Nearly 100 world leaders including President Pranab Mukherjee and US President Barack Obama came together in an unprecedented act of homage to Nelson Mandela describing him as a "giant of history".
Sanskrit shlokas were read out from Hindu scriptures in a moving ceremony in the FNB stadium in Soweto, the nerve centre of his campaign, as tens of thousands South Africans gathered to pay homage to the anti-apartheid icon and first black President who died on December 5.
The Shlokas were recited by Pundit Ashwin Trikamjee, who is the President of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha.
"It was a special privilege to have been called upon to represent the Hindu community at the memorial service," Trikamjee, who has also led Hindu prayers at the inaugurations of both former President Thabo Mbeki and President Jacob Zuma, said.
At the memorial service today, the Muslim community was represented by Moulana Ebrahim Bham of the Jamiatul Ulema of South Africa (Council of Muslim Theologians).
The Jewish community was represented by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein and the Christian community by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.
"It is hard to eulogise any man...How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world," Obama said in a 20-minute speech punctuated by reference to the struggle for racial freedom in Africa and America.
Pranab Mukherjee, who headed a high level Indian delegation including Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, in his eulogy, called Mandela an icon of irreversible social and economic change who never diminished his commitment to his kind of 'satyagraha' against injustice and inequality.
Obama also referred to Mahatma Gandhi when he said that Mandela, like Gandhi, led a resistance movement that at its start held little prospect of success.
UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon, African leaders including Robert Mugabe, the last white President F W de Klerk, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai were among the other leaders present.
The other world leaders on the stage included present and former Prime Ministers of Britain, French President Hollande and former Presidents including Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Nicolas Sarkozy.
As multi-religious prayers were said, a person of Indian origin recited Sanskrit shlokas to say that Mandela has attained immortality and that people were offering their humble worship so that he leads the world from darkness to light.
Mukherjee, who received a thunderous welcome when he entered the stadium, highlighted the strong political links between South Africa and India especially through Mahatma Gandhi having started his career here before leading India to freedom.
Mandela's widow Graca Machael, separated wife Winnie Mandela, children and grand children attended the ceremony that virtually into a long celebrations of the late leader.
Songs of the anti-apartheid movement were sung as heavy rains pounded the stadium where he had made his last public appearance a few years ago. One of the speakers that the rains signified that God welcoming him to heaven.
Mandela's funeral is scheduled to be held in his childhood home, Qunu village in the Eastern Cape on December 15 and it will be a private affair.
President Mukherjee, who was seated next to South African President Jacob Zuma, said India has no doubt that the world will honour the historic legacy of Mandela.
He said Mandela was one of the most influential personalities of the century who taught the world true meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation and steered South Africans on to the path of building a truly rainbow nation.
UN Secretary General, who was the first foreign dignitary to pay homage, said termed Mandela as a "greatest teacher" and said "He was one of our greatest teacher who taught by example."
Obama, while paying tributes to his fight against anti-apartheid, said "we know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation.
"As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people - known and unknown - to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle," he said.
Obama regretted that around the world today men and women were still imprisoned for their political beliefs; persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.
"There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.
"There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people," he said in remarks interpreted as a criticism of Cuban President Raul Castro with whom he shook hands.
Obama, who arrived as the memorial service was on, greeted Mukherjee warmly and shook hands with him.
© Copyright PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of any PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.