Thousands of mourners gathered Tuesday for the cremation of Indian hip hop star Sidhu Moose Wala, whose murder at the weekend shocked fans at home and in Punjabi communities from Canada to Britain.
Moose Wala, whose real name is Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, was shot dead in his car by unidentified assailants in the northern state of Punjab on Sunday.
He was 28.
Police said the murder was linked to inter-gang rivalry, and that a Canada-based gangster known as Goldy Brar had claimed responsibility.
Crowds thronged Moose Wala’s hearse as it reached the rapper’s palatial house in his native village of Moosa in Punjab.
Thousands then lined the roads as his body was taken for cremation on a trolley decorated with flowers and pulled by a tractor, reportedly the singer’s favourite one.
Moose Wala rose to fame with catchy songs that attacked rival rappers and politicians, portraying him as a man who fought for his community’s pride, delivered justice and gunned down enemies.
Moose Wala was a big star not just in India, but also abroad, especially in Canada and Britain, home to large Punjabi-origin communities.
Bollywood actors and Indian politicians paid tribute, as did Canadian hip hop superstar Drake, who posted a photo of Moose Wala and his mother with the message “RIP Moose”.
In Canada, rapper Gursewak Dhillon said Moose Wala had “revolutionised Punjabi music” in the country.
“Before Sidhu, people used to look to India and the UK for the freshest Punjabi music. After his rise, Canada became the centre of the industry,” Dhillon told The Globe and Mail newspaper.
“There are many young kids in Canada for whom he is a trailblazer.”
But Moose Wala was also a controversial figure.
He was often criticised for promoting gun culture through his music videos, in which he regularly posed with firearms.
Moose Wala had police cases registered against him for his songs titled Panj Golian (“Five bullets”) and Sanju, The Hindustan Times reported.
Sanju was inspired by Bollywood bad-boy superstar Sanjay Dutt, who was jailed for the illegal possession of an assault rifle.
Moose Wala’s final song, The Last Ride, included the line: “The glow on the man’s face tells you that he’ll die young.”
That song was a homage to American rapper Tupac Shakur, who was shot dead in his car in 1996 at the age of 25.
Moose Wala’s murder has also put the spotlight on the dark underbelly of Punjab, a major transit route for drugs entering India from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Many observers link the narcotics trade mostly heroin and opium to an uptick in gang-related violence and the use of illegal arms in the state.
According to media reports, some of the dozens of gangs active in Punjab have been demanding protection money from rappers and even buying into music companies.