Beating Retreat ceremony makes welcome break with martial tradition

New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) The Beating Retreat ceremony here Wednesday that brought the curtain down on the annual Republic Day celebrations marked a welcome break with tradition, making it more of a concert that the public could relate to rather than a strictly military affair.

For starters, the chief guest on the occasion, President Pranab Mukherjee, arrived in state in an open six-horse carriage rather than in a limousine, waving to the crowds at Vijay Chowk at the foot of Raisina Hall, where the Rashtrapati Bhawan presidential palace lies. With such a spectacle being witnessed after two decades, the crowd enthusiastically waved back.
Then, there was the music – with 18 of the 21 tunes played during the hour-long show being composed by Indians. Ten of these featured for the first time, four by the Indian Army (“Jahan Daal Daal Pe Sone ki Chidiya”, “Swarnim Desh”, “Blessing of the God” and “Dhruv”) and six by the combined bands of the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force (“Skylord”, “Brave Warriors”, “Stride”, “The Western Seas”, “Rejoice in Raisina” and “Fidos”).
And, many of these compositions interspersed slow marches with quick marches and the tempo often changing to the rock n’ roll, jive and side-stepping — this gave the ceremony the distinct feel of a concert.
Then, there were two echoes, not one as in the past – the first a spirited version of “Raghupati raghav Raja Ram” on the flute during “Rejoice in Raisina” from the belfry of South Block and, of course, the bells from the belfry of the North Block opposite during “Abide With Me”, Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite hymn without which no Beating Retreat ceremony is complete.
“Abide With Me” and “Saare Jahan Se Aacha” were the only two tunes that bucked the trend, the first for obvious reason and the other for what it says of the unity of India.
As the massed bands marched up Raisina Hill at the conclusion of the ceremony and the strains of “Saare Jahan Se Aacha” hung in the cold air, tens of thousands of bulbs strung on Rashtrapati Bhawan, the North and South Blocks and the Parliament House complex came alight, bathing the area with an effervescence that will stay etched in the memory for a long, long time.
What is truly remarkable about the Beating Retreat ceremony is not just the setting – the huge Vijay Chowk square from where the grand Rajpath boulevard takes off to end at the India Gate war memorial to the unknown soldier – it’s the multitasking required of the 1,000-odd bandsmen who make the music.
Not only do their uniforms have to be immaculate, their instruments have to be finely tuned and they have to be adept at performing a variety of routines ranging from boxes to circles to wheels and spokes and even a Swastika.
There can nary be a false step as one wrong move can send the ceremony into chaos.
Needless to say, everything went like clockwork and as the crowds streamed out many kept looking back at the illuminations and vowed to come back next year.
That’s the effect the Beating Retreat ceremony has and one can say a prayer that it’s a tradition that has endured for six decades.