As the sword of the Commandant of President’s Body Guards (PBG) comes down at the shout of ‘Rashtriya Salute’ for the President of India, the Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) of the ceremonial Artillery battery at the gun position opposite the main saluting dias brings down his arm. And that results in the first of the 21 booms being set off by the World War 2 vintage 25 pounder guns.
These are the booms that we hear on screen when the national anthem plays on January 26 at Rajpath in New Delhi when the President unfurls the National Flag. Today when it happened, the battery was commanded by Lt Col C Sandeep.
Watch: The sequence and synchronisation behind the 21-gun salute on Republic Day
The entire sequence of the Command being given by the Commandant of the PBG, the unfurling of the flag and the guns going off is a closely synchronised action. The battery should give the 21 gun salute in complete synchronisation with the national anthem from the first gunfire to the last. And this it does without fail in each occasion.
Not many would know that there are not 21 guns which fire this salute. The battery consists of only eight guns out of which seven are used in the firing sequence. Each gun fires three rounds to complete the 21 gun salute.
Unlike the pomp and splendour of the horses cavalry of PBG with their resplendent uniforms and glittering accouterments, the Gunners of the ceremonial battery perform their task in comparitive anonymity. They wear the routine combat uniform as they go about the onerous task, with three soldiers deputed to each gun.
The ceremonial battery is just one sub unit of an Artillery regiment,comprising of around 122 personnel, which is headquartered at Meerut. It is not a permanent unit which performs the ceremonial function as compared to the PBG. When the regiment moves out from Meerut and another one takes its place then the new unit provides the manpower to do this task.
It is not an easy task to maintain these vintage guns from the Second World War era. The spares are not easily available though the ammunition consisting of blank rounds is provided by the Ordnance Factory Board.
Sources in Army HQs inform that trials are being conducted to replace these vintage guns with 105 mm Indian Ordnance Guns which would be easier to maintain. At present trials are being held for the kind of ammunition to be used in the new guns which would provide just the right decibel of sound.
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This battery also performs the same task at Independence Day when it is stationed near the Red Fort. But not many would know that they also fire twice on Martyrs Day on Jan 30, the day Mahatma Gandhi was assasinated, to mark the time of two minutes of silence.
The first gunshot is heard just as the President lays the wreath at Rajghat and the second when the two minutes are over. This is not all. Four guns are placed at four other places in Delhi to perform the same task. These are at Vijay Chowk, Connaught Place, Nehru Place and Buddha Jayanti Park.
Apart from Republic Day and Independence Day, the ceremonial battery also fires 21 gun salutes when a head of the state comes on an official visit to India. This includes visits by Presidents and Kings/Queens.
There is a sombre task performed by the Gunners too. They provide the gun carriage for the funeral of those public personalities whom the government accords state funeral.
Senior officers say it would only be fair that after several decades of having performed it’s task well, this battery is accorded a permanent ceremonial position just as the PBG has.
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