The World’s Largest Funeral Processions, from Brazilian Racecar Drivers to Iranian Leaders

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Mon, November 26th, 2012

More than 200,000 people recently gathered in Mumbai for the funeral procession of Balasaheb Thackeray, a famous newspaper cartoonist, creating a veritable “ocean of humanity stretching for several kilometers.”

It seems such a gathering would surely have set some sort of funeral procession record, but that’s not the case. There have been numerous funeral processions around the world that have had not just hundreds of thousands, but millions of attendees. Below is a list of some of the more colorful ones..

Ayrton Senna da Silva Senna was a Brazilian racecar driver and widely considered to be one of the greatest drivers of all time. He won three Formula One world championships and a record six Monaco Grand Prix titles. Senna was in the lead during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix when he flew off the track on a tight corner in the seventh lap and slammed into the concrete retaining wall at 135 miles per hour. A track doctor discovered he had lost more than four liters of blood and had Senna airlifted to a hospital in Bologna, where he was declared dead. An investigation of his car revealed that a piece of the suspension frame had flown back into the cockpit, striking Senna’s helmet and forcing his head to jam back against the headrest, fracturing his skull and causing fatal brain injuries.

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Back in Brazil, Senna’s death devastated the country and the government declared three days of national mourning. The body was flown back from Italy on a commercial plane and escorted by a fleet of fighter jets to Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport. Soldiers carried the coffin to a fire engine that drove the 20 miles into the city, trailed by a motorcade of 17 police motorbikes. An estimated three million people swarmed the streets to watch Senna’s coffin pass, which at the time was thought to have been the largest gathering of mourners in history.

Grand Ayatollah Khomeini Khomeini led the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which overthrew the Shah of Iran and installed himself as the nation’s “Supreme Leader”. He authored over 40 books, garnered praise from Shi’a Islam scholars the world over and was named TIME’s Man of the Year in 1979. He also ordered the outright execution of numerous political dissidents and issued a fatwa calling for the death of the famous Indian novelist, Salman Rushdie. At the age of 86 Khomeini died, leading to an outpouring of grief the likes of which the nation had never seen. “Despite the hundred-degree heat, crushing mobs created an impassable sea of black for miles as they wailed, chanted and rhythmically beat themselves in anguish,” noted one biographer, regarding Khomeini’s massive funeral procession, said to have been attended by more than 3.5 million people. “Fire trucks had to be brought in to spray water on the crowd to provide relief from the heat, while helicopters were flown in to ferry the eight killed and more than four hundred injured.” The crowds, trying to get a last glimpse of the holy man’s body, nearly destroyed his coffin and allowed the body to fall to the ground. A second funeral was later held with much tighter security, and a steel coffin.

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Francois-Marie Arouet, aka, Voltaire Voltaire, an 18th century Frenchman, was a philosopher, historian, novelist, poet, playwright and advocate of civil rights and religious freedom. He wrote more than 20,000 letters, over 2,000 books and pamphlets and was considered one of the fathers of the Enlightenment. On May 30, 1778, he died. Reports are that Catholic priests attempted to convert him on his deathbed, but Voltaire refused them to the very end. Because of his criticism of the church he was denied a Christian burial, though some friends managed to bury his body secretly at an abbey in Champagne. Some 13 years after his death, on July 11, 1791, the great thinker finally got the funeral he deserved. The National Assembly of France had his remains dug up and brought back to Paris where he was enshrined in the Pantheon. It is estimated that a million people attended the funeral procession, surely a record for that time. The elaborate procession included an orchestra with an instrument that had been revived from Roman times just for the occasion, the tuba.

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