Hundreds of thousands of mourners, including Bollywood stars and politicians, gathered on Wednesday for the cremation of one of India's most famous folk singers, Bhupen Hazarika, who helped popularize the culture of the country's remote northeast.

Known for portraying the social life of Assam and speaking for the poor, the 85-year-old Hazarika was a poet, composer, singer, author and film-maker.

In Dr Hazarika's sad demise, India has lost one of its most gifted artists, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.

Hazarika died in Mumbai on Saturday.

Thousands of his admirers broke into tears while slogans of Bhupen da amor houk (May brother Bhupen be immortal) rang in the air as his body was carried through the city to be cremated on an open pyre.

More than half-a-million people have visited the stadium where he often played and where his body had been kept since Monday.

Born in 1926 in Assam, he got a PhD from Columbia University and played across Europe, the United States and Asia.

Famous for his baritone voice and heart-rending lyrics, Hazarika helped to bring his northeastern homeland to the attention of the rest of India and beyond.

Music lovers called him the Bard of the Brahmaputra, a river that runs through Assam. He also contested unsuccessfully national elections in 2004 as a candidate for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.