SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — The governing party of the southern state of Tamil Nadu said that nearly 300 of its followers had committed suicide or died of shock and despair upon learning of the death of the party’s leader, Jayalalithaa Jayaram.

Jayaram died on Dec. 5 of cardiac arrest after dominating state politics for 40 years and serving five times as the state’s chief minister. That after she dominated the silver screen as a movie star.

A party spokesman, Chinnakutti Ponnaiyan, said reports continued to come in from far-flung regions about followers who had committed suicide or died when they heard the news of Jayaram’s death. “These deaths are a mixture,” Ponnaiyan said. “Unable to bear the shock, people have committed suicide, people took poison, cardiac arrest also. People jumped into wells and died.”

Tamil Nadu’s political activists have long been known for their ritual displays of loyalty to their leaders. Jayaram, a charismatic leader behind several popular welfare programs, had followers who took things to quite extremes.

Some of her followers have chopped off fingers, fashioned a portrait of her out of blood and had her image tattooed on their bodies. Two years ago, when she was briefly jailed on corruption charges, some of her admirers doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves on fire.

Critics say many of these acts are encouraged by the party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which offers large compensation packages to the families of followers believed to have died or committed suicide out of loyalty to its leaders. Deaths from natural causes, especially heart attacks, are often counted as expressions of loyalty in party accounts.

Ponnaiyan said that 280 families had received monetary compensation of 300,000 rupees, or about $4,445, after Jayaram’s death, and that the final number was likely to exceed 300. He said the party would also extend various forms of assistance to the families of the dead, providing funding for the education and weddings of their children.

Information from the New York Times contributed to this report.