SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — Grief rippled through the southern India state of Tamil Nadu on Monday when its longtime leader, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, known by her followers as Amma, or Mother, was pronounced dead.

Just 68 years old, Jayaram was serving her fifth term as chief minister of the well-run state that sports high literacy rates and low child mortality. She died of cardiac arrest, officials said.

Dramatic displays of emotion are nothing new in southern Indian politics, and Jayaram, with her queenly nature and tireless efforts to fight for subsidies for the poor, had inspired an especially passionate following. Many in Tamil Nadu began to brace for civil unrest, stockpiling food and gasoline or rushing away from the capital, Chennai, for safety.

A crowd gathered outside the hospital she was being treated at, when rumors began to spread of her passing, the same people exploded and began tearing down food stalls and surging toward the hospital in full force. There is almost a sense of madness, a sense of frenzy, as her supporters are beginning to confront the unthinkable,” said a journalist, Sreenivasan Jain, reporting from outside the hospital for the cable news station NDTV.

Her passing ushers in an uncertain period for the 78 million residents of Tamil Nadu, partly because it remains unclear who will succeed Jayaram as the leader of her party. Her longtime lieutenant and loyalist, O. Panneerselvam, was named chief minister. He stepped in to take his mentor’s place twice in previous years, but was so carefully submissive to her that he avoided sitting at her desk.

Jayaram had established a political machine that disallowed anyone around her from competition, said A. R. Venkatachalapathy, a historian, who compared her to a mythical Greek king who, to teach his subjects a political lesson, cut off any plant that rose above the others.

“Over the last 25 years, what Jayalalithaa has done is ensured that there was no second line, no third line, no fourth line, that there was not a single leader who had his own support base,” Venkatachalapathy told the New York Times. “She ensured that everyone in her party was dependent on her and her alone.”

Chennai, which was formerly known as Madras, a city of more than four million people, is likely facing unavoidable paralysis for several days. The last time a leader of Jayaram’s status died, it was the predecessor responsible for her political grooming. When Maruthur Gopala Ramachandran passed in 1987, mourners looted shops and set buses ablaze, police fired on the crowds with tear gas and live ammunition.

However, for all her strengths and the affection she received from the public, Jayaram’s tenure was not without its dosage of political scandal.

She served brief jail terms for corruption in 1996 and 2014.

Even then, followers came to her defense. Giant posters went up in Chennai, showing Ms. Jayaram’s face, asking, “How can a human being punish a god?”

Information from the New York Times contributed to this report.