Harrison's devotees gather at Ganges - but no sign of ashes

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The Independent Online

The crowds were assembled and the 80 holy steps to the Ganges cleared in readiness for the ritual that Hindus believe will allow George Harrison's soul to begin its approach to Heaven. But one crucial ingredient was missing: his ashes.

According to the itinerary, the former Beatle's remains were meant to be flown from Los Angeles by private jet to be immersed at the river's edge in Varanasi, northern India; and from there to be taken by the river to Sangam, a holy confluence where the Ganges meets the Yamuna river as well as the mythical Saraswati.

But after a third day's vigil on the river bank, Harrison's Hare Krishna followers were still awaiting glimpses of his widow, Olivia, or son, Dhani, carrying an urn.

"I think the whole story is a creation of the media," said Vikram Singh, an inspector general with Varanasi city police, as the hours ticked by. "You are running a wild goose chase. I don't think there's anything happening because normally any important people would seek official assistance, even for a private ritual."

A government official in Uttar Pradesh, the state in which Varanasi lies, said that the rites might already have taken place.

The only suggestion that the Harrisons were on their way came from the Hindustan Times newspaper, which reported that the family might have held a prayer meeting in London yesterday and later flown to India in a private jet. But the London office of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness said that Mrs Harrison and 23-year-old Dhani were in Los Angeles.

Devotees of Harrison will know it is time to leave if the urn has not arrived by next Wednesday. According to Hindu tradition, ceremonies associated with death must be completed within 13 days.