Chandy, a colossus of politics in Kerala

Tens of thousands pay respects

From early morning on Thursday, when Chandy’s mortal remains reached his home town Kottayam after a day- and night-long procession from Thiruvananthapuram, a sea of humanity was visible everywhere.

The body was kept for public viewing at Thirunakkara Maidanam, his ancestral house Karotte Vallakkalil, the District Congress Committee office, and his new house that is under construction in Puthuppally.

Everywhere, ordinary people gathered in the thousands to pay their last respects. Most of those who descended on Kottayam were poor, weak, and the less privileged, whom the mass leader held close to his heart.

Authorities of the St George Orthodox Church at Puthuppally created a special tomb for Chandy as a mark of respect for him. In that process, they changed a decades-old practice of burying deceased non-priest church members in the cemetery or their family vaults.

“The decision was influenced by his virtues and decades-old contribution to safeguarding the interests of the Church,” said Church vicar Father Varghese Varghese when contacted by South First.

Across the Kottayam district, schools, government offices and shopping establishments remained closed as a holiday declared by the state government in Chandy’s memory.

Also read: Malayalam books put Oommen Chandy back in spotlight

The final journey

Early on Wednesday, the funeral procession carrying the leader’s coffin left Thiruvananthapuram for Kottayam — a journey that usually takes just over three hours. It finally reached Kottayam 28 hours later — on Thursday morning.

The journey lagged far behind the expected schedule as people, braving the lashing monsoon rains, waited in the thousands on both sides of the Main-Central Road, or MC Road, through the day — and night as well — for a glimpse of their favourite leader, who strode Kerala like a colossus.

Chandy had battled poor health for almost two years and briefly sought expert treatment in Germany. However, his condition worsened in recent days, compelling doctors to put him on life support.

The end finally came early on Tuesday, 18 July.

Related: End of the AK Antony-​Oommen Chandy era in the Congress