Shivaji Park was impassable on Sunday evening with lakhs of supporters turning up for the funeral of Balasaheb Thackeray. While policemen worked non-stop to contain the crowd, the funeral took place without incident.
Speaking to MiD DAY, Gurunath Watve, one of the priests who conducted the funeral, said, “I feel lucky to have been called for Balasaheb’s last rites.” Watve (44) started his career as a priest 14 years ago in 1988. Since then, he has performed the last rites for many high profile personalities, including Balasaheb’s wife Meenatai Thackeray, Balasaheb’s brother and Raj’s father Shrikant Thackeray, Raj’s father in-law Mohan Wagh, Hemant Karkare the ATS chief who died in the 26/11 terror attack and Pramod Mahajan, Bharatiya Janata Partyleader.
“Never in the history of Shivaji Park has a funeral been conducted on the ground, and I don’t think it will ever happen again. In a way, I’m glad that I got this opportunity of performing Balasaheb’s last rites,” added Watve. He performed the last rites with five subordinates — Sanjay Bhatavdekar, Prabhakar Joshi, Amol Joshi, Prashant Phansalkar and Shahaji Gulavani.
“I am doing this as a service towards society and not for commercial reasons. Many times, I performed the last rites free of cost for families that could not afford to pay,” he said. “I was a fan of the Sena chief, but I never thought that I would be called for last rites of the God of Marathi manoos.”