Time stood placid and still next to President Pranab Mukherjee for an hour at Vijay Chowk on Wednesday as the country’s military wielded its pipes, drums and baton to wheel the Who’s Who of the nation and a lucky 1,000 spectators into a musical time warp.
The one-hour show by 35 bands of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force took off to an upbeat start as camels dressed in bridal finery stood in attention as the first citizen of the country set off on his maiden buggy ride. Mukherjee, who had waived a limousine in favour of an open carriage this year, waved to applause and whistles from his buggy as the Presidential Bodyguard trotted along the carriage and men-in-black sitting next to the President scanned the crowd.
“Two… four.. six, the President’s buggy has six horses,” 12-year-old Manu told his father. “Had there been a seventh one, it would have symbolised the Sun’s chariot,” Manu’s father said. His father, an official at the ministry of defence, makes it a point to bring his two children to the Republic Day parade on January 26 and the Beating Retreat celebrated three days after.
“With tons of security check in place this year, we missed the R-Day parade by minutes… my wife and children have been cribbing for the last two days… hopefully, the Beating Retreat cheered them up,” he said.
His hopes were amply answered by the military bands that wove music, which explored every hue of emotion and moves that exhausted all possible geometric patterns, turning Vijay Chowk into a musical paradise. “I am tone deaf… have no understanding in music but I revel in the music that these bands play… it is rresistible and beautiful,” M Joshi, a businessman, said.
The first composition of the evening was based on a popular rendition of Jahan Dal Dal Par, which allowed the audience to hum along.
Ten new compositions were introduced into the playlist this year with preferences given to folk songs like Hey Kancha, Kumaoni Geet and Pai Jande Pale to bring in a cultural element. “The trick is to compose the tunes in such a way that the folk music adds a military and patriotic flavour,” principal conductor of the event, Squadron Leader G Jayachandran said.
“Unlike earlier, the compositions this time were based on the display. We first arranged the formations… and then developed compositions that would go along with the patterns,” Jayachandran said.
Besides the buggy, the ‘wow’ moments in the retreat were the compositions Rejoice in Raisina and Blessings of God.
Rejoice in Raisina was composed on a foxtrot rhythm and had three movements — a crescendo in brass section giving way to a brass melody and ending with a jazz version of saxophone.
The most popular element of the composition was a flute playing Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram from the North and South Block and the bands accompanying the song. “I composed the tune keeping Raisina Hill in mind… the bands were formed in a H… symbolising Hindustan and I chose Raghupati Raghava… so that people could easily relate to it… also creates that nostalgic mood,” Jayachandran, who composed the notes, said.
The other popular composition, Blessings of God, was based on alternations of slow emotional music giving way to vigorous notes of drumming. An echo effect was attempted with trumpet and trombones playing at the towers of the North and South Block and the band picking it up with gusto at Vijay Chowk.
The tunes were initially composed by Subedar Major Krishna Kumar, who passed away in the midst of the composition. The work was completed by Major Girish Kumar. “The song was composed in order to be a tribute to those souls guarding the borders in extreme conditions… we wanted the composition to be both a tribute and an assurance that God is with them,” Major Kumar said.
The composers said that it took them six months to perfect their compositions. A havaldar playing the oboe in the parade mentioned that they had been practicing for over 12 hours daily for the last two months. The evening ended with the usual Saare Jahan Se Accha followed by the lighting up of the Rashtrapati Bhawan.