In the past 67 years of the Beating Retreat tradition, Vijay Chowk has witnessed a suitably sombre yet nostalgic and celebratory ceremony – the puffed-up chests of the marchers, the colourful pageantry of military music and manoeuvres, the fanfare by buglers and the meticulous stride of soldiers in fatigues.
While the ceremony — an age-old military tradition passed down to India from the British — used drums to call troops back from battle at sunset, it has never reverberated with the notes of Indian classical instruments such as sitar, tabla and santoor.
This year, as a sitar player from the Indian classical sinfonietta plucked the strings and matched notes with the tri-services military band and a jazz symphonic orchestra, the awed audience burst into cheers and applause.
With sitars and a host of other classical instruments matching the shrill legato sound of bagpipes, and a host of trumpets, horns and trombones playing in unison, the 67th Republic Day celebrations came to an end with a unique Beating Retreat ceremony.
Flanked by the North and South Block on either side, the camel regiment stationed on the side terraces and the majestic Raisina Hill as the backdrop, Vijay Chowk witnessed a host of Indian and western martial tunes.
Fifteen military bands, 11 pipes and drums bands from regimental centres, seven pipes and drums bands from various battalions, state police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) bands, and the Navy and Airforce bands performed to a packed house.
This year also saw the police and Central Armed Police Forces bands participating for the first time.
After President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the three defence chiefs arrived at the venue, the trademark bugle call – a regular beginning to honour music for a distinguished gathering- was made. This was followed by a compound quick march forward to the popular patriotic tune ‘Kadam kadam badhaye ja’ by the massed bands.
The Pipes and Drums bands followed with Louden’s “Bonnie Woods and Braes” and formed a Swastika to the audience’s delight. But it was the energetic and quick march tunes from the Air Force and Navy bands that delivered the evening’s finest and the most crisp performances.
The ceremony, more often than not, wasn’t just a colonial remnant but a spectacle of the nation’s heritage.
The focus this time was more on popular music and less on traditional western and Indian martial tunes which are based more on harmony than melody.
A version of AR Rahman’s “Bharat humko jaan se pyaara haa”, “Ma tujhe salaam”, Iqbal’s “Aye mere watan ke logon” and “Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge” resonated strongly with the crowd.
According to MoD sources, the brief this year “was to try and be different” than the previous years.
The evening concluded with A Lobo’s “Saare jahan se achha”, the national anthem. Towards the very end, the Rashtrapati Bhavan came alive as a thousand lights illuminated it.
In a change this year, PM Modi walked towards the stands at Vijay Path to the shouts of people screaming his name in unison. The PM obliged by waving at the gathering.