Jayaraman Jayalalithaa, 'goddess' of Indian politics, dies at 68

Supporters hold a photograph of Tamil Nadu state leader Jayalalithaa Jayaram as they offer prayers in Mumbai on December 5, 2016.

Story highlights

  • Jayaraman Jayalalithaa has died at 68
  • The former movie star was universally known as 'amma,' or mother

(CNN)Jayaraman Jayalalithaa, one of India's most powerful politicians and the only female chief minister to be elected in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has died. She was 68.

Rumors have swirled for more than two months about the health of the politician, who was better known simply as Jayalalithaa. She was admitted to Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, the capital of her state, on September 22, complaining of fever and dehydration.
    Her doctors said she suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday, December 4. Nearing midnight on Monday, Apollo Hospitals released a statement saying "every possible attempt was made to sustain her," before announcing her death.
    Despite the late hour, Indian leaders were quick to offer their condolences.
    India's President Pranab Mukherjee took to Twitter to say "her contribution to the progress and development of Tamil Nadu will be long remembered." Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeted, saying her "concern for welfare of the poor, the women, and the marginalized will always be a source of inspiration."
    Tamil Nadu has declared seven days of state mourning, and shut schools and colleges for three days.
    Indian supporters of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa Jayaram react outside the hospital where she was being treated in Chennai on December 5, 2016.

    Cinema star

    Jayalalithaa, a popular former Tamil cinema star, embodied the blurred lines between celebrity and government that define the state's politics.
    For her supporters, she was adulated like a living Hindu goddess.
    When she won her most recent election in 2016, they held prayer ceremonies in her honor across the state. On the eve of her death, hundreds of them gathered outside the hospital, desperate to hear about the fate of their idol.
    "For all of us women, she is a protector. We can walk boldly on the streets," A. Jaya, a 50-year old housewife standing by the hospital, said. "Girls have greater self-confidence because they see her and get inspired."
    Jaya had arrived there Sunday night and spent the whole night outside, sitting with a friend under the awnings of shops located half a kilometer away from the hospital.
    But Jayalalithaa was controversial. To her critics, she was a powerful and corrupt politician who abused her privilege.