Wrapped in white cloth and marked only by numbered stickers, dozens of clay pots lay unclaimed at the Sumanahalli crematorium in the suburbs of Bengaluru, where the ashes of Covid victims have been piling up.
The urns were then transported for a mass riverside immersion ritual with the rest of the uncollected ashes from Bengaluru on Wednesday -- a total of 1,200 unaccounted virus victims.
The immersion ritual on the banks of the Cauvery River in Karnataka comes as India battles a vicious second wave of infections that has killed 160,000 people in eight weeks, overwhelming the country's healthcare system and crematoriums.
Many families have failed to come forward for hundreds of their relatives' ashes in Bengaluru.
Some are too poor to carry out the rituals and others are scared of catching the virus at packed crematoriums where the pyres are burning without pause, workers say.
"In a family, two to three members might have succumbed to corona and some people fear contracting the infection so they don't want to take (the ashes)," Kiran Kumar, a contractor at Bengaluru's TR Mills Crematorium, tells AFP.
That forced authorities anxious to dispose of the piling remains to take matters into their own hands, organising a ceremony led by priests and Karnataka state official R Ashoka in Belakavadi village, located around 125 kilometres from Bengaluru.
Before their immersion, the ashes were laid on a riverside platform, the clay pots sprinkled with red flowers and surrounded by garlands of yellow marigolds.
Ashoka, the state's revenue minister, dipped the first set of unclaimed ashes in the river.
Municipal workers placed the rest in a coracle, a small lightweight boat, and submerged the pots, in some cases without the knowledge of the grieving families who failed to collect them.