NEW DELHI: A question mark was on Tuesday hanging over who would become the new head of reportedly the world’s largest family, two days after the death of 76-year-old Ziona Chana.
Chana, patriarch of a Christian religious sect of 2,000 people that practiced polygamy, died in Aizawl, capital of India’s Mizoram state, on Sunday, without naming a successor.
The cult leader, who was believed to have suffered from diabetes and hypertension, is survived by 38 wives, 89 children, and 36 grandchildren.
His eldest son, 60-year-old Para Nunparliana, told Arab News: “The successor will be decided by the church. First, the burial will take place, and then the church will decide.” He has two wives and 11 children and is widely tipped to be the next in line to head the 163-member family.
Meanwhile, Chana’s daughter Thartei Chhuanthar, 50, told Arab News: “A special burial chamber is being prepared for our father, and he will be laid to rest in the next two to three days.”
Mother-of-four Chhuanthar is Chana’s fifth child but does not know how many siblings she has. “It’s difficult to say,” she said.
She grew up in the remote village of Baktawng, more than 50 kilometers from her present home in Aizawl and spent a major part of her life with the extended family.
“My father was shy and a man of few words. He did not speak much, but he did love everyone equally. There was no favoritism. He was gifted, and he wrote songs for the children to learn on every Sunday school,” she added.
The Chana family lives in a four-storey building with 100 rooms in Baktawng, and a separate school and playground has been allotted to it in the village.
The family runs the Chana Pawl sect with most of its followers residing around Chana’s house in Baktawng.
Chhuanthar said that while the family was Christian, its members did “not follow normal practices of the church. Chhuanthar kohhran means church of the new generation. They believe that they are the selected ones, going through the great road toward heaven. And will reach their destination in the flesh.”
Claims that Chana headed the world’s largest family have been disputed, with media reports suggesting that Winston Blackmore, leader of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives, making a total family membership of 178 people.
However, in a condolence message to the Chana family, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga described it as “the world’s largest family,” and it has featured twice on TV show “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”
During the 1990s, Baktawng village became something of a global tourist attraction on the back of the family’s notoriety.
Founded by Pu Khuangtuaha in 1942, the polygamous sect was taken over by his brother, Pu Chana, after Khuangtuaha’s death and later by his son, Ziona Chana.
“I expect that after our father’s death, my elder brother Para will take over too,” Chhuanthar said.
Chana first married at the age of 17, with his last wedding taking place in his 50s. During a 2007 interview with Arab News, Chana said: “I want to expand the family as much as possible.”