New Delhi, July 30

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the southern Indian town of Rameswaram today for the burial of former President APJ Abdul Kalam, known as the father of the country’s missile programme.

His body, carried in a glass topped hearse, was driven from his home in the tiny fishing town to the cemetery where he had wanted to be buried. Kalam, 83, died on Monday after collapsing during a lecture to a group of management students in northeast India’s Shillong city.

The government announced a week-long mourning period. People, some carrying flowers, lined the streets as the hearse drove through the town. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and scores of other senior government officials were present at the funeral.

Kalam was president from 2002 until 2007. He was a scientist and science administrator for four decades and was  known for his involvement in pioneering India’s nuclear and missile programmes. For many, it was his education role that inspired them.

Shakira Bano, a teacher in Rameswaram, told NDTV news channel that Kalam had been a huge inspiration to her and many others in his hometown.

Through his time in office and after his term ended, Kalam wrote several books, mostly aimed at inspiring students. After his term, he travelled extensively to schools and colleges across India. Kalam received several prestigious awards, including Bharat Ratna, India’s top civil honour.

Kalam rose to India’s highest office from humble beginnings. His father owned boats, which he rented out to fishermen.